Friday, November 21, 2008
After more than 30 years, those comic poets of dope, Cheech and Chong, have reunited for their Light Up America tour, which arrives this weekend in the Bay Area. We caught up with the pair earlier in the week from a hotel room on the road and started by asking them why they've hit the road again.
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Cheech: We're doing it for the kids.
Chong: The kids are our future.
Cheech: Yeah, the kids are the future, so we're doing it for them.
Chong: And they really appreciate it. Especially the kids that only know Cheech from "Nash Bridges" and me from "That '70s Show." We're doing it for those kids, letting them know who Cheech and Chong is.
Cheech and Chong are back. The stoner Abbott and Costello who substituted "Dave's Not Here" for "Who's on First" have only grown in stature in their absence. Their '70s movies are now considered cult classics, and a new generation of filmmakers pays tribute to the pioneers in films like "Pineapple Express."
Richard "Cheech" Marin, 62, has prospered as a character actor in movies and television. He put together an impressive exhibition of Chicano art that toured the country for several years and manufactures a righteous hot sauce. His partner, Tommy Chong, 70, who has also done some acting (mostly reprising his stoner hippie character) in movies and TV, made his biggest news in recent years with his 2003 arrest and conviction on federal charges of selling drug-related paraphernalia - the Chong Bong - and served nine months in prison. He wrote a book about his prison experience and recently published an account of the duo's history, "Cheech & Chong: The Unauthorized Biography."
They have put aside the difficulties that plagued their personal relations and led to an acrimonious breakup.
Chong: We only get along when we're working. When we weren't working, we never got along.
Cheech: So we decided to work.
Chong: Yeah, so we'd get along. And making money. When you're splitting up nice, big paychecks, it's soothing.
Cheech: Actually, this is for his felony and my alimony, so it's the Felimony tour.
They claim to have even prepared new material for the reunion and subsequent concert film they plan.
Chong: The whole act is brand new. It's really what we did 30 years ago, but no one's ever seen it, including ourselves, so it's all new, new to everybody.
Cheech: We're doing a lot of George Carlin's material, too. Is he going to complain?
They will reprise bits and musical selections from their six best-selling '70s comedy albums, all except one of their most famous pieces.
Chong: We agreed on that - the only thing we're not going to do is "Dave's Not Here."
Cheech: Yeah, because we couldn't sing it in the original key.
Jerry Lewis has nothing on these guys; the French know they, too, are filmic geniuses.
Cheech: There was a theater in Paris, Boite d'Homage, that played "Up in Smoke" every Saturday for, like, 10 years.
Chong: Even longer.
Cheech: Eleven years.
Chong: Every Saturday, midnight show.
Cheech and Chong emerged from '60s underground sensibilities around pot use in the counterculture - Gilbert Shelton cartoons and the like - but they endured into something more lasting, the two-headed Mount Rushmore of all dope comics.
Cheech: Stoner culture transcends every group, just like Cheech and Chong. There's no group that doesn't like Cheech and Chong, whether it's young, old, black, white, Chicano, biker, straight, gay, Republican, Democrat. It's like butter. Everybody likes butter.
Chong: It's like pot, too.
Chong: 'Cause pot got into all the culture. When I was in jail, I was invited into all the groups - from the white supremacists who liked cowboy music to the rappers and Arabs - every culture, the Hawaiians. Every culture in prison would have me as their guest of honor when they had going-away dinners for people.
Cheech: We're thinking of starting a religion next.
Chong, in fact, is convinced that their notoriety led to the federal anti-drug task force singling him out for arrest and prosecution.
Chong: They weren't playing when they came after me. They knew exactly what they were doing. A lot of people think I'm blowing it out of proportion, but I think it was like a pre-emptive strike against the anti-war movement because, if you think about it, there was no protest against the war 'cause Bush and his people would clamp down on anything that looked like a protest. The Operation Pipe Dreams was designed just for that.
Cheech: They were looking for weapons of mass destruction and they just found the bong.
Chong: And that was the only weapon of mass destruction they found, too.
But Chong says he now eschews smoking the herb.
Chong: I evolved. When you get older you're slow and stupid naturally. You don't need any help. In fact, it doesn't help. Back in the day when I was younger, I'd do it to slow down. What happens is that it's in my body so much, even the sound of Cheech's voice gets me high. Just body memory. I quit smoking while I was in pretrial probation, during the time I was in jail, and a year after when I was on probation and I kind of got into it. When we started the tour - I'd smoked up to the tour - and then I decided, you know, I didn't want to get surprised at the airport, like having my bag searched and all of a sudden you find a joint that I forgot was there. It wasn't worth it to me. So I just decided not to smoke.
Cheech: A lot of people don't realize that being straight is addictive and once you start, it's a tough habit to break.
Egad. Does that mean Cheech, too, doesn't get high anymore either?
Cheech: F-, no.