Richard "Cheech" Marin and Tommy Chong mined the counterculture for their stoner comedy. But after a string of popular albums and movies, the two had a falling out and went their separate ways in the mid '80s.
Cheech shed his hippie image and found work as an actor, most recently lending his voice to 'Beverly Hills Chihuahua' and landing a guest spot on 'Lost.' Meanwhile Chong capitalized on his pothead persona with a recurring role on 'That '70s Show.' Unfortunately his stoner image didn't serve him as well when he was busted for distributing drug paraphernalia in 2003, which led to a nine-month stint in federal prison.
After a two-decade hiatus, the pair reunited and returned to their live comedy roots, with the Cheech & Chong Light Up America tour, which will be aired as a TBS special later this year. AOL TV chatted with the comedy legends about their future plans, pot legalization and why they think their type of comedy is making a comeback.
1. You guys have been off the road for a long time. Are you attracting older audiences that remember you from back in the day or are you getting new fans too?
Chong: We have people that know Cheech from 'Tin Cup' and know me from 'That '70s Show.' Then we get the ones who remember seeing us some place that we don't even remember playing!
Cheech: It's amazing. I would say that 80% of our audience is now between 30 and 40. That means they were either not born or were, like, 5 years old the last time we were on stage together.
2. After a long hiatus there's a whole new crop of pot comedies these days. Why do you think that is?
Chong: Well, you know, there've been intermittent pot movies, like I was in 'Half Baked' in the '90s. But, you know, pot movies are like potheads. We forget that we have to do a movie, and so years will go by and then we'll go, "Oh yeah, we gotta do a movie."
Cheech: They come and go. Sometimes it's politically correct to do them, sometimes it's not. It seems that when it's totally not politically correct, that's when they come out. Like right now, we're in an unpopular war with an unpopular President, with a financial crisis. It's exactly the same era [as when we were coming up].
Chong: That's true. You know how Barack said when people get bitter they turn to religion? In our crowd, they get scared and turn toward their pot [laughs]. They reach for their bong.
Cheech: Yeah. We're the other religion. We're the alternative religion. I watch the History channel a lot, and I always see these stories where they do a lot of the early origins of the Bible, and it's all based on "God told me." Everything in the Bible is "God spoke to me."
Chong: "God came to me in the form of the burning bush." In other words, God is a pothead [laughs].
3. Do you guys plan on doing another film anytime soon?
Chong: Our live act is sort of a precursor to the movie. We work live until we get sick of going on the road. Then we say, "Well, let's just stay home and do a movie." We're enjoying working live right now so we're not even thinking about a movie yet, although everybody else is.
Cheech: We're thinking of having [the studios] just send over the money, and then we'll think about doing the movie some more.
4. Tommy, do you worry about getting sent back to jail? And are you bitter that you were sent there in the first place?
Chong: No, no. After my butt healed I was fine. [Laughs] Nothing bothers me now. My phone was tapped for a year before they finally arrested me. I wasn't doing anything wrong, so they had to make stuff up in order to justify the bust. They wanted to show the hippie culture that the government was in charge, that they were gonna crush us. And all they did was show the world what tyrants they are, and how misguided they are, and how greedy and what pigs they are. For me, you know, it started a new career. I got two book deals out of it. The time in jail was good for me. It was like going to a health spa for nine months.
5. You have always been big supporters of pot legalization. Do you think that's imminent?
Chong: The more they study it, the more they find out that it's good for you. It treats so many ailments. It really is a medicine, and it has been since the beginning of time. The Bible was actually written by people under the influence of cannabis, there's a lot of proof of that. I think personally that the marijuana culture is the answer to America's economic woes right now. Because this is the biggest cash crop in the world, and the stock market falling has not hurt the pot industry whatsoever. So whether they legalize it or not it really doesn't matter, because it's here to stay and it's up to the government to decide if they want to keep spending billions of dollars on a hopeless cause.
Cheech: I just want it to be legal so we can be the spokesmen, and then we never have to work again!