Pot-comedy legends Cheech and Chong
talk about reuniting after a quarter-century,
Chong’s bust, Canada’s hate-on for Compassion
Clubs and copping a buzz via coconut oil
FRIENDS WITH WEED ARE FRIENDS INDEED:
Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong
by CHRIS BARRY
They should need no introduction, given that over the course of their career they’ve sold roughly 10 zillion records and generated countless millions more dollars at the box office with their classic stoner flicks Up in Smoke, Nice Dreams and Still Smokin’, to name a few. Roughly 25 years after officially calling it a day in 1985, a divorce marked by an inordinate amount of mud-slinging and acrimony even by show biz standards, many of their old bits have seeped into the consciousness of people who weren’t even born back when Tommy Chong and Richard “Cheech” Marin were freakin’ the authorities out as counterculture icons who celebrated the use of illicit drugs as much as lampooning its more ridiculous elements.
Recently reunited and finally enjoying the critical accolades they so richly deserve, the Mirror cornered the two comedians last week to discuss what it is like to be doing stoner jokes again as senior citizens, Tommy’s lengthy prison sentence in a California jail for the unforgivable crime of distributing bongs across state lines, and of course, pot—yes, we spoke a lot about pot. Imagine that! Here’s what they told us.
Mirror: What inspired you guys to work together again after all the years and acrimony between the two of you? Money?
Cheech Marin: The rent was due, that and the opportunity to do it again. We tried to get together many times over the years but nothing ever worked out. I was on a run making movies and appearing in a TV show and didn’t want to interrupt that, but finally all the stars were in line so we did it. I’d finished doing all the things I had to do and, you know, working together again was still on my list.
Tommy Chong: I was having a pretty good time but I always missed Cheech and knew we’d someday eventually get together again. When we split up, our time had simply run out. Like a cake in the oven, we were done. We’d explored every nook and cranny of that genre and it was just time to go our separate ways.
CM: We were sick of each other. We’d been together for 17 years and done everything—concerts, movies, records. We were at a creative end.
TC: Cheech was feeling confined by that one character he’d made famous, the not-too-smart Chicano guy, the first Beavis and Butthead. He wasn’t raised like that, you know, it was just one character in his arsenal. Whereas I really did become the stoner—it started out as a caricature but I did evolve into a pot advocate. Also, Cheech’s being typecast as that Chicano character was a very touchy thing, like Redd Foxx playing the junkman or a Chinese guy playing Charlie Chan. So that had something to do with it as well.
M: Are you doing different material from the Hey, Watch This stuff you started doing last year?
CM: Completely different show.
TC: We’re doing a compilation of bits we’d never done on stage before, like Dave’s Not Here, Santa Claus and His Old Lady, while showcasing our musical talents more.
CM: And there’s a lot of improvisation, more improvisation than ever before, so it’s exciting for us to get to the hall at night.
M: Is it weird doing that stoner humour now that you’re in your 60s? Or, I dunno, is it maybe even funnier because of your age?
TC: Actually, it’s more appropriate. When you’re 60 years old, you’re slow and stupid and never know what’s going on, naturally. You don’t have to act. In your 60s, it’s like you’re stoned all the time anyway.
M: How often do you smoke pot now?
CM: Hardly ever, only when I want to relax sitting around playing guitar or if I go out golfing or something.
TC: I don’t really smoke anymore, my lungs won’t take it. I’m more into edibles. I’m into coconut oil, it’s the latest health-food miracle down here. So I’m cooking pot into that and making these little candies. I smoke pot for creative purposes, it really triggers my imagination.
Bush vs. bongs
M: So Tommy, how did you wind up serving time for this whole bong-distribution thing you got popped for a few years back?
TC: When my wife and I first started doing comedy out on the road, people were selling bootleg items of ours, t-shirts and bongs. So we started our own bong company, which was fine when the Democrats were in power, but once Bush got in, he went gung-ho busting all the bong manufacturers, trying to distract people from their Iraq war by getting tough on pot, the old Republican standby. So they started Operation Pipedreams and I was their target, because I had the name. But what they didn’t know is that I never owned the company, it was my son’s. So once they found that out, I made a deal to plead guilty so my son wouldn’t go to jail—he would have been the first person to ever go to jail for that. They gave me the impression that by pleading guilty, I wouldn’t do any time but I got railroaded and did nine months—eight months beyond the chalk line and one month in a halfway house in Taft, California. It cost me about $2-million, just to plead guilty! $200 K in lawyers fees, $35,000 in cash they confiscated from my home that had nothing to do with anything, lost income from work we had to cancel, it goes on. Imagine what would have happened had I fought the charge? The government can really break you down if they want to. It’s a sad thing, especially for pot, something proven to be beneficial that helps a lot of people.
M: Are you embittered by the experience?
TC: Not at all. I enjoyed my jail time. Every Canadian and American should go to jail for at least a year or two. I was well received in jail anyway, at least by the guys who could speak English there.
Health or Harper?
M: Do either of you have a medical marijuana card?
CM: I had one but lost it in true stoner fashion. People give us weed all the time anyway so it doesn’t make sense to buy it.
TC: Absolutely. I have the first one ever made. When it first became legal for medical purposes, there was no system set up. So Jack Herer called me up saying he’d found a doctor that would give us a letter. So we took that letter and we made it into cards, little business cards. I’ve still got it. But when I showed it to my arresting officer, they just laughed at it. Do you have one?
M: My wife did but they just busted all the Compassion Clubs in Montreal, after 10 years in operation too. It’s totally fucked.
TC: It’s what’s-his-name, Harper, flexing his DEA muscles, right? Canada’s in a unique position because they’ve never really had a pot law and now Harper’s trying to jam one down everybody’s throat. Harper and his right-wing Bush attitude arresting people, saying it’s illegal, forcing the Compassion Clubs to prove it isn’t. After 10 years, you’d think it’d be grandfathered into law.
M: That’s one theory going around, the Harper thing, although I’m sure there’s more to it than that. Hey, who’s the most surprising person that’s turned out to be a fan of yours, someone you wouldn’t expect?
CM: (laughs) The Queen of the Netherlands. We know friends of hers who say they go on her yacht and watch Cheech and Chong movies together.
M: The Netherlands, huh? How appropriate, you gotta love them Dutch. So when the history book is written on Cheech and Chong, what will their legacy be?
CM: I expect to be recognized as one of the most successful comedy teams of all time.
TC: That they were like Mexican immigrants, nothing could stop them