The iconic comedy duo Cheech & Chong defined an era with their hilariously irreverent, satirical, counter-cultural, no-holds-barred comedy routines.
Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong’s phenomenal success began on the stand-up comedy circuit and led to nine hit comedy albums and eight films, breaking box office records and shattering comedy album sales, garnering multiple Grammy nominations, and mesmerizing fans for more than a decade before their breakup in the 1980s.
Cheech & Chong are back and will perform Saturday, April 12, in Chandler. Canadian-born Chong spoke to GetOut to discuss Cheech & Chong’s success and cultural impact, his longtime advocacy of marijuana, and how he’s coping with the digital era.
Q: Did you ever think you’d see the day when marijuana was legalized?
TC: I did. I’ve always known that one day everybody would come to their senses. Actually, I thought it would have happened much sooner, but we had to go through the Nixon, the Reagan and the Bush era first.
Q: You’ve paid a heavy price for your activism, being sentenced to a federal prison in 2003 for the endorsement of a line of bongs. Seems like they wanted to make an example of you.
TC: Like anything, when you do anything evil to people, it comes back and gets you. So that’s what happened in my case. My nine months in prison turned out to be a glorified health spa for me. I really got into good shape, read, got lots of rest, wrote a book, met some interesting people. On the other hand, Mary Beth Buchanan, who was the prosecutor in my case, she’s out of office now and doesn’t really have a job. Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, I don’t know what he’s doing, but he left office in disgrace. I believe I have been vindicated.
Q: Let’s go back and revisit the Cheech and Chong albums… there was an intimacy with those sketch albums that seems to be long forgotten with today’s comedy.
TC: I’m much older than Cheech, and so I grew up on radio and later had some experience on air. I had that ingrained in me and knew we could get into people’s minds and imaginations. I knew those albums were going to resonate, but the sad thing about today is we really don’t have radio or vinyl anymore. More than anything, the kids don’t have time anymore to sit down like in the old days, play an album in their rooms or at a party, and just listen. Their time is chopped up between YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, iPhone, iPad, iPod, and all of these smart gadgets.
We’re in a new age, but it was fun while it lasted.
Q: Cheech and Chong were more than just a comedy duo. You guys introduced Latino — and to some extent — black culture to the white masses.
TC: The song ‘Basketball Jones’ is a good example of that. We drew on the black community for that song because Cheech and I were entrenched and studied their culture. Before Cheech and Chong, Latinos and blacks were ‘gang members’ and were dangerous and they were scary. We tried to debunk that myth for both races through our comedy, and I think we did a pretty good job.
Q: You and Cheech spent almost 25 years apart professionally. What was that like for you as both an artist and a person?
TC: Everything turned out to be good. When Cheech and I broke up, it was ordained. It was meant to be.
Cheech went on to explore his acting chops, to do other roles other than the funny Chicano. That would not have happened had we stayed together. Looking back, we would have been pigeonholed into our characters.
I, on the other hand, learned to do stand-up by myself. I also turned my wife into a stand-up comic and my son is part of the Chong and Chong podcast. So all of those blessings would not have happened had Cheech and I stayed together. In fact, we probably would have broken up on our own through a lack of popularity, like all acts eventually do. The Beatles were together for about 10 years, and that’s about how long Cheech and Chong stuck it out.
Q: You’ve been doing live comedy for more than 40 years. Are audiences today hipper or wiser than the audiences of the 1960s an 1970s?
TC: They’re both equally as hip, but the older ones are more comedy savvy. Everything is so segmented these days with rap humor, country humor and Latino humor.
When Cheech and I started, we put music in our act simply because our crowd was rock and roll-trained and were rowdy. So we played music in our act to tame the wild beast. We actually gave Bruce Springsteen his first gig.
He was a folk singer back in the day, and then he wanted to introduce his band. His people asked if it was okay for him to open with his E Street Band, and we said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ The funny thing was Bruce went on a little too long that night, and Cheech sent a message to him, ‘Bruce, it’s time to get off the stage.’
Q: Are you and Cheech going to do any of the classic routines, like ‘Hey Margaret?’
TC: We haven’t done ‘Hey Margaret’ in a long time, but I don’t think we can do that routine. The adult movie theater as we know it no longer exists. Everything’s a download these days.
If you go
What: Cheech and Chong perform live
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, April 12
Where: Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino, 5040 Wild Horse Pass Blvd., Chandler
Information: (800) 946-4452 or WinGilaRiver.com
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