Tommy Chong Wants to Get High with Paul McCartney
Cheech & Chong are still on top of the comedy scene after all these years.
The last true carryovers from the counterculture will bring their time-tested comedy and musical routine to Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino on Saturday, April 12. Cheech & Chong are as entertaining and relevant as ever -- even though the taboo nature of marijuana has significantly dissipated. Fans can expect the Cheech & Chong they have grown to love, but they also should be ready for some new material from the duo.
There are few entertainers who can say their act has truly appealed to every new generation over a 40-year span, but Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong's fame has remained a staple in pop culture from their original films and albums to projects like Nash Bridges and That '70s Show. Jackalope Ranch recently spoke with Chong about the swirling rumors of a new movie in the works, what is left on his bucket list (spoiler alert: he wants to get high with Paul McCartney), and legalizing his favorite plant.
What can the audience expect from your live performance here in Phoenix this weekend? My wife Shelby opens the show, and she does about 10 to 15 minutes in front. Then, she brings Cheech and me out and we do a little Q&A where we talk to the audience and get upfront and personal with the audience. Then, we will go into some bits that we've never done on stage before.
We just do all these bits. We have new bits, and I'll do some stand-up. We also do music and have a lot of fun. It works out really well.
Cheech & Chong have maintained popularity for a long time. Do you do anything specific to stay relevant? We work out and stay healthy -- that's the main thing because it keeps the mind alert. I have kids that keep me up to date with what is going on in the music world and the comedy world. We just do what we do. We're Cheech & Chong and we've been doing it long enough that we can do it in our sleep.
So what do you think it is, then, about your comedy style that has allowed you guys to bridge generations? Well, we were the first to legitimize pot as a positive substance in people's eyes. We were also the first to show the Lowrider culture where we were never comparing Cheech's character to the white establishment. We showed the Lowriders and the Latino and Chicano culture within the culture itself. We never made a fish out of water with it. What we did is take the audience inside the Chicano culture itself.
Then, on my end, I sort of represented all the hippies and all of the white guys, brown guys, and all kind of guys that grew their hair long and worked all sorts of jobs. Cheech and I were the first to be totally honest with our act, and it's paid off.
Is there any truth to an upcoming movie? Yeah, we're working on it now with Jay [Chandrasekhar] from Super Troopers, and it looks good. Everybody is very happy with the way things are going, and hopefully we'll start shooting sometime in the summer.
What about a premise for the film? Well, nothing that I can give away -- I've given away too much already. I was told to shut up. [Laughs]
What projects are you personally working on? I did a movie called It's Gawd, where I play a hippie version of God. That's in the can and being edited now -- it should be available within months.
Then, I've done a few guest shots on television, and my son and I have a podcast called Chong & Chong. Other than that, I've just been playing on my Facebook. I answer all the requests and letters that I get on Facebook. It's pretty funny because a lot of people say, "Is this really Chong?" [Laughs] And I always say, "Why? What's it to ya?" [Laughs]
I've got a lot of things coming out. We have ice cream, we have edibles, and we have Chong Water. [That's] a hemp water, which I'm very happy about, because it's a healthy alternative to the soft drink industry. I want to get people off their soft drinks and into drinking hemp water, which is much healthier for you.
Tell me about Cheech & Chong's Animated Movie. It's a selection of our old record bits. A couple of animators got ahold of our records and they just went crazy, and they recreated all of our characters in animation by using our original soundtracks. It's pretty funny! It was really interesting.
Did you ever imagine you would still be entertaining at 75 years old? [Laughs] No. When I was in grade nine, we did a look ahead at when we were 60. I thought, "Wow, that'll never happen."
You know, you don't live in the past -- you live in the present. As long as I can remember my name, I'll be on stage somewhere.
Do you think the entertainment industry has changed for better or worse since you began performing in the '60s? It's always been what it is. For better or worse, it is what it is, and everything goes in cycles. So, if you don't like what is happening, just wait, because your turn will come around again. I think it's like asking if the weather is any better now than it was back then. There's good and there's bad. The trick that I've found is living in the moment, because life is just one bunch of moments all strung together.
Do you prefer directing films or creating music more? You can't really compare the two. I guess I like directing -- I really like directing. There is a responsibility that I enjoy. It's a lot of pressure, but it's so much fun because you are creating magic. I love to do that.
And I love directing Cheech. It was one of the reasons that I got out of the directing business, because I never had Cheech and without [him] I don't have my actor that I can depend on. Cheech and I still have that magical bond, and it will always be magical.
Does one of those films stand out as your favorite? I like all the films that I've done -- they're like my children. I did do a movie without Cheech called Far Out, Man, and I'm really, really happy with that. I used my family in it. I loved the way it turned out. It's very funny, and it's sort of a cult movie, but if there was a favorite movie it would have to be Far Out, Man.
You just mentioned the deep bond that you and Cheech have, so when you reunited a while back, was it easy to get back into the groove of things together? It was like we never left. It was so weird because we'd been apart 30-some-odd years. Cheech is a borderline genius. He has a photographic memory, and he can memorize a script almost instantly. So, it didn't take him any time at all to remember. Plus, I'd been doing stand-up so I had the stage chops that I've always had. It was magical, and everybody could feel the vibe. When the two of us are on stage together, there's a special vibe.
I know that several of your children are interested in acting. What advice did you give them when they told you that? I was kind of raised on the farm -- like in the country. So, when you turn eight years old you're considered a man or a woman. When you're old enough to carry a bucket of water, or feed the pigs, chop the wood, or drive a tractor, then you're able to think for yourself.
I've always been one to have my kids figure out things for themselves. I never steered them in any direction. So, if you want to quit school -- fine, quit school. If you want to go to college -- fine, go to college. I just let them make their own decisions.
As it turns out, my daughter Precious is an actress, my daughter Robbi is an actress and a model, and my daughter Rae Dawn is probably the most famous actress. She was close to being nominated for an Academy Award and stuff. So, I'm doing something right.
Then, my one son is getting a degree in music. My other son went and studied law for a year, then he dropped out, and now he is my manager. So, they are all well-adjusted and successful and happy and they all love Dad.
Are you still on the Nation Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws [NORML] board? Yeah, yeah, of course -- we want legalization across the board. [We want] decriminalization more than anything, and to get rid of all the penalties. So far, we've succeeded in Colorado and in Washington. The rest of the country will follow when they see how beneficial pot really is as opposed to alcohol.
Do you have anything you would like to still achieve in your career? I'd still like to get high with Paul McCartney. He's the only Beatle I've never gotten high with, and he's the only Beatle that really smokes!
I got high with George [Harrison], I got high with Ringo [Starr] in the room, and I got high with John Lennon in the room. He was in the room when I got high, so I consider that as getting high with John Lennon [laughs]. He wasn't smoking -- I offered it to him, but he turned it down. Ringo was a recovering alcoholic, so he turned it down, but George and I smoked out a bunch of times. So, Paul is on my bucket list.
If you had to tell people something about yourself that they don't know, what would it be? Ahh . . . Let's see . . . I'm a helluva golfer! I've only been playing for two years, but I'm already astounding people with my putting abilities.
What was happening in the early 2000s? It seems like the government had a personal vendetta against you. They did. Well, George Bush was trying to make war in Iraq, and they were afraid of the hippie movement. The hippie movement could have stopped them in their tracks, but 9/11 took care of that, and then George just went further. He tried to do a preemptive strike on the hippie movement by putting us in jail for selling bongs.
That's the only thing he had going, because there were no demonstrations. We were just doing our business and making glass bongs and selling them to the head shops. Then, George and the boys came and took that industry out.
Is there something you know today that you wish you knew at the beginning of your career? I wish I'd have taken pictures of everybody I met. I would have had a helluva collection, because I've met all the greats from Michael Jackson to Jimi Hendrix and all these great people. I don't think I documented one shot. I didn't get any of me and Michael or The Jackson 5. I hung out with Muhammad Ali when he was not allowed to fight.
I wish we would have had cell phones back then. I would have done a selfie with everybody.
Cheech & Chong perform at 8 p.m. at Wild Horse Pass on Saturday, April 12. Tickets are $46 to $97 and available via wingilariver.ticketforce.com.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Phoenix art and theater scene.