Cheech & Chong bring ‘higher calling’ to Ann ArborWritten by Vicki L. Kroll | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Since Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong got back together in 2008, it’s been funny business as usual, high ol’ times.
It’s almost like nothing changed. Well, except that Cheech is clean-shaven these days. And Chong is tailing the police.
Does Cheech miss his ’stache?
“No,” he said and laughed during a phone call from a tour stop in Tampa, Fla. “I had my moustache years.”
Undaunted by his 2003 arrest for selling drug paraphernalia, Chong continues to flout the law.
“I’m following the cops; they don’t know that I’m on the cell phone,” he said and chuckled deeply via a hands-free model while driving on a Los Angeles freeway.
The iconic hippie stoners are still huffing and puffing — but in the name of change — as they bring their “Get It Legal” tour to Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor for an 8 p.m. show April 3. Tickets are $39.50 and $49.50.
“[Marijuana is] a proven medicine now. And not only should it be legal, it should be mandatory in a lot of cases,” Chong said. “There’s a case in Toronto where a 13-year-old boy with a brain tumor is alive because he smokes or takes marijuana daily because it shrinks the brain tumor. The critics say it does affect the brain, but in this case it affects it in a very positive manner.
“Also, it could be legal very easy,” he continued. “All they have to do is reschedule it from a Schedule I where it’s a dangerous drug, you know, they’re saying it has no medical level, to a Schedule II, which says that it is available by prescription only, which is the case in 16 states now, you can have medical marijuana.”
“It’s quasi-legal now,” Cheech said. “There are people who look to me and say, ‘Well, dude, you want to make marijuana legal for medical purposes on the way to making it legal for everybody.’ Well, yeah, of course. Yet the powers that be are just making us go through this step.
“I think that marijuana should be legalized much more than beer is legal. There’re many more positive attributes about it than alcohol. Alcohol is good because it’s a disinfectant, you know?”
Both believe in using comedy to advocate for change.
“It’s absolutely the best way. I’ve always been of the opinion you should slip it into their coffee and not cram it down their throat,” Cheech said.
“If nothing else, comedy keeps it in the light, we keep making light of it, you know, much like they did with Prohibition during the Prohibition years; they had speakeasies and jokes about drinking,” Chong said. “Red Skelton made a living, Charlie Chaplin, they all had drinking jokes, so we’re just upholding a tradition.”
Cheech and Chong became known for their funny stuff when they lit up the comedy world with nine albums from 1971 to 1985; they won a Grammy for “Los Cochinos” in 1973. It was natural to roll their act into the movies, which included “Up in Smoke” in 1978, “Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie” in 1980 and “Nice Dreams” in 1981.
They split in 1985.
“That turned out to be one of the best things we could have done because we went off, we became different people, and then when we got back together, even though we had that history, it was all fresh,” Chong said. “We hadn’t got trapped into the stereotype, which we were doing, we were sort of heading into that ‘Up in Smoke’ world. We’re just two characters, you know, and had we stayed together, it would have died.
“So by breaking up, we got a fresh approach at it, and now the new movie might be called ‘Grumpy Old Stoners,’ and that’s what we are now, we’re just grumpy old guys.”
“Well, [reuniting] was one of the conditions of [Chong’s] parole,” Cheech joked. “And we said, ‘What the hell?’ We’ll go and get back together again. And we could get 150 hours of community service knocked off, so it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Chong went to the joint for nine months in 2003 and 2004 after he accepted a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He admitted to distributing bongs and water pipes online through Nice Dreams, a family business.
Does he feel he was targeted to be an example?
“Absolutely. I’m going to be doing a talk with the Democratic people in Allegheny County [Pennsylvania] because [former U.S. Attorney] Mary Beth Buchanan is running for Congress there, and they want me to talk about her. Mary Beth Buchanan was the prosecutor who put me in jail,” Chong said.
He said that talk will be May 5.
“What she did during the indictment, because I pled guilty, they could say whatever they wanted to say, and they did,” Chong continued. “In the indictment, they said I should go to jail because I made millions of dollars making fun of law enforcement agencies. I mean, she just crapped all over the Constitution, you know, along with the Bush people, and I paid the price.”
While serving his sentence, he did find peace.
“The good thing about my incarceration was that I could turn it into like a religious retreat. I think a lot of prisoners do, and I definitely do recommend meditation. The way it helps, it just calms the soul,” Chong said. “Meditation really helps connect you with your soul, and that’s why I still do it.”
Still performing with Cheech? That’s a blast.
“The show is really energizing, and Cheech and I, we both, oh man, have such a ball,” Chong said. “We’re doing bits that we never did on stage like ‘Dave’s Not Here’ … and ‘Santa Claus and His Old Lady.’ ”
“And we’re also doing a song Tommy wrote when he first got into music called ‘Does Your Mama Know About Me?’ ‘Earache My Eye,’ of course, and a lot of new bits,” Cheech added.
Two new movies will hit screens soon: “Cheech & Chong’s Hey Watch This,” a concert film from their 2008 reunion tour, will be released April 20, and then there’s “Cheech & Chong’s Animated Movie.”
“I love animation. It’s such an idealized art form because you can get it exactly right,” said Cheech, who has voiced the Disney characters Banzai the hyena in “The Lion King” and the lowrider Ramone in “Cars.” “And voice acting is like sculpting with a chainsaw; you have to really describe something in very big arcs in order for it to pop on the screen.”
After the snub of Farrah Fawcett and pop culture at this year’s Oscars, will the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognize the work of Cheech and Chong when they’re no longer here?
“When we’re no longer here, yeah, absolutely,” Cheech said and laughed. “That’s the key: That we’re no longer here.”
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