Fans of Cheech and Chong — not to mention a casual observer of their humor — would likely think the comedy-musical duo were pretty much completely stoned while they created their best known bits. But, as it happens, that might not be accurate, at least according to Richard “Cheech” Marin.
“In the early days, we were working all the time (and) we never did it while we were working,” Marin told the Phoenix New Times in a December interview. “When you put in a 12- or 14-hour workday, and you get stoned every day, you’re not going to put out the best product. Our method of creation involved improvisation, so you have to be really aware of what’s going on.”
Then, Marin paused and smiled: “I mean, maybe we smoked a little.”
Quantity notwithstanding, it’s pot humor mixed with Latino culture that made Cheech and Chong famous both in film and on stage. The duo returns to the area Feb. 27 at Silver Legacy Resort Casino.
Tommy Chong told the Calgary Herald in January that the duo’s latest show is “the bits that we can remember. It’s pure Cheech and Chong: you don’t know what you’re going to get, but you’re going to get something.”
Marin and Tommy Chong started working together in Vancouver, Canada, in the late ’60s. For most of the early ’70s, they toured and released albums like most rock bands of the day. It was quite successful, as they had three top 10 albums from 1972 to 1974 and even scored two top 10 hits on the pop chart with the soul parody “Basketball Jones” in 1973 and the glam-rock send-up “Earache My Eye” in 1974.
Another famous Cheech and Chong record was “Santa Claus and His Old Lady,” a comedy skit that has become a holiday perennial on rock radio stations. Marin told the New Times that its genesis speaks to how the duo works well together.
“We started with just one thought, ‘There’s a musician who doesn’t know who Santa Claus is,’” Marin said. “We did it in two or three passes, and we had it. When we were working together, it was like telepathy. We didn’t have to ask each other anything. We could see where the other was going. You’d think, ‘I’m going to jump off at this cliff right here, and I know he’s going to be down there.’ ”
Yet when asked who is the funniest of the duo, Marin didn’t hesitate: “Oh me, I’m way funnier (laughs). I mean, I don’t think that’s even a question. The thing is that we work great together. We’re two unique people who came together, and our various senses of humor and our timing meshed.”
“Tommy is a funny guy in a specific, way-out, off-the-wall kind of way. That’s why he’s funny to me. Nobody else would think about that kind of stuff.”
Cheech and Chong also starred together in several films, the first of which called “Up In Smoke” in 1978 ended up grossing $100 million at the box office. Many films followed through the mid-1980s. Chong told the Calgary Herald that those films ended up being influential.
“I know we influenced the hell out of Quentin Tarantino,” he said. “He even admits it, talking about watching Cheech and Chong movies over and over again. Cheech really created the Chicano persona — you know, George Lopez and (Paul) Rodriguez and all those guys. Cheech really put a stamp of approval on it with that character. I see our influence all over the place … and the respect. “
Chong also told the A.V. Club web magazine in a recent interview he would have also done something differently with that first film.
“I directed the movies, you know, including ‘Up In Smoke,’ but if I had to do it over again, I would make Cheech a co-director,” he said. “Because he really was a co-director. I had the final say, but everything we did, Cheech added as much as I did, if not more in some cases. But I got the name and the glory, because I insisted on it.”
In the mid-‘80s, Cheech and Chong decided to split. In the meantime, both men continued to act and perform, while Marin also has a supporting role on the ’90s action/comedy show “Nash Bridges.” Chong also made several cameos on “That ’70s Show” about a decade later.
The duo reunited for good in 2008 for the Light Up America concert tour and have been doing shows together ever since. In his interview with the Calgary Herald, Chong acknowledged the reunion came after an acrimonious split between the two for most of the two decades before it, but that the relationship is good now.
“It’s kind of like the Eagles,” Chong said of another ’70s group that reunited. “We get along, but there’s always that tension there. … Cheech and I — we’re joined at the hip. As long as there is pot, there will be a Cheech and Chong.”