Green Without Envy: Cheech and Chong Interview

Dec 10, 2008 at 6:30 am
It took 20-plus years, but the smokedelic duo of Cheech [Marin] and [Tommy] Chong has finally reunited for a massive Light Up America and Canada Tour that has sold out since its September, kick-off.

(And sadly for fans here, the show on January 18 in St. Louis is sold out.)

Though the pair remains mum on the subject of past creative differences, it is their present and future projects -- not to mention their current paychecks -- that truly fires 'em up.

So what led to the reunion tour?
Chong: Uh, old age. We're getting to the point of no return. Cheech got divorced and I got out of jail, so people had lawyer bills to pay. He sort of came to the end of his art show and I was looking for something, and it was a great time. My wife and I had been working on the road and she opens the show. She's on her own now. She does her own little stand-up. So it all works out great.

Marin: They made us an offer that we couldn't refuse. They said they would write off 250 hours of community service if we did this. So we're doing this for the kids, because the kids are our future, you know? We teach by example [Laughs]. We've always been trying to get together and do somethin' but something always intrudes, like Tommy's jail term. And we figured, well, if we're ever gonna do something, it has to be now or never 'cause we're not getting' any younger. And then there are other factors too. We're calling it the Felimony tour, his felony and my alimony.

Is there a certain percentage that's classic versus new stuff? Do you switch it up?
Chong: It's mostly old stuff with new fillings, like the references are more McCain and Obama as opposed to Clinton and the old stuff we used to talk about. The humor hasn't changed at all. It's the same old story, the stoner kind of stuff. We just really get back into the good old Cheech and Chong fodder and fans are just lovin' it.
Marin: We have this vast library of materials to draw from. We're doing stuff we've never done onstage from our catalogue. A lot more music and actually playing live and doing bits we haven't done before, and the classics and then there's a lot of commentary. Tommy in particular does a lot more stand-up than I do and he comments on the political scene and the inequity of it all. He's a great comic. Cheech and Chong are professionals. We do it all for the kids, you know.

Was a lot of rehearsal required?
Chong: No. More than anything, we always rehearsed in front of an audience. That was our thing. If we had any new bits to do we'd just do it right then. There was very, very little offstage rehearsal. We tried, but it was just, like, old age. We'd either record the rehearsal or shoot the rehearsal or just get in front of the audience and do 'em.

Marin: We did a little bit of rehearsal, like talking it over, and then we went and did four days at a comedy club in La Jolla, California, at the Comedy Store, and we just went onstage. And it was like we'd never left, like we'd been off a week, not 27 years. It makes me think, "Wow, I couldn't get rid of this stuff if I wanted to." The thing that's surprising me is how timeless the material is. It's just as contemporary now as when we first did it. It's amazing.

Have you been watching the new crop of stoner movies?
Chong: Oh yeah, it's like my job, because so many people ask me about them, I have to go see them. In fact, I reviewed Pineapple Express for one magazine, Maxim. Yeah, they put in my little take on Seth Rogen. I give him all the compliments in the world because I really do appreciate his intelligence. And all the stoner movies, I'm a big fan. I don't care how bad they are.
Marin: The kids watchin' 'em are going out and doing their own thing, mixing it in their mix, you know? But it's my conviction that a stoner movie doesn't necessarily have to do with smoking pot. Stoner movies have to do with mentality. I think Napolean Dynamite is the perfect stoner movie. You watch it and you go, "Okay, that's really off of them." It's like, "Huh?" And that's what makes it worth bearing repeated watchings, you know, because it's off from the mainstream. You have a dichotomy today in which you have these kind of mainsteam movies that are blow-em-up and digitized and crammed down your throat, and then you have these other, kinda off movies that let the scenes play and let you be involved in them rather than having it smeared all over you...

And there may be a new film in the works for you guys?
Chong: Yeah, we're talkin' about it. The film companies are kind of chomping at the bit.

Marin: You never know, if they make the right offer. Hey, I'm susceptible to money.

Any thought as to whether it might address how the culture's changed since the '70s, with organizations like NORML or the proliferation of the medical marijuana movement?
Chong: Possibly. You know, they all have a habit of sticking their little noses in there somehow. Like in Nice Dreams we had Timothy Leary in there. So with this one, yeah, I would venture to say we could probably get into the MS factor and how pot has really helped those people. I'd like to show the miracle side of the magic weed and I probably will if I have my way.

Marin: There are a few things floating around. We made it a pact to kind of do this one thing at a time. Let's go on the road and see if we don't kill each other, and if that happens, we'll talk about other stuff. It's amazing how it's building. We're getting these offers out of the blue, and the longer you wait, it's unbelievable. We're just on a ride here. But the kids are driving, because it's all about the kids.

- Julie Seabaugh

*This show is sold out* 
7 p.m. Sunday, January 18. The Pageant, 6161 Delmar Street. $35-60. 314-726-6161.