Groundbreaking. Revolutionary. Original. Stoned.
Cheech & Chong, the seminal stoner duo known for their albums and movies in the 1970s, will be rolling into town next Thursday, September 18, for a show at the Bell Auditorium. It’s a collaboration of sorts with the band WAR, which is fitting since Cheech & Chong have always been musical (who can forget “Beaner”?). I had the honor of talking to my childhood idol Cheech Marin last week.
Cheech was eight credits shy of an English lit degree when he left California for Canada at the height of the Vietnam War and, shortly afterward, met Tommy Chong. In their late teens at the time, they didn’t mean to create an entirely new genre of comedy, but that is what they did. By the time Cheech was 25 years old, he had recorded and released the album “Cheech & Chong,” which was the album for junior high students everywhere.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” Marin said. “We were just thankful we got a contract to make an album. We didn’t know how to do it because we were a stage act. And so we had to figure out, how do we transfer what we do on stage to record? It was a process. We went through a couple of false starts and then we kind of came upon the idea of creating these scenarios in the studio and adding special effects.
The problem, he said, was that while most comedians were making albums, most comedians weren’t like Cheech & Chong.
“Everyone that was making albums that was our age, like Lily Tomlin and George Carlin, they were doing live recordings of their act and we were a visual act,” he explained. “We had a bunch of influences from old radio shows and we started doing that and we came up with this process that was really good for the age.”
When their second album came out, it was the biggest selling comedy album of all time.
“We always kind of always took things in stride. Okay, we gotta go here, we gotta go there,” he said. “We were like three albums into it before we kind of thought, ‘Hey, this could be our job man!’”
Then came the movies. It is hard to imagine now, but the theaters were so smoky back then you could have a hard time seeing the screen. You can’t smoke in theaters anymore but put one of the duo’s movies back up on the big screen and they stand up as well now as when they were released.
Cheech & Chong hit the comedy scene at a time when there was an explosion of talent: Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Martin Mull, Lily Tomlin, Monty Python, George Carlin and Richard Pryor. It was a murderers row of stand up.
“Pop art really had a kind of short life heretofore, so we were really surprised how we took off,” he said.
In the era of comedy podcasting you may be wondering where Cheech is out there in the world of free comedy.
“Tommy does it,” he said. “I don’t know. This whole social media thing is like having another job, you know, and I already have a job.”
Cheech also has interests outside of comedy. One of his favorites is art.
“I’ve always been self educated about art from a very early age, and I’ve always enjoyed it: learning about classic art I studied it all my life,” he said. “And when I had enough money to buy art I started looking at Chicano painters. I knew they were good paintings because I had been looking at good paintings all my life and so I started collecting their work. You know, I needed something to hang over the couch and then it became a mania for me. I just want everyone to see it.”
What to expect from the show Thursday night?
“The stage show is pretty robust. People are amazed we are still able to do it!” he said. “Thank God for modern science.”
Cheech & Chong with WAR
Thursday, September 18