Arts & Entertainment

Touring on a new high

Cheech and Chong -- back together after a 30-plus-year hiatus and behaving outrageously. And even though the two musician comics are senior citizens now, they're still stoners to the core.

"I actually haven't used any pot for a couple months now," quipped Tommy Chong. "Kinda silly of me, eh?"

Chong and sidekick Cheech Marin took time out from their Light Up America tour recently to chat with the Herald about life, liberty and the legalization of marijuana.

Chong, 70, is the more philosophical one -- a deep thinker who loves to talk and is happy to be on the road again.

Marin, 62, hasn't lost an ounce of his comic appeal, has no problem behaving badly at his age, and doesn't much care for spinach.

In other words, despite their senior status these days, Cheech and Chong still are the poster boys for stoners everywhere.

Getting back together after a rift tore them apart 30 years ago is the best thing that could have happened, Marin said.

"We both wanted to do this for a long time," he said. "Tommy and I were young, stupid and totally unprepared for the fame Up In Smoke thrust us into back in the '70s," Marin said.

Up In Smoke is an iconic film, released in 1978, about two potheads heading out on a road trip to find some "really good grass."

"This tour is totally different from our earlier comedy." Marin said. "Each night we do this show we improvise, making it different from the one before."

The Light Up America tour swings through the Northwest with stops in Eugene, Ore., on Nov. 20, Seattle on Nov. 29, and Spokane on Jan. 24.

Kennewick's Toyota Center is negotiating with tour promoters to bring the duo to the Tri-Cities, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen anytime soon, said Jude Strode with the Toyota Center.

"We may not be a large enough venue for them to perform," Strode said. "But we haven't given up on trying to bring them here."

A lot has changed in the lives of these two hilarious musician comics since Up In Smoke, seven albums and a Grammy win hurled them into the spotlight during the 1970s and early '80s.

Their hair is shorter and more gray and Marin's bushy mustache is long gone. Chong, however, still sports his trademark bandanna headband and full beard, though the beard has turned from black to totally white. Both are also staunch supporters of the legalization of marijuana.

Chong spent some time in jail in 2002 for possession of drug paraphernalia, which he calls a silly "trumped-up charge by the cops."

However, "it was one of the best things that ever happened to me," Chong said. "I've always been a spiritual man, but that time in jail gave me time to really think, learn, evolve. You're never really alone in jail. The presence of God, or whatever higher power you believe in, is always there if you let yourself feel it."

Chong also appreciates the wisdom that comes with age and how the bond of friendship between him and Marin has deepened over the years.

"In those early days, both of us were more impetuous, but we came together in a beautiful way," he said. "We were then, just as we are now, musicians first."

Marin couldn't couldn't agree more.

"Music is what brought us together and it's also a big part of our show now," Marin said. "It's the glue that really holds us together."

If anything, they said, this current tour is the perfect blend of old and new. It's a mix of irreverent, satirical, no-holds-barred comedy that is a Cheech and Chong trademark. And they're preaching to a whole new audience as well as the vintage ones.

"It's amazing, but the bulk of our fan base these days doesn't seem to be the (boomer generation) who were young when we were young," Marin said. "It's the kids in their 20s and 30s we seem to appeal to these days. That could have something to do with the fact Tommy and I still have that pot smoker mentality."

Cheech and Chong both say a sequel to Up In Smoke is definitely in the hopper.

"It'll happen," Chong said. "We're working on it."

In the meantime, they both have plenty of projects that keep them busy when they're not on the road.

Marin, who was born in Los Angeles, has made a name for himself in the acting world, having starred in such TV hits as Nash Bridges, Judging Amy and Lost. His film credits are many, most notably From Dusk Till Dawn, Grindhouse, Ghostbusters 2, Tin Cup, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Spy Kids and Born in East L.A. He's also loaned his distinctive voice to the animated films The Lion King and Oliver & Company.

His first name is Richard but he picked up the nickname "Cheech" as a baby when one of his uncles took one look at him in his crib and said he "looks just like a little cheech."

Marin's also released a couple of children's music albums titled My Name is Cheech and The School Bus Driver. The divorced father of three is currently single.

Chong was born and raised in Alberta. He learned to play guitar at age 11 playing a mix of music from country to blues. He formed one of Calgary's earliest rock and blues bands before heading to the states.

He's also appeared in dozens of films, done voices for cartoons and written a biography.

"The spirit of what we created in the 1970s is timeless, it's real, it's the truth," Chong said. "Cheech has always been quicker, smarter than me, but I'm the writer of the team."

Chong explains their early breakup like this. "We had reached a point in our lives where we had to choose: Do we quit now and become legends? Or do we go on and burn out?"

With the success and longevity of Cheech and Chong's celebrity during the past three decades, the answer to that is a no-brainer.

*Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com

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