Cheech & Chong return to the stage
TORONTO – For a couple of laidback stoners, they sure know how to hold a grudge.
It has taken more than 25 years for Cheech & Chong to put aside their longstanding differences, with the comic pair apparently at loggerheads until just a few months ago.
But that’s all behind them now, insist reunited comedians Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, who say they’re excited to be resuming their beloved pot-loving alter-egos for a North American tour that kicks off Sept. 5 in Ottawa.
“There was always a great love there, as well as a bit of annoyance,” Marin says by phone from Los Angeles of the duo’s rocky relationship and how they managed to get beyond the bickering.
“It’s like being married, you know, for that long, you just kind of get sick of the other person.”
Edmonton-born Chong says the squabbling started back in the mid-1980s, when Marin decided to do the comedy film, “Born In East L.A.,” without his longtime cohort.
“That was kind of tough,” Chong says in a separate phone interview from Sydney, N.S., where he had a comedy show last week. “It’s kind of tough being a partner when your partner does a movie without you.”
“After that, he sort of went his way and I went my way.”
Marin, who was born in Los Angeles, went on to a mainstream acting career, scoring recurring roles in TV shows including “Nash Bridges,” “Judging Amy,” and more recently, “Lost,” as well as appearing in various films. He also became one of the foremost collectors of Mexican-American art, and says he made a point of distancing himself from his juvenile, pothead persona.
“It was very conscious,” the 62-year-old says of forging a new identity.
“It’s like turning an oil tanker around, you know. You don’t stop on a dime and speed up 180 degrees in the other direction, you kind of start doing it one gig at a time.”
Chong, meanwhile, appeared regularly on the TV sitcom “That ’70s Show” and says they were in the midst of negotiating a new Cheech & Chong movie when he was jailed in 2003 for selling bongs over the Internet.
He chronicles the experience in the documentary “a/k/a Tommy Chong,” recently released on DVD, and the book, “The I Chong: Meditations from the Joint,” published in 2006.
“I’m actually just starting to get back into making money,” Chong says of the ordeal, claiming it came with massive legal fees and cost him “a couple million” in income and revenue.
Today he can joke about nine months he spent in prison, where he says he was taken in by aboriginal inmates and invited into the “sweat lodge society.”
But while his beloved stage character probably helped ingratiate him with other prisoners, he says it also made him a target for federal drug officers hoping to make an example of him.
“I would be offered (marijuana) by snitches and then I would be drug-tested an hour or two later,” says Chong, 70. “It was that obvious. It happened more than once.”
“When they arrested me, they thought for sure that I had a lot of prior arrests and they thought I was this pothead idiot, you know. They thought I was my character, basically.”
These days, he’s promoting another book, “Cheech & Chong: The Unauthorized Biography.” Marin had no part in the project and Chong doubts he’s even read it.
“It’s a taboo subject with us,” Chong says.
Up until a few months ago, tensions were still high, he says, noting one meeting that devolved into a massive argument.
Marin says their troubles have always revolved around who would be in charge, but the time had come to let those grudges go.
“We’re at the age that we just don’t want to argue anymore,” he says, noting recent warm-up shows for the upcoming tour were “amazing.”
“So we decided not to have a personality conflict anymore.”
Chong and Marin say their new concert will feature the “greatest hits” of their career – spanning seven albums and about 10 films – with standup from Chong.
Chong’s wife, Shelby, will open the 90-minute show with her own comedy routine.
There are no plans to make another album, but Marin says there’s talk of filming the concerts for a possible DVD release.
The “Cheech and Chong Light Up America and Canada” tour kicks off in Ottawa on Sept. 5, heads to Toronto on Sept. 6, and Vancouver on Dec. 5.
Cheech & Chong return to the stage