Tommy Chong says a stoned audience is the worst audience to play to. And he would know. Over nearly 50 years in the business of hemped-up entertainment, he and comedy partner Richard “Cheech” Marin have performed all over the world, promoting a lifestyle that doesn’t exactly make the audience particularly responsive.
“It’s hard to keep a stoner’s attention,” he says with a laugh. “It’s hard to get them to settle down. But Cheech and Chong has always been crowd focused. You have to add more to get their attention, like music. Reggae usually works. But we’ve been doing the show for a few years now, so it’s almost polished.”
The comedy duo got their start in the late 1960s when the pair met in Vancover, B.C. Chong began his entertainment career as a musician in a rhythm and blues band, followed by work with the Vancouvers, co-writing the band’s first song, “Does Your Mama Know About Me.” He moved a bit away from music, developing the improvisational group “City Works,” where he met Marin.
Contrary to popular belief, Marin, an American, was not in Canada to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War, Chong says.
“He wasn’t dodging the draft,” he says, joking. “He was up there for a very important reason. He was there in case the Viet Cong attacked from Alaska.”
The pair decided to become a band, but after a few shows, they realized perhaps they were in the wrong field.
“Once we met, we started doing music,” Chong says. “We wanted to start a band. We always planned on doing music, but when we hit the stage, just the two of us, we ended up doing comedy.”
Although already successful, the comedy duo hit the big time after signing with manager and director Lou Adler, former manager for artists like The Mamas and the Papas, Scott McKenzie and Sam Cooke. Adler, whom Chong describes as a “true class act,” went on to direct and produce the wildly popular “Up In Smoke,” a movie revolving around two men’s appreciation for pot.
At the time of the movie’s release, the use of marijuana was seen as part of the cultural dissent, used by hippies and other members of the counter-culture movement. Now, however, pot use is becoming accepted to the point that several states have legalized its use.
“We’re looking at a world that is changing rapidly,” says Chong. “Here is a plant that has been demonized for decades. Pot is not only a medicine, it’s a pacifier. You don’t have to hire a bouncer at a marijuana convention. I think by the time Obama leaves office, it will totally be legal.”
Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin will bring their cannabis-soaked comedy to Rogers Saturday. But they won’t be alone. The duo has joined with WAR, which Chong says is one of the smartest things they have ever done. Also joining the tour is Shelby Chong, a comic with super-model looks and a raunchy sense of humor.
“My beautiful wife opens the show,” says Chong. “She’s always a great act. She works those big Cheech and Chong crowds so well. She really knows how to quiet the animals down.”
The comedic pair currently have a new movie in the works, are expecting to do more touring and are changing up their shows and routine, Chong says. Personally, Chong continues to brand the Chong name.
“We will probably be able to retire in a year or so because they won’t need us anymore,” says Chong with a laugh. “But until then, I want the audience to feel all tingly, like they’ve had a massage. We’re going to cover the place in good vibes. Then I want to reclaim my youth, spend a lot of time making teepees on the beach and making marijuana pipes and testing them.”
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