The comedy oeuvre of Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong took the same trajectory as many other priceless American cultural artifacts. First it was hip, contemporary and relevant. Then it was dated and weird. Then it came out the other side again, able to be appreciated for its timeless truths about man, cannabis and the way we act around it. Don’t believe me? Light one (a joint, junior, none of this highfalutin, newfangled digital stuff) and give their self-titled debut, “Cheech and Chong Up In Smoke” a spin.
More than just a sensible giggle in troubled times, Cheech and Chong were also a form of resistance to the tyranny of the drug war. We might think of the 1970s as a sort of golden age of cannabis culture, but for stoners the 70s were a time when prison was a real threat, even for small amounts for personal consumption. Grandma might not find them funny (though she just might), but at the very least she could listen and understand that getting high meant you were going to get hungry, giggly and tired, not knock over a liquor store.
Cheech and Chong: After the Breakup
After the comedy act, Cheech never had much to do with cannabis culture. His career took a far more mainstream trajectory. And good for him. But the same cannot be said of Tommy Chong. He has the scars to prove his skin in the game. As part of a $12 million expenditure involving 2,000 law enforcement officers, a federal judge sentenced Chong to nine months in federal prison, fined him $20,000 and ordered a forfeiture of over $100,000 in assets — all for the crime of investing in and promoting his son’s bong business. It wasn’t all bad though: He convinced Jordan Belfort to write “The Wolf of Wall Street” while they were cellmates.
Getting the Band Back Together
Their breakup was notoriously acrimonious. The pair didn’t speak for years. Mending of fences took place slowly, first with Chong appearing on Marin’s “Nash Bridges” television series. They recorded their lines separately for a joint appearance on “South Park” in 2000.. Both men stated an openness toward reunion in 2003. Chong’s incarceration derailed a planned reunion, but the pair were back together in September 2009. Since then they’ve appeared on “The Simpsons” together and performed at the Gathering of the Juggalos. A new film with Jay Chandrasekhar of “Super Troopers” fame has been in the works since 2014.
While the original records and films of Cheech and Chong bear the unmistakable stamp of the 1970s, there’s a perennial aspect to their comedy. No matter how people are getting high, Cheech and Chong will find a way to make you laugh about it — whether you’re smoking or not.