Iconic comedy duo Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, better known as Cheech and Chong, defined an era in comedy that had not been seen prior to their debut in the 1970’s. Their satirical, counter-culture comedy routines spawned $10 million dollar grossing movies, Grammy Award nominations and more between 1972 and 1985. By the time the mid 1980’s arrived however, amid waning success, the duo went their separate ways, only to reunite more than 20 years later to the wild delight of their fans.
Speaking from California, Tommy Chong says the duo’s original decision to bow out in the 80’s was a tough but wise one in retrospect.
“Everything has a shelf life,” Chong begins. “We had done movies and a bunch of records and that was it. Rather than start trying to relive past glories, we split at the right time. Fortunately, we never arrived at a point where we hated each other.”
Asked whether they each experienced a difficult time trying to get work once their partnership had dissolved, both Chong and Marin admit that shaking the image they had become so well-known for and the associations that went along with that image was a challenge at times.
“Was it tough? Yes and no,” Marin begins. “For the people who had been following us, I think they recognized the ability each of us had right away and we would end up getting offers to do other things.”
For Marin, those “other things” included a resume of more than 20 films including Spy Kids, Tin Cup and Once Upon a Time In Mexico. Marin also landed a recurring role on the hit television show Lost.
Chong kept fairly busy himself after he and Marin parted ways. The Edmonton, Alberta born Chong landed the role of “Leo” on Fox’s That 70’s Show and had also landed guest spots on Dharma & Greg and The George Lopez Show. In 2003, Chong’s home was raided by a SWAT team and the actor subsequently served 9 months in prison for conspiracy to manufacture and distribute drug paraphernalia through “Chong Glass,” a family business specializing in handmade glass water pipes.
“The transition from being a part of Cheech and Chong to being on my own wasn’t necessarily an easy one,” Chong says. “After Cheech and I had split, I tried to do another movie without him, Far Out Man, that ended up taking five years to do. It was after that I had decided to go back on stage as a solo act; I had never done stand up alone. It was good but as the years went by, I had become sort of resigned to the fact that I would be without my partner.”
Marin says even though they were no longer working together professionally, the duo kept in sporadic touch with each other in the time between 1985 and 2008 when their reunion was official.
“We kept in touch with one another but not all that much,” Marin recalls. “There were definitely some long periods of time that we wouldn’t hear from each other. There were many times prior to 2008 that we tried to reunite but the same issues kept surfacing and made it tough.”
Once the duo did reunite for their first tour in more than 25 years in 2008, their “Cheech & Chong: Light Up America & Canada” tour proved to be one of the most successful comedy tours of the year, selling out many of their shows.
Asked if there was any awkwardness between them in their initial performances after reuniting, both Marin and Chong liken the experience to riding a bicycle.
“Getting back together proved to be very unique and special,” Chong says. “We got back together after such a long time apart yet in spite of that, it was as though we hadn’t missed a beat. It was just like magic. In spite of everything that went down, everything turned out really well. I was incredibly grateful to be working with Cheech again.”
“It was pretty amazing,” Marin concurs when thinking about their initial reunion shows. “I think it probably took us all of about 27 seconds to get back into the groove of things. It felt like we had never left.”
“One of the biggest compliments that we have received was from a show we recently did at a casino in the United States,” says Chong. “Sometimes people will leave half way through the show and nobody at that show walked out the door until we were finished. Everyone stayed until the end which meant so much to us. It showed us that people still care.”
Article published in November 26, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript