cheech-and-chong

(Still) on a High Note

Four decades after their groundbreaking comedy Up in Smoke, Cheech & Chong take on the 21st century. But for Tommy Chong, the key to longevity and relevance stems from a solid inner life and a deeper sense of self.

GREG ARCHER Arts & Entertainment, Current Digital

cheech-and-chong
Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong are back on tour with an Aug. 4 date at the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PHIL MOBLEY

Every decade has a unique flavor—like distinctly original cannabis strains. In the 1970s, it was all about freedom, Farrah Fawcett, and the gut-busting comedy and musical banter of Cheech & Chong. The latter, formally known as Richard Marin and Tommy Chong, are still generating buzz, especially this year, as their seminal comedy film Up in Smoke, hits middle-age. The tale, which opened in theaters 40 years ago, captured the zeitgeist of the free-spirited 70s and the moral policy that wanted to extinguish it. (And the marijuana joints being toted.)

Still, if there ever was a year to celebrate freedom, and cannabis for that matter, 2018 may be it. Expect those topics to enter the robust mix of music, comedy, and reflection when Cheech & Chong headline The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa Aug. 4.

For Tommy Chong, now 80, reflecting back on the entertainment universe he and Marin co-created, is downright sublime. The duo’s irreverent satirical counter-culture no-holds-barred comedy routines spawned remarkable success, including eight films, nine comedy albums, a string of musical hits (“Earache My Eye,” “Basketball Jones,” “Santa Claus and His Old Lady”) and an über famous line (“Dave’s not here”) from their self-titled album.

The 2018 Cheech & Chong tour is a follow up to the guys’ successful 2008 reunion tour, “Cheech & Chong Light Up America Tour in 2008.” Here, Tommy Chong opens up with Palm Springs Life about some of things that impacted his journey.

Your Tommy Chong app is blowing up. What do you love most about it?
The connection with people from all around the world. It’s so cool. You get people from Amsterdam to Scotland to Canada. A lot of it is about smoking as in: “What’s your favorite strain” and things like that, but really, it’s like chatting with your kids. They tell me they’re getting ready for work or something like that. I feel like an adoptive dad for a lot of people.

Why do think you and Cheech have remained so popular over the years?
We hit a note that resonated with everybody back then, and it still does. There are two things in this universe that are eternal. One of them is the tone C. It has always been here and it will always be here. So when you hit a “note” in literature, music, the arts, that note lingers. We reached across so many cultures. And we were reaching for the same thing, which was a marijuana cigarette. It united everybody together, and then it was about the music, too. I think that’s what still keeps us viable. As long as those movies are still around, we will always be 20 and young.

What do you love most about working with Cheech?
His intellect. He’s one of the most intelligent, sharpest guys I’ve ever met. Cheech, in his own right, is a genius.

Growing up, did it ever cross your mind or intuition that you would be where you are today?
From my earliest memories, there was always an underlying feeling, an intuition, that I was in for something really special. I had an interesting childhood. I didn’t see my father until I was 4 years old. He went off to war. My mother got sick right after that—she was in a sanitarium for two years—and then I was put into a hospital for pleurisy. I was there almost an entire year by myself and then I was put in an orphanage while my mother was still in the hospital. We never got to be a family until I was about 6 years old.

How was that for you?
Well, the only entertainment where we lived in Calgary was the church. Period. No movies. No television. We had a radio. That was in the ‘40s. I went to Sunday school and that was my earliest connection to God. I was taught all the Jesus stories, so you know, when I was 8 years old, I kind of went on a search for God. They told me, “God is everywhere,” so I’d be walking home from church looking for God. [Laughs]

What did you find?
When I went to six weeks of Bible camp during a summer, they taught us how to pray. And that’s been with me my entire life.

What did you pray for?
Prayer is really like a private meditation. You get whatever you pray for. So I prayed for wisdom.

Smart move.
Yes. And that has taken me where I am today. And you know, so many decisions were made for me. I never made a conscious decision to play guitar. When my mother was pregnant with me, she played the guitar and held it to her stomach. I came out of the womb being able to play guitar. I think I always knew I would do what I loved, which is playing the guitar and performing in front of people.

So, what’s the biggest misconception about cannabis?
That marijuana is a gateway drug to harder drugs. It’s not. You know, bars are closing faster than they are opening now. The [cannabis] dispensaries are the new thing popping up all over the place. Marijuana is a medicine. Plain and simple.

One last thing: What’s some of the best advice you have been given about life?
[Laughs] Pray for wisdom.

Cheech & Chong perform at 8 p.m. Aug. 4 at The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage. For tickets and more information, call 800-585-3737 or visit hotwatercasino.com.