The Grammy winning comedy team of Cheech and Chong had a string of great comedy albums in the 1970’s followed by a series of hit movies like “Up In Smoke”, “Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie”, “Nice Dreams” and “Still Smoking.” And they’ve been entertaining audiences ever since. Cheech and Chong recently stopped by the SiriusXM studios to talk with Ron Bennington about their new animated movie, “Cheech and Chong’s Animated Movie.” Excerpts from the interview appear below.
* * *
Ron Bennington: How ya doing fellas? It’s good to see you again.
Ron Bennington: Now do you feel like Cheech today or Chong?
Tommy Chong: Yea I do, I feel like Cheech. Sleepy. Just a sleepy day.
Cheech Marin: And hungry (laughs).
Tommy Chong: Sleepy and hungry.
* * *
Ron Bennington: We were playing music as you guys came in; and if you guys would have made it as a band early on, would you have ever added the comedy? Or would you have just been happy enough with the band.
Tommy Chong: We had to make that choice, because we actually started a band. I had a band together, but our comedy was so strong. And I’d been in bands, the best bands, and nothing touched the crowd like our comedy.
Ron Bennington: That just blew up for you.
Tommy Chong: The comedy just worked. And you didn’t want to spoil it. When you get them laughing, they’re screaming, and you walk off the stage.
Ron Bennington: But you guys do sometimes feel closer to a band to me and your comedy is like musical.
Cheech Marin: We are both musicians all our lives, so we have a musician sense of humor.
Ron Bennington: A musician sense of humor. Well how would you describe that?
Cheech and Chong: (Stumbling over each other) Timing! (Laughs.)
Cheech Marin: What’s the secret to comedy? Timing, timing, timing!
Tommy Chong: The thing is about musicians…. I’ve been in R&B bands. …But I had a band before The Stones, before The Beatles, doing Bo Diddley songs, doing all that. In fact, we introduced Bo Diddley songs to the Canadian culture. I think the only guy that was playing at the same time was Ronnie Hawkins.
Tommy Chong: Bo Diddley was our Elvis at the time.
Ron Bennington: In Canada?
Tommy Chong: In Canada yeah, Calgary.
Ron Bennington: The Hawks was The Band too right? That was the guys from The Band.
Cheech and Chong: Yeah, The Band, right.
Ron Bennington: You guys came up more with rock musicians than you did comedians, right?
Cheech Marin: Yeah we never hung out with comedians because they were always working on material. ‘That’s funny, you gonna use that? Are you using that?’
Tommy Chong: Not only that, but they weren’t interesting. Well you know. Do you hang out with them?
Ron Bennington: No, no no. Unless you’re getting paid, why be with a comedian? (laughs). They’re so depressing. There’s always something wrong with them.
Tommy Chong: It’s a big therapy session when you think about it. They are saying the things on stage they could never say anywhere else.
Ron Bennington: And very self-centered. Comedians are very self-centered.
Tommy Chong: Now musicians. Physically, a lot of them that I knew were in good shape and they had good habits and they could tell the best jokes.
Cheech Marin: They have a sense of timing. They know when to do it. That’s like where we got it, because our method now is we listen to each other; and okay, now put some little notes in here or step back; it’s all music to us.
Tommy Chong: Well if you tell stupid jokes. This guy told us a funny joke, a true story. He was going to go down on this girl. He says, ‘I was gonna go down on her’, he says, ‘but she had a colostomy bag.’ He says, ‘It almost turned me off.”
Cheech Marin: ‘Damn near. Damn near turned me off!’
Ron Bennington: Well the other thing too, your opening records were cut in a studio the way that you would do a musical album instead of in front of an audience.
Tommy Chong: We had a setup just like this (indicating the radio studio).
Cheech Marin: Not even this big.
Tommy Chong: We had mics, we had an engineer.
Cheech Marin: And that’s all we had.
Tommy Chong: That’s all we needed.
Cheech Marin: Our contemporaries like George Carlin or Richard Pryor or Lily Tomlin — they all did their live act. Their album was their live act and they would record that. We went and made up scenes.
Tommy Chong: And it’s funny too because Carlin was a musician. He played piano in a group. He had a band and he could sing.
Ron Bennington: I had no idea that he played piano.
Tommy Chong: Pretty good.
* * *
Ron Bennington: Who is the one that brought you into the studio first? That had the idea that you guys were more for a studio?
Tommy Chong: We brought ourselves in. We went to Lou Adler. We heard that Lou Adler had seen us, seen our open mic night. We heard about it and Cheech told me, ‘Lou Adler saw us!’
Tommy Chong: I didn’t know who Lou Adler was, and he kind of told me a little bit about it on the way to the meeting. Then when we got there we didn’t have any clue of what we were going to say to him. It was like ‘What do you want?’ And he asked us, ‘What do you want?’ And we said ‘Well… we wanna make a record!’
Cheech Marin: Yeah, because we see all these gold records.
Ron Bennington: Because he didn’t have any comedians right? He just had rock and roll acts.
Cheech Marin: But he was from East LA, and he really got us. He understood that whole low-rider thing.
Tommy Chong: Big time. And so he said, ‘What do you need?’ And we said, ‘A little tape recorder and a thousand bucks.’
Cheech Marin: We bumped it to two thousand (laughs).
Tommy Chong: We finally got it up to two thousand. Then we took the little tape recorder and we just rehearsed that one time with the tape recorder. I kind of tortured Cheech. I kept him outside. He kept banging on the door and I kept saying who is it? And finally I opened the door and history was made.
Ron Bennington: And it was Lou that got this thing out and getting played on radio stations?
Cheech Marin: That day.
Tommy Chong: We recorded it that night. The next morning, it was on every radio station across the country. How did he do it?
Cheech Marin: Payola.
Ron Bennington: Straight Payola. (laughs)
Tommy Chong: I started getting phone calls, and then I turned on the radio and every radio station in LA was saying things like, ‘Okay, Dave’s not here. Cheech and Chong will be up in 30 minutes.’ They played it over and over and over again.
Cheech Marin: Then when the album came out, the same thing with the album.
Ron Bennington: Because no one had really done that kind of stoner humor before.
Tommy Chong: We were the first.
Cheech Marin: And the thing is it was in a period of time where the pulse of entertainment was slower. It was like the golden age of movies: The Godfather, Chinatown. And whole scenes would play out. It wasn’t digitized and forced down your throat. So we had that same rhythm, that same tempo. The albums came out and the scenes. They were very atmospheric. They had a lot of background in them. You were in the scene and you could stay there for a while.
Tommy Chong: You weren’t looking at your cellphone.
* * *
Ron Bennington: Now that you guys are back together like this, do you set goals for shit you want to do or just whatever comes along you’re up for it?
Tommy Chong: I just take it as it comes. The animation… these kids the Chambers brothers came to me 4 years ago and asked me what I thought of the idea animating the bits. My son was involved too, Paris. They did the research and went to Lou Adler, and they had to get us to sign off on it, and they did, and 4 years later they got an animated flik. We’ve been offered a lot of things. We got offered a lot of reality-type shows, but you know how that shit is. You have to be sort of like dying, you’ve got to be desperate. We’re too successful. And that reality format doesn’t work. We’re looking at a documentary. There’s a great documentary about Ginger Baker…
Ron Bennington: Oh yeah I had the director in. It was great.
Tommy Chong: …well he wants to do a documentary on us. …And so we got that project. But personally, I like pushing the animation. Because if we get our foothold in the animated world, Cheech and I can just stay on the golf course and relax.
Cheech Marin: We’re looking to replace “The Simpsons” you know.
* * *
Ron Bennington: How’d you meet?
Cheech Marin: I was in college and in my last semester I was involved in the draft resistance movement. We turned in all our draft cards and said, ‘Hey, you have no authority over us!’ Well yeah, they didn’t appreciate that. So they started persecuting us, and so I knew what they were trying to do was illegal. They were trying to reclassify me and then draft me. I was still in school, so I went to Canada.
Tommy Chong: Did you do the underground?
Cheech Marin: No. I went on the Greyhound. Rolled the dog.
Tommy Chong: You didn’t sneak into Canada?
Cheech Marin: No. I became a landed immigrant. I was there for 3 years. And you couldn’t get a job, and I knew I needed a job because I didn’t know how long I was going to be there. Because once I crossed the border and after I got my classification changed and then they drafted me, I was there and who knows how long I was going to be there. And so right away I got landed immigrant status, and then I could get a job. But I moved to the exact same city that he was born in.
Tommy Chong: With the outdoor plumbing. In fact, he had outdoor plumbing!
Cheech Marin: Like a pump and you go to the outhouse.
Tommy Chong: Nothing will control the bowel movement like cold-ass weather. You plan your trip man. You have to put on your winter clothes (laughs).
Cheech Marin: You have to put on your winter clothes, and where I was living I had to have a shotgun. Because you know you’d go out there and the bears man. You’d be sitting on there and it would be like 20 below, and you’re trying to take a dump with a shotgun. Try to relax!
Ron Bennington: That’s worse than Vietnam (laughs).
Cheech Marin: And the wood was freezing. You’d sit on the wood and it would freeze to your ass so you couldn’t even sit all the way down. I kept hearing in this local thing about this musician Tommy Chong who had been there because he had a hit record. And then I went to Vancouver and I met him right away. We got introduced by a guy who was an editor of a magazine that I was writing for, and it was history after that.
Ron Bennington: Unbelievable stuff.
Tommy Chong: He wasn’t even Cheech when I met him. He was Richard. Then he joined the group and then he was like a writer for the group. I had another partner named Dave. Our success killed us. We were there 9 months and we changed the club from a topless biker bar into a theater group, and those theater people don’t drink shit. So we ended up being fired.
Ron Bennington: Packing the place, but not selling any alcohol.
Tommy Chong: No money. Just bodies and no bread.
Cheech Marin: But it was great. We were doing topless improv. What it really was at the end of the day was hippie burlesque. We were doing burlesque. Naked girls would come out, but they would start fully clothed and they would be in a scene. And then somewhere in the scene, they would take off their clothes.
Tommy Chong: We got a lot of our jokes from the Playboy joke book.
Ron Bennington: When you even brought up burlesque, the weird thing is there is something really traditional about what you guys do and yet it was seen as this different thing. But it is really as old as comedy.
Cheech Marin: And we knew it at the time, but everybody else is all, ‘Oh its this, that, and the other…’ Yeah okay, whatever. But Lenny Bruce came out of the same thing, Milton Burrow, Red Skelton. Bob Fosse came out of a strip club; he was the choreographer and the pasties warmer. And we did the same thing, but we started including dope jokes. They didn’t know what to make of us. They had no idea.
Tommy Chong: We didn’t really give a shit, because I owned the club. We turned the club so fast because as soon as we started doing anything theater, all the theater people came out and they were digging us.
* * *
Ron Bennington: There is a kind of secret of success of not giving a shit though isn’t there? When you’re not looking for it and you’re saying I’m just going on and going to please myself, then you’ve got a place to go.
Tommy Chong: That’s always been our thing man. If it doesn’t make us laugh, then why do it?
Cheech Marin: You’ve got to be young though (laughs). And you’re overhead has to be nothing.
Tommy Chong: Because what happens when you get older… The I don’t give a shit just travels into every area of your life. (Ron laughs.)
Cheech Marin: I kind of don’t give a shit, and then well you know I could give a shit.
Ron Bennington: It is, you’re right though, as soon as you get a nice comfortable house you’re like, ‘Why would I go out there again?’ All those things kind of work against all the stuff that was when you’re just living out of a suitcase.
Cheech Marin: But our image was these rebel guys, and we were encouraged to do that.
Tommy Chong: Well, had a choice. I owned 2 nightclubs. I could have stayed there and lived a pretty nice life. But as soon as I found out that we could get laughs, the two of us, are you kidding? Because I’d done the band thing and putting up with drummers and psychos (laughs). ‘Uh, where’s your bass?’ ‘Oh fuck I forgot it man.’
Cheech Marin: And when we split up I thought that is what Tommy was going to do, he was going to go back to Vancouver and open up a club or be involved in a club scene, but he went on the road and learned standup.
Tommy Chong: Well Ron was there the first gigs. I had 5 minutes.
Ron Bennington: Yeah he only had a couple of minutes and was figuring it out on stage, but it was really interesting to see it happening. But I used to have a phone on the stage, and he called you one night from the stage and the place went crazy. I’m like, ‘What are these guys waiting for man?’ (Laughs.) You see everybody wants it. It was an amazing thing, but I think in hindsight that turned out to be so good for you to get out and do it that way man.
Tommy Chong: I had to learn my craft. I knew how to do the improv. I had to learn how to do standup. And it took 20-30 years.
Cheech Marin: That’s the thing you have to learn. Like if you can play guitar, it doesn’t mean you can play banjo or bass or other stringed instruments, but it’s a different deal.
* * *
Ron Bennington: Cheech and Chong I love when you guys stop by.
Cheech: It’s our pleasure.
Ron Bennington: You’re always welcome. Good to see you boys. I’ll see you next time coming through.
* * *
You can hear this interview in its entirety exclusively on SiriusXM satellite radio. Not yet a subscriber? Click here for a free trial subscription.
You can learn more about Ron Bennington’s two interview shows, Unmasked and Ron Bennington Interviews atRonBenningtonInterviews.com.
. . .