A chat with Tommy Chong, Tommy Chong interview, Cheech and Chong, Hey Watch This, Up In Smoke
Tommy Chong

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Cheech and Chong are back, man! Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong had been threatening a reunion for several years, but it wasn’t until 2008 that the duo transformed their vague assurances into a full-fledged tour. For those who were unable to catch the so-called “Cheech & Chong Light Up America” tour (its name adjusted accordingly for other countries, of course), the guys captured one of the evenings on film and have just released it on DVD as “Cheech & Chong’s Hey Watch This,” which is being appropriately advertised as “their first joint venture in 25 years.”

I’d originally been booked to talk to both Cheech and Chong, but having been in the midst of battling an allergy attack which necessitated an unexpected trip to the doctor for some antibiotics, it seemed very possible that I might miss my window to talk with them at all. When I finally made it back it onto the call, however, I learned that Cheech Marin had gone MIA long before our scheduled interview slot. “Something came up,” I was told, “and he’s unavailable for the rest of the day.” It was a little disappointing, sure, but…hey, look, man, it’s still Tommy Chong. That’s, like, almost better, you know?*

* WARNING: You may need to be high to agree with this premise.

Tommy Chong: Bullz-Eye.com, huh? Good name!

Bullz-Eye: (Laughs) Thanks! Well, I just finished watching “Hey Watch This,” and it was a lot of fun to see you guys back in action again.

TC: Oh, good, I’m glad you liked it!

BE: Well, obviously, you guys have been back together for awhile now, but was there a specific impetus that led it to happen in the first place?

TC: Um, I think it was when The Police went on tour. They had no problems, and they hate each other. (Laughs) We figured that if they can bury the hatchet…and not in each other…then Cheech and I could. And, y’know, I’d always wanted to reunite with Cheech. That’d always been my plan eventually. That’s why I always stayed doing Cheech & Chong material.

BE: So when the time came to do this tour, how did you decide what characters to do?

On the impetus for the Cheech & Chong reunion: "I think it was when The Police went on tour. They had no problems, and they hate each other. We figured that if they can bury the hatchet…and not in each other…then Cheech and I could."

TC: I’m kind of the writer guy, so I write the shows, and…well, y’know, Cheech’ll be, like, “Whatever. Whatever works.” (Laughs) He’s easy. The great thing about us is that I’ve got a good sense for how to start stuff and Cheech has a really good way of finishing and putting the polish on it, so we make a good team that way. And now we’ve got my wife and Cheech’s son involved, so we really do have a nice little acting troupe going. I just love it.

BE: As far as the old material goes, did you just kind of go through a gradual process of finding out what still worked and what didn’t?

TC: Not really. We knew that anything we’d do would work. It was just, “What do we want to do?” We had to make some choices, you know. It was like a casting call. “Hey, do you think you can still get on your knees and do the dogs?” “Yeah!” “Okay, then let’s do the dogs!” And then for the second show, it’s, like, “You know what? Let’s not do the dogs anymore.” (Laughs) “Let’s do this instead.” But it’s just been…I mean, we’re icons, man! When we first come on the stage, there’s such loud applause that you can almost just go home after that. It’s that warming. So we know that whatever we do is going to be received well, and we take advantage of that and do stuff that we’ve never done before.

BE: What’s your favorite of the new material you’ve brought out?

TC: Right now, I think it’s Cheech singing “Does Your Mama Know About Me?” That might be my favorite moment of the whole show, because there’s no comedy there. It’s just a straight song. And there’s no orchestra: it’s just me and Cheech. And it’s a heartfelt song. And I love the fact that it’s being sung again and heard again. That’s nice. I love that.

BE: Of the classic material, I think the stuff that resonated the best for me was “Let’s Make A Drug Deal,” which absolutely still holds up…

TC: (Laughs) Oh, yeah! That’s a good one! I want to do a DVD where you teach kids algebra by using drugs as a working tool.

BE: …and the Blind Melon Chitlin’ bit was hilarious.

TC: I love Blind. Blind is…that’s us. (Laughs) That’s a very funny bit. Blind is one of my favorites, too.

BE: Now, I know you guys both did a “South Park” episode, but you recorded your parts independently of each other.

TC: Yep.

BE: Was that not long before the reunion talks got started?

TC: No, I think it was just before that. (Hesitates) No, wait, that might’ve actually kicked it off. That might’ve started the whole thing going, yeah.

BE: I just knew that it wasn’t too terribly long after that when you guys did the “Get Out and Vote” bit for FunnyOrDie.com.

Tommy ChongTC: That’s right. For Obama! (Laughs) Now that was the first thing we’d really done together as Cheech and Chong in 25 years or whatever.

BE: Was it hard to find the chemistry again, or was it like riding a bike?

TC: It wasn’t hard on my part, but Cheech…he had to lose 25 years of going the other way. (Laughs) But he turned it around. He had a hard time…man, this is so funny, ‘cause he spent so much time trying to convince everybody that he was a serious actor, and the next thing you know, he’s teamed up with me again. There goes that theory!

BE: It was pretty surreal seeing him standing on the stage in his red cap again.

TC: Oh, God, yeah. I told him we looked like 5th place finishers in a Cheech & Chong lookalike contest. (Laughs) I mean, we weren’t even close. Not second place. Fifth!

BE: I wanted to ask you about a couple of the non-Cheech & Chong films that you guys worked on. What do you remember about working on “Yellowbeard”?

TC: I hung with Peter Boyle. When Peter Boyle saw us, man, it was like we were long-lost cousins or something. We shot it in Mexico, and we were always on the boat most of the time. Boat shoots are tough, with a lot of down time, but… (Starts to laugh) What else do I remember? That’s about it. Oh, and Marty Feldman died. I gave him some advice and told him to get acupuncture and that he’d feel better. He said, “Oh, thank you very much, I feel much better.” And a few hours later he died.

BE: So, uh, have you done acupuncture since then?

TC: Oh, sure. I do it all the time.

BE: Fair enough. What was the experience of “After Hours” like?

TC: “After Hours” was great. It was great working with (Martin) Scorsese, and it was so toned down from a Cheech & Chong shoot. It was so…minimalist. Like, Scorsese’s mother cooks the meal for the crew! One of those things. A real low, low, low budget, with hardly anyone around when you were shooting, but it was a lot of fun. It was weird working at night. I’m not really a night person, and I’m not thrilled with night work, but when you’re doing films, sometimes that what you’ve got to do.

BE: A question about one of your recordings: I’ve always wondered how you guys managed to get George Harrison, Billy Preston, and that host of solo Beatles sidemen (Klaus Voormann and Nicky Hopkins also appear) to play on “Basketball Jones.”

On selecting material for their concerts: "We knew that anything we’d do would work. It was just, 'What do we want to do?' I mean, we’re icons, man! When we first come on the stage, there’s such loud applause that you can almost just go home after that. It’s that warming. So we know that whatever we do is going to be received well, and we take advantage of that and do stuff that we’ve never done before."

TC: Well, we were in the studio at the time George was recording. George, Joni Mitchell, and everybody were all in A&M Studios. It was just one of those magical times when the mood just went up. We didn’t even hear them do it! I wasn’t there when George played. I saw him set up, but then Cheech and I were working on something else, so Lou Adler did all the music. When we heard the track, we were, like, “Whoa!”

BE: Do you know if George was a fan?

TC: Oh, George was a big fan, but he wasn’t…he just said, “I suppose it’s funny.” He wasn’t into the humor as much as he was, say, the Chicanos, for sure. But George was a great friend to us. I knew him quite well, and I loved George. He was a real solid guitar player.

BE: Do you have a favorite “Earache My Eye” cover?

TC: I like…uh, what’s that hard rock band?

BE: Korn did one.

TC: Korn. That’s it. I think Korn’s was one of the best.

BE: I was listening to Soundgarden’s version earlier today.

TC: Oh, yeah? How was it?

BE: It was great. They did it as a medley with Spinal Tap’s “Big Bottom.” (Laughs)

TC: Ohhhhhhh. Okay.

BE: What do you think is the most underrated Cheech & Chong movie?

TC: Probably “Things Are Tough All Over.” Yeah, it was a little touchy because it came as the oil embargo was happening, and we were making fun of Arabs in it. We became Arabs, in fact. But it was fun. I really enjoyed the movie and so did Cheech, but it, uh, didn’t really kill at the box office. (Laughs)

BE: How do you rate “The Corsican Brothers”?

TC: Well, personally, I liked it. I mean, I directed it, but it was my wife’s first role ever, and I thought she did really good, and I thought Cheech’s performance was just outstanding. But it was the first movie where Cheech didn’t want to do any drugs in it. He’s, like, “Let’s not do the drugs. Let’s not be the dopers in this movie.” And it was the only movie that really failed at the box office, but Orion went out of business almost simultaneously, so that didn’t exactly help, either. But, yeah, I enjoy it. That was our swan song, the last movie that Cheech and I did together, so it had a lot of meaning to me.

BE: There’s been talk of a new movie. I know you’ve got the animated feature coming up, but there are also rumblings of an “Up in Smoke 2.” Are those just rumblings?

TC: No, no, that’s definitely happening. I’m into the third rewrite… (Laughs) …so I know where it’s at, and it’s gonna be really good. You know, I’m going back to basics. I’m going back to Pedro and Man. But I’m also adding a few other characters that’ve never been on screen before. I’m looking at this as being a really important movie.

BE: I liked the fact that you took the time in the concert film to talk about your jail time.

TC: Oh, yeah. People never forget that. I bring it up in conversation at various functions when there isn’t even any reason to! I went to a function about pediatrics, and the next thing you know I’m talking about jail! (Laughs)

BE: You kind of touch on it in the film, but what’s the strangest thing that you personally have ever used to make a bong?

TC: Let me think… (Drifts off) God, there’ve been a few things. Probably the Tampax tube, though.

BE: Oh, so that wasn’t just a punchline?

TC: Oh, no. It did have a real familiar taste! (Laughs)

Tommy Chong

BE: You guys turned up on WWE Raw recently.

TC: We’ll be on “Dancing with the Stars” next. (Laughs)

BE: Are you a wrestling fan?

TC: I love wrestling. I mean, they’re actors, but they’re stuntmen that really get in there and do some serious fighting. I love it.

BE: We’re heading into the sunset here, but…why do you think sketch comedy isn’t as popular as it used to be?

TC: Because nobody’s really doing it. Other than “Saturday Night Live,” I can’t think of any other sketch people. I mean, maybe there are. There’s, what, “Whose Line is It, Anyway?” Those guys are so good at what they do. But there are still guys who are doing bits. The sketch comedy that I liked growing up… (Long pause) C’mon, brain! Uh…Mel Brooks and Sid Caesar! I love bits where you laugh ‘til you hurt yourself. Carol Burnett sketches, Tim Conway, those kind of crazy sketches. But you know who I really miss the most on the comedy circuit? Steve Martin. I really miss Steve Martin. I wish he’d go back to doing comedy. I’m not really a big bluegrass fan. (Laughs)

BE: Yeah, after I read his autobiography about his stand-up years, I was really jonesing to see him do stand-up again.

TC: Yeah! I mean, to me, he’s a genius of comedy. He still is. He’s not a big Cheech & Chong fan or a Tommy Chong fan at all, but I’m a big fan of his comedy. He was just brilliant. I saw him live, and I couldn’t believe how brilliant this guy was.

BE: Um…the way you said that, do you know for a fact that he’s not a Cheech & Chong fan?

TC: Wellllllll, yeah, you can pick up that vibe, you know. Like, Richard Pryor was. When we performed, we got off the stage and he helped us off. That was the respect he paid. He paid us huge respect. And I studied under Richard. He didn’t know it, but he appeared in…there’s a club in Hollywood that’s not there anymore, the Bitter End West, and Richard opened the club. He did something like four days there in a row, and I was there every night, studying comedy. I saw how he put a show together, and I’ve used it ever since. Yeah, he was a fan. You can tell people who are our fans and who aren’t our fans. I really liked Richard. George Carlin was never a really big fan, but I was always a fan of his. I loved George Carlin.

BE: Who’s the most surprising person that’s turned out to be a fan of yours?

TC: Well, there are a couple. There’s Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

BE: (Laughs) Really?

"('The Corsican Brothers') was the first movie where Cheech didn’t want to do any drugs in it. He’s, like, 'Let’s not do the drugs. Let’s not be the dopers in this movie.' And it was the only movie that really failed at the box office. But Orion went out of business almost simultaneously, so that didn’t exactly help, either."

TC: Yeah, she’s a big fan. Whenever we did a movie, she used to get a disguise and drive to the nearest town to sneak in and see it, then go back to the palace. (Laughs) Who else was a big fan? Peter Sellers. Peter Sellers was one of our biggest fans ever. We went over to England, and Peter brought us over just so that he could see us and welcome us to the country. Oh, God, he was such a beautiful guy. And funny. We hung together more than a few times. I ran into Peter a couple of times. We were good friends.

BE: Well, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you, Tommy…

TC: Oh, thank you!

BE: …but I have to say that, personally, I’m feeling the irony that I’m interviewing you and yet have never actually smoked pot.

TC: (Bursts out laughing) Well, that shows you! You don’t need it. It’s medicine. You don’t need medicine unless you’re sick.

BE: At this point, I’m really only maintaining my status so that I can use it against my daughter when she grows up.

TC: Oh, I love that! (Laughs) And, you know, hopefully you’ll never have to do that.

BE: Hopefully not. Though, in truth, if that situation rears its head, it really wouldn’t bother me that much. I wouldn’t be thrilled, but in the end, the decision not to smoke pot was my own. I’m not against pot. I just haven’t smoked it.

TC: Good for you, man. And I love your open mind. That’s great.

BE: Actually, now that we’re here, we should probably close by discussing the proposal for the legalization of marijuana in California. I, uh, presume you’re in favor…?

TC: Well, totally. (Laughs) It’s a no-lose situation for us potheads, because it’ll show America how many people want it legal. Even if it doesn’t pass, they’re still going to have to live with the fact that it is a medical necessity. And the other thing is that, if it does pass, it’s going to help save the planet with hemp, because hemp products can replace all plastic products. Did you realize that?

BE: I did. I’ve read that.

TC: Yeah, I mean, they can make cars out of it. They can make anything out of hemp…and it’s biodegradable, so it’s not going to ruin our ecosystem.

BE: My fingers are crossed for you. All right, Tommy, it’s been a pleasure talking to you.

TC: You, too, my friend. Take care!

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