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Cheech & Chong | Lighting it Up Again

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cheechnchong2.jpgThe two have put aside their differences and reunited for a tour, Cheech & Chong Light Up America and Canada - their first in 25 years. Naturally, the tickets for all shows went on sale at 4:20 in the afternoon.

 

 

 

Had James Franco won the Golden Globe Award for which he was nominated for his portrayal of uber-stoner Saul in last year's Pineapple Express, the guys at the top of his "thank you" list should no doubt have included the pioneers of stoner comedy, Cheech and Chong. Before there was Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, and before there was Harold and Kumar, there was Cheech and Chong. 

Cheech and Chong basically helped define pot culture in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The comedy duo had some early success with an album and a string of spoof commercials, but it was their first feature film, Up in Smoke, in 1978 that rocketed them into cult status. The success of that film, along with follow-ups Cheech & Chong's Next Movie and Nice Dreams left a legacy that would keep the duo in the pop culture lexicon for the next 20 years, even after they split in the mid-80s to pursue solo interests.

Now, Cheech & Chong fans old and young can rejoice. The two have put aside their (oft publicized) differences and reunited for a tour, Cheech & Chong Light Up America and Canada - their first in 25 years. Naturally, the tickets for all shows went on sale at 4:20 in the afternoon.

cheechnchong.jpg

"This is something I've been looking forward to for many years, because we had such a legacy and such a history that we couldn't escape it even if we tried," Chong said at the press conference announcing the tour.  "So at the end of the day, we just looked at each other and said ‘we need to do this now.'"  

When I ask them about the tour in a phone interview before their shows in St. Louis at The Pageant, the response is less serious.

"Well, we got a phone call from Condoleeza Rice one day. .." jokes Cheech.

The truth is, that while Rogen and Franco were playing with Matchbox cars, Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong were each enjoying successful, if very different, solo careers. Marin has had a string of more serious acting roles on TV dramas such as Judging Amy and, most recently, the hit show LOST on ABC as Hurley's estranged father.

"They've only told this to me, but they've figured out that my character is behind everything," he kids.

Marin has also lent his voice to several blockbuster animated films including Disney's 1994 hit The Lion King and Pixar's Cars. The other side of Marin that might surprise most people is that he is a serious art collector. In fact, he owns the finest collection of Chicano art in the United States, and has made it his personal mission to promote the artists. His collection recently completed a seven-year tour of museums across the country called Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge.

"I've been collecting Chicano art for about 20 years and I just love it," Marin says. "I think it's just a really wonderful, vibrant art that wasn't getting any play, so I decided to use my celebrity to get attention for it. I think it's a lifelong involvement for me, to promote Chicano art, because it's great art."

Tommy Chong, in the meantime, became a pioneer for the reform of marijuana laws, working with organizations such as NORML as an outspoken activist. He also refined his hippie-stoner character playing the lovable Leo for five seasons on That 70s Show.

"It was a thrill. I went to ‘sitcom school' when I was there," he tells me. "I wasn't directing or writing, so I had a lot of time on my hands. I used to just sit and watch the director with the kids and I learned a lot about how to direct."  The only disappointment, he says, was that "none of the kids smoked pot. . . . Not one of them. Just me and the cameraman."

When asked whether he thinks there is change on the horizon with regard to the reform of marijuana laws, Chong responds in his signature stoner voice, "You don't hold your breath. . .  Well, I mean you do when you smoke pot, you'd want to hold your breath then, but not waiting for any laws to change. But I think we have a better chance without Bush, or any republican. Historically the democrats ease up on the pot laws, then when the republicans get in, they enforce them. So we're at low ebb now - the tide is out."

Chong is happy for that, especially considering he spent nine months in federal prison for "conspiracy to distribute drug paraphernalia" on the Internet through his business Nice Dreams. Chong's bust was part of a major sting called Operation Pipe Dreams, which cost more than $12 million.

"Mine was a political bust, plain and simple," he says. "It never stopped anybody from buying bongs or from smoking pot. All it did was make the headlines and put me in jail so I could write a book."

In Chong's home state of California (he was born a Canadian, but lives in Los Angeles), conflicting laws between the state and federal governments on the legality of medical marijuana are an ongoing controversy and battle he continues to help fight.

"That's the outlaw regime we've had in power for the last eight years," Chong says. "They're like the Hell's Angels, they wrote their own laws. They okayed torture, they tore up the constitution. In that kind of atmosphere, you can't expect them to recognize a marijuana state law saying that sick people can have their medicine. So, we just have to wait for Obama toget in and then the changes will start to take effect hopefully."

Mostly Chong is just glad to be back out on the road with his old buddy. His wife, Shelby, also a comedian, will open the shows. Cheech and Chong's Light Up America tourwill run through April; but hopefully their rekindled partnership won't stop there.

"If everyone is good and they eat their cereal and listen to their parents," says Chong, "We're gonna make another movie. But if they act bad, we're not gonna do it."

If you're wondering whether their film "props" will be the real thing, Cheech says, "The last time we used real pot in a movie, it got stolen by the Teamsters. We won't be doing that again." | Amy Burger

 

Cheech & Chong Light Up America/Canada Tour

The Pageant, St. Louis

Sunday, January 18, 7 p.m. (SOLD OUT) & 9 p.m.

Tickets: $35-$65, available through Ticketmaster

All Ages

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