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Before Pot Became Legal In CA, There Was Cheech and Chong

In the annals of comedy history there have been lots of great comedy teams: Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, Burns and Allen. The greatest of them all is, and always will be, Cheech and Chong.

Their relationship is simple. Hell, one might even say it’s archetypal. One of them is a cholo lowrider from East LA. The other a hippie burnout. The one thing they have in common? They love to smoke a lot of pot. Like a lot. Some might dismiss Cheech and Chong as mindless pot humor, but that would miss the nuances of their comedy.They lampooned aspects of contemporary society, commenting on the shallowness of the music business, the hypocrisy of law enforcement, immigration, religion, the crappy education system, and changing sexual mores.

Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong started doing comedy skits together in 1970. They played several different characters, including Sister Mary Elephant– a psychotic nun at a Catholic school– and 95 year old blues musician named Blind Melon Chitlin. Their two most popular characters, however, were the lowrider and a hippie that would become their on screen personas. They put out several successful comedy albums and in 1978, they released Up in Smoke, their first film. The movie tells the epic tale of two guys who form a band to play at a battle of the bands competition while simultaneously trying to score drugs. Eventually they end up smuggling thousands of pounds of marijuana from Mexico in a truck made out pot.

They followed Up In Smoke with several other films including Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie, Nice Dreams, and, for some reason, a movie about the French Revolution called the Corsican Brothers. The two went their separate ways in 1985. Cheech could pursue a career in movies and TV. He starred in Born in East LA, Nash Bridges, From Dusk Till Dawn, Desperado, and Spy Kids. He’s also done extensive voice over work for films like The Lion King and Oliver and Company.

Tommy Chong didn’t fare as well. He floundered for several years, doing occasional spots on TV whenever an old pothead was needed. In 2003 he was arrested as part of a government crackdown on drug paraphernalia for his line of Nice Dreams bongs. He served 9 months in jail and received widespread support from fans all over the world. Ironically his going to prison helped revive his career. He got gigs in Half Baked, That 70’s Show, and Code Monkeys. In 2008, he and Cheech buried the hatchet and got back together, restoring balance to the universe.

Cheech and Chong were pioneers, opening the doors for other minority comedians (Cheech is Mexican and Chong is Chinese and Black). They also were among the first comedians to take a greater control of their films directing, producing, and writing most of their movies and albums. It is safe to say that there probably wouldn’t be a George Lopez, Robert Rodriguez, or Pablo Francisco without Cheech and Chong. Actually, come to think of it, we should probably blame them for this last bit.

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