Cheech and Chong

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Cheech and Chong

Cheech and Chong were a comedy team of the early 1970s that opened for rock bands, recorded a series of popular comedy albums, performed on the college circuit, and appeared in their own movies. Their comedy routines consisted largely of "doper jokes," reflecting the drug culture and scatological humor of the 1960s. Richard "Cheech" Marin (1946—) and Tommy Chong (1938—) met in 1968 in Vancouver, British Columbia, where Cheech had fled to avoid the U.S. draft during the Vietnam War. Together they co-founded an improv group called City Works, and performed in a nightclub owned by Chong's brother. By 1970 they were known as Cheech and Chong, and were performing in nightclubs in Toronto and Los Angeles.

Canadian-born Tommy Chong, half Chinese and half Scottish-Irish, was playing the guitar in a band called Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers when he met Cheech, who started out singing with the band. Cheech, born of Mexican parents in South Central Los Angeles, grew up in Granada Hills, near the San Fernando Valley. The duo recorded several successful comedy albums in the early 1970s. In 1971, Cheech and Chong was nominated for a Grammy for Best Comedy Recording, and their 1972 album Big Bambu retained the record of being the largest-selling comedy recording for many years. Los Cochinos won the Grammy for Best Comedy Recording in 1973.

Cheech Marin (left) and Tommy Chong Their humor, although very vulgar at times, was entertaining, with Cheech playing a jaunty marijuana smoking dopehead, and Chong playing a burned out, laid back musician.

Their successful movies of the late 1970s and early 1980s became doper cult classics. Up in Smoke was released in 1978, Cheech & Chong's Next Movie in 1980, and Cheech & Chong's Nice Dreams in 1981. In these three movies they play simple-minded pot heads, or left over hippies, but their comic teamwork has been compared to Laurel and Hardy. The screenplays were written by both Cheech and Chong, with the directing done primarily by Chong. Their last films together were Things Are Tough All Over (1982), in which they both play dual roles; Still Smokin' (1983); The Corsican Brothers (1984), in which they go "straight"; and Cheech and Chong Get Out of My Room, directed by Cheech in 1985 for the cable channel Showtime.

The pair split up in 1985, and from there Tommy Chong's career fizzled. He starred in the 1990 film Far Out Man, which bombed, and he tried stand-up comedy in 1991 without much success. Cheech Marin, on the other hand, went on to a successful career as a director and actor in several films and television shows. His film Born in East L.A. (1987) has become a classic among Mexican Americans and is often included in academic classes of Chicano Studies. In the 1990s he received small supporting roles in several films, including a well-received part in the hit Tin Cup, starring Kevin Costner, and played the television role of Joe Dominquez in Nash Bridges.

—Rafaela Castro

Further Reading:

Chong, Thomas, and Cheech Marin. Cheech and Chong's Next Movie. New York, Jove Publicatons, 1980.

Goldberg, Robert. "From Drugs to Duels: Cheech and Chong GoStraight". Wall Street Journal. July 24, 1984.

Menard, Valerie. "Cheech Enjoys Second Career in TV." Hispanic. Vol. 9, No. 9, 1998, 12-14.

Mills, David. "Tommy Chong: Reefer Sadness." Washington Post. June 15, 1991, C1.