In a puff of smoke, they were gone for 25 years. But on Tuesday (4/20 to fans of pot culture), Cheech and Chong, those aging icons of stoner comedy, will be everywhere — in theaters, video on demand, DVD, even on iTunes, PlayStations and Xboxes.
Did that just blow your mind?
"They're always looking for new methods of how to look for an audience," says Cheech Marin, 65, of the Weinstein Co.'s multiplatform release of the duo's new concert film, "Cheech and Chong's Hey Watch This." Though the film will play theatrically just the one day, it's the home entertainment segment that is the key attraction. "In a dwindling market for DVDs, we're doing very well, the initial reports say. Big orders," Marin says.
Sounding equally businesslike is Tommy Chong, 71: "And we couldn't be with a better company, Weinstein. They have a history."
"And they pay in advance," Marin adds.
So, there it is. The deans of doobies have done their bit, making nice about the movie taken from their 150-plus-date "Light Up America" tour of 2009. For the rest of the conversation — in a Weinstein Co. conference room surrounded by still-viable pizzas, doughnuts, chips and all manner of other munchies — it's perfectly clear that when you've been around as long as they have (their first album was released in 1971) and been as successful as they have been (their spokesperson says the recent reunion tour grossed "in the mid-seven figures"), you can say whatever you want. Especially if, as Chong declares, they're going to quit the road after their 2010 tour.
"We'll retire to our country estate," Marin says with a smile.
"We'll keep working but I'm at the age now where, ‘Oh, this is my last one…,' " says the remarkably fit-looking Chong.
"This is our 17th annual retirement tour," Marin jokes.
Chong turns serious, which he does more frequently than his round-faced partner: "I really want to get off the road. I want to be able to spend a whole weekend in my house without having to pack."
Marin sneezes. But rather than excusing himself, he explains, "That's my bull detector."
The longtime partners can't be blamed for wanting to immerse themselves in their fans' adoration for the last year and a half on tour. The two parted ways in the '80s because, as Marin puts it, they "ran out of stuff" after years of touring, recording and making movies, and besides, each generation has its comedians. As evidenced in the film, however, devoted fans of a wide age range seem to lose their minds at the sight of them reunited.
"There's a rock 'n' roll element to what we do," Marin says. "We're not cerebral — although we can be — we're loud and boisterous and visceral and physical. Sometimes comics will open for us and say, ‘How do you get 'em to scream like that?' ‘You play those three chords loud!' We should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."
And they're more than happy to give the people what they want, performing largely improvised variants of the sketches generations have grown up with in smoky basements — Blind Melon Chitlin and Alice Bowie, anyone?
"It was the birth of a stoner class," Marin says of their cultural impact. "It was a whole pot generation and we embody that sense of humor. It's an international language."
Chong describes their humor as "juvenile" but adds, "If you can speak Cheech and Chong, skateboarders will accept you, guys in prison, rappers will accept you, white guys — the Gothic kind, anti-social — a lot of cops are big fans because we're in their world."
Marin says, "They used to send us to prisons all the time — San Quentin, Folsom, Soledad, Chino, San Luis Obispo — they used to send us in when they had an uprising, a racial war going on, to calm the natives. Those are tough places. But everyone can come together over Cheech and Chong."
Chong became a member of that kind of captive audience after a 2003 bust for his connection with the manufacture of drug paraphernalia; he served nine months at Taft Correctional Institution.
"What I came across is why pot definitely should be legal," says the defiantly non-corrected Chong. "There are so many growers in there; there are growers doing 30 years because they had a shotgun in their room — on a farm, where you need guns. The laws are so one-sided."
Therefore, the comics are men on a mission on their current "Get It Legal" tour. Despite the Obama administration's repeated rejection of legalization, the highly hopeful Chong is not discouraged.
"I understand Obama, I love the man. He's so brilliant, it makes my eyes water. Like he did with healthcare, he's playing the Republicans like a sheepherder with a cattle prod," he says, laughing. "On one hand he's saying, ‘Marijuana will never be legal.' But on the other hand, he's telling his attorney general, ‘Stop arresting people [who use it] for medical purposes.' That's all it takes."