Tommy Chong keeps courting laughs
It’s been five years since Tommy Chong reunited with his comedy partner Richard “Cheech” Marin and they’re still going strong. Considering they had spent the previous 21 years apart, that’s saying something.
There was a time when it was thought the stoner-comedy duo, who got their start here in Vancouver, would never get back together because their relationship was so contentious. Now they’re loving their rebirth. Watching them on-stage together makes you wonder why they ever separated in the first place.
“We’re old,” says Chong from a break on the set of his first movie in 30 years, It’s Gawd. “We can’t remember that shit. We can’t remember anything to fight about. We can barely remember what we used to do in the show. I found the best way to live life is to be totally in the present. Holding grudges means you live in the past. And anticipating good or bad means that you live in the future. I do neither. I like to live in the present.”
Chong is playing the title character in the film, Gawd (or God), without Cheech along for the ride but says there is definitely a Cheech & Chong movie in the works. Maybe even three. The response they get from their live performances proves that these characters will never die.
“We do sketches that grow, that have a life inside the sketch itself,” he says. While the scenes remain largely the same, there’s an improvisational element that keeps things fresh. “He doesn’t know what I’m going to say at certain times. He’ll ask a question and he won’t know what the answer’s going to be and I don’t know what the answer’s going to be. So the audience picks up on that. It’s one big, wonderful party.”
Chong had a cancer scare two years ago, or a cancer “annoyance” as he puts it. He says he’s healthy now thanks to some alternative therapies. “I just changed my diet and I do a big exercise routine,” he says. And Chong being Chong, he treated it with hash oil. “It’s all naturopathic and a lot of pot-based stuff. But it’s mostly diet.”
The 75-year-old entertainer got his start in the music business, most notably with Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers, who signed with Motown Records in the 1960s. Chong cowrote their biggest hit, “Does Your Mama Know About Me?”, but always knew his future wouldn’t be in music.
“I’m a songwriter but not dedicated enough,” he says. “And I don’t have enough musical knowledge to carry me. But I’ve got a knack for comedy. It was the path of least resistance to the top. And that’s the secret of my success.”
He says he’s always loved comedy, a gift passed on to him from his father. “My dad loved to laugh,” he says. “And he loved to drink and he loved to have his buddies over and they’d tell stupid jokes and laugh and laugh and laugh.”
Chong hasn’t given up music entirely, though. He’ll bring out his instrument in the live show, playing his classic character Blind Melon Chitlin. And he relaxes at home with his axe, too. “I’ll smoke up and go down to the basement and get the guitar and run through my repertoire and jam a little bit. And then I’ll try to sing.” But, he says: “I never really thought I was that good of a guitar player. My talent was doing ensemble work with other people. I was always looking for a partner. And when I found Cheech, everything was easy after that.”