Cheech and Chong are throwing a party and you’re invited. The veteran comedy duo, who appear on Saturday, Aug. 17, at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City, will feature special guests R&B group War and Chong’s wife, Shelby, who will help host the proceedings.
“We play music, we laugh, tell jokes and have a good time,” says Tommy Chong.
With Cheech and Chong’s comedy act built on being potheads, timing is everything, given a changing societal attitude –– and legal climate –– toward marijuana. The Grammy-winning duo are best known for a series of hit movies from the late ’70s and early ’80s, including “Up in Smoke” and “Things Are Tough All Over.”
“Smoking pot is the most universal experience on the planet,” Chong says. “When all else fails, everyone understands that one.”
Having started performing together in the early ’70s, Richard “Cheech” Marin and Chong also have come to an understanding about each other and their comedic schtick. They took an extended hiatus in the mid-’80s to pursue separate career interests, but reunited a decade ago.
“We either had to break up or the act would have died on its own,” Chong says. “We naturally went our separate ways. It was a natural progression. I went on to do stand-up. Cheech went on to act.
“He learned how to be a stage actor. I learned how to be a stand-up comic. I taught my wife to be a stand-up comic. When we got back together, we both had interesting new things that we could do. That’s what kept us alive, the fact that we did break up.”
Thanks to the power of YouTube, Chong says they have reached that iconic status where audiences just like spending time with them.
“We’re kind of like royalty now, we wave at the crowd,” he says. “We have to remind them how we’ve affected their lives. But more than anything, people want to meet us to tell us how we’ve affected their lives.
“At our stage of life, showing up is half the battle. Of course, we have the natural timing. You can’t deny that.”
Having had a recent health scare — a diagnosis of prostate cancer — Chong is even more aware of his mortality. He credits marijuana for bringing him into remission.
“It’s a combination of a few things, but pot was definitely the foremost,” he says. “Marijuana helps with MS, it helps with Alzheimer’s, it helps with cancer. There’s a lot of health benefits. American people are starting to realize that.
“As a people and as a nation, we’re getting educated. The more educated we become, the more available it will become to everybody.”
Chong has paid a heavy personal price for his pro-pot stance. In 2003, he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute drug paraphernalia, in conjunction with a business he operated at the time that sold bongs and other related items.
After his cancer diagnosis Chong resumed his pot use, and has become an advocate for decriminalizing marijuana.
“Ever since I got out of jail and became an activist, my life has improved, my health has improved and my outlook has improved,” he says.
“Actually, cancer saved my life,” he adds. “I was on a pretty bad diet for a while. Since I had that scare, I changed my diet and my whole lifestyle changed. I am healthier than Cheech.
“It will probably piss a lot of the insurance companies off –– they’ll still be paying for my health insurance. I will probably pass 100, easy.”
Still, he is well aware that Cheech and Chong’s next gig could be their last, because you never know.
“We don’t have much time,” Chong says. “Wherever we perform, I try to tell everybody this could be our last performance. Nothing lasts forever.
“I treat everything like that. I treat every day like my last day, because it could be. We live in the moment and perform as long as we can. When it’s time to do something else, we’ll be doing it. It’s not going to last.”
Cheech & Chong are friendly with R&B group War
Cheech and Chong, true to form, aren’t following the traditional opener-headliner format with their musical act, veteran funk group War.
The show is divided into two acts.War, during the first half, appears with the comedy duo and by itself, before returning in the second half to perform again, and close the show with a joint rendition of Cheech and Chong’s “Up in Smoke,” according to Tommy Chong.
War, which launched in Long Beach, Calif., in 1969, scored its biggest hits in the ’70s with such tracks as “The World Is a Ghetto,” “The Cisco Kid,” “Gypsy Man,” “Low Rider” and “Summer.”
“With the social media age, everybody’s got A.D.D.,” Chong says. “We give the (audience) a bit of everything. At the end of the night, everybody is very satisfied. They don’t just want music, they don’t want just comedy. They want everything — we give them everything.”