Hello, My Name Is Tommy
Illinois Entertainer: You and Cheech have been reunited for the last few years, but spent so much time apart. Did you intend the break to last that long or did you just need more time to iron everything out?
Tommy Chong: Well the funny thing is Cheech initiated the break. He wanted to get away from me and he wanted to go on his own. Then over the years when he wanted to come back, I wasn’t ready, and when I wanted to get back together, he wasn’t ready. We played that little game for almost 30 years, but finally my son Paris got us together. When we got together we had a big fight- “screw you” and “screw you”- and then I walked away. [Afterwards] I realized I hadn’t seen him for so long that I wrote him an email saying “even though we’re not together, it was nice seeing you.” My son intercepted the email and put his own words to it that we should get back together again, and the next thing you knew, Cheech was showing up at my house for rehearsals. Everything’s ordained in this world and it’s meant to be. We were meant to be apart for that long and now we’re back together and better than ever.
IE: Out of all the comedy projects you’ve been involved in, what stands out the most memorable to you and why?
TC: Probably the first bit we ever did, “Dave’s Not Here,” which we still do on stage. That was a defining moment in the life of Cheech & Chong because it defined our relationship. He’s outside banging on the door and I don’t know who it is so I won’t let him in. We’re a great study in miscommunication and I think everybody can relate to it. Every father, every husband, every wife and everybody relates to that. You hear one thing and you think another and that’s really what defines the Cheech & Chong brand.
IE: What’s your favorite Cheech & Chong movie?
TC: I guess Up In Smoke was probably our defining movie. It was the first one of its kind and it’s still historical in many ways. It was even number one on the rental list for years after it came out.
IE: Are there any you would’ve liked to have turned out differently?
TC: Oh yeah, a little bit. I think Nice Dreams. I directed most all of them- Lou Adler directed Up In Smoke – and I think that was the combination that made Up In Smoke memorable. Because I directed the other movies by myself, every one of them could’ve been a little more with another person. You have to respect other people’s talents as well as your own. The only regret I have is that I never really had a Lou Adler with me on the other movies.
IE: What do you remember most about your extensive time on That ‘70s Show?
TC: They’d been going for a couple of years and were looking for a guest to come on and help the ratings a bit. Because the show was about pot, they called me up, sent me a tape, gave me a nice offer and I said “sure, I’d love to do it.” The next thing I knew, I found myself in a sitcom. I just loved it and it was like going to film school. I would sit and watch them shoot because I had extra time on my hands, rather than directing and being in every scene. I got to sit, learn and watch and these talented kids grow up in front of my eyes and become very famous and it was a great trip. One thing about my life is I’ve always been close to genius all the time. I played with Hendrix, met the Stones and met every Beatle except Paul. I’ve always been within touching distance to genius and I’ve been very blessed.
IE: How would you account for the cross-generational appeal Cheech & Chong continues to possess?
TC: It’s timing. The most important thing about comedy is timing- when to say something, when to do something, when to break up and when to get back together again. For some reason, our timing has been impeccable. It’s like staying too long at a party…we left the party before people got tired of us, and then when we got back together, we started another party and all of a sudden we got a new fan base and an old fan base that appreciate us…We’ve just given [fans] what we’ve always given them. It’s almost like your favorite restaurant. It’s not the trendiest, but they’re gonna serve your favorite dish and that’s all you want. With Cheech & Chong, this is our third wind actually. We had a career in stand-up, which included a record career, and then we had a movie career. Now we’re coming back and sort of doing a reunion or an oldies tour career, so we’re still hanging in there.
IE: New Year’s Eve in Chicago is bound to be a party. What do you guys hope to add to the night?
TC: We talked to the promoter that’s putting on this show and we’re gonna be finished about 11 o’clock, so we’re not going to be bringing in new year, we’re just going to prime people and make sure they’re ready to bring in new year with comedy. We want to laugh the old year out and bring in the new year with laughter…We’re working with War on this one [who’s song “Low Rider” was used in Up In Smoke], so the evening will also be musical in addition to all our classic old bits that everybody comes to see.
IE: Do you have any resolutions for 2014?
TC: Not yet. I’ve been working on that. I think my new year’s resolution is to smoke more dope. I haven’t been smoking enough. I’ve been doing my share, but I could do better, so I think that’s going to be my resolution- to smoke more weed.
Cheech & Chong and War appear at The Chicago Theatre (175 N. State Street) on Tuesday, December 31. Tickets are available HERE
- Q&A conducted by Andy Argyrakis.
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