By STEVE PERSALL
Times Staff Writer
Cheech & Chong's reunion tour is the stuff pipe dreams are made of.
Throughout the 1970s, Richard "Cheech" Marin and Tommy Chong were the slurred voices of a stoned generation. They made Grammy-winning comedy albums and a handful of movies (including the marijuana classic Up in Smoke) and filled theaters with fans who filled theaters with illegal aroma.
Like a good buzz, the partnership didn't last.
Marin, 62, began an acting career ranging from Disney animation voices to almost every movie Robert Rodriguez makes. Chong, 70, mostly stuck with stand-up and his stoner persona in television appearances. He also spent nine months in federal prison for selling drug paraphernalia by mail, emerging as a rehabilitated author and entrepreneur.
Then they buried the hatchet and planned a reunion tour: 30 cities stretched over three months. Many dates sold out immediately, prompting others to be added. Fans reportedly are loving the old routines: Basketball Jones, Earache My Eye, Santa Claus and his Old Lady, Born in East L.A. and anything herbal-flavored.
Obviously, high times are here again.
Before their Sunday night appearance in Tampa, Cheech and Chong played Five Questions with the Times.
What's different about being on the road now, compared with then?
Cheech: Better hotels. Honestly, people are very accepting right now, man. They know what they're going to get. We're not introducing ourselves anymore. We're reliving good times.
Chong: I told Cheech we're harvesting. We planted the crop years ago and now we're harvesting. We planted the crop and then like good stoners we forgot about it.
Any old jokes that don't work as well today?
Cheech: They play even better sometimes. We tweak each one to make them a little contemporary but not much. People get it, no matter what. Things aren't too much different today.
Chong: We had Vietnam, gas shortages, the stock market almost crashed. It's the same vibe. I always say: America needs a hug. We don't remind (audiences) how screwed up everything is. We just remind them how screwed up we are.
If performing together is so fun, why did you break up?
Cheech: It really was a creative difference. Usually that's just code for "we can't stand each other anymore." There was an element of that, too. We'd been together for 17 years, 24 hours a day.
You come to the point where you just don't want to listen to anybody else's opinion for a time. I did (an animated voice in) Oliver & Company for Disney and that went over so great that I thought, wow, I'm on a new road now. We just decided to go our separate ways; you do your thing and I'll do mine.
Chong: I never really strayed too far from my original character, to the point of going to jail. But I can understand people who do. Every seven years you're a totally different person. I laugh at myself because I held onto that persona.
One for Chong: What did you get from prison besides fresh material?
It sobered me up. All of a sudden it's: "Yeah, I'm famous but I'm in jail. Yeah, I made a lot of movies but I'm still standing in line like every other convict in the joint." It really humbled me.
One for Cheech: What's your take on the new strain of marijuana comedy, like Pineapple Express and The Wackness?
They take their inspiration from us and do their own version of it. Just like we took inspiration from other comedians. Ours was fairly original, but the new brand of comedy is original to its time and place, too. I like what they do, chronicling what kids are doing now.
Do you guys still catch a buzz occasionally?
Chong: I'm in a year-off phase right now. When we started the tour I didn't want to smoke, so I can be clear-headed and, you know, be there. For some reason I just haven't had the urge.
Plus, I have an excuse when people offer. Everybody thinks it's an original idea: "You know what, man? I'd really like to get high with you guys." They say it like no one's ever done this before.
Cheech: Yeah, I do every once in a while. I'm older now, so a little bit lasts a long time.
People bring it to us. It's their offering, their tithe. (Laughs) Cheech and Chong trying to find a joint; I don't think that's going to take a long time.
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs. tampabay.com/movies.