Dave’s not here, man!
The iconic comedy duo Cheech and Chong had massive commercial success in the ‘60s and ‘70s, performing standup, acting in films, and releasing comedy records. Their schtick of two hapless potheads played perfectly to audiences of the era. The characters of Cheech and Chong resonated with fans because they resembled hyperbolic versions of the people audiences were already seeing in the growing hippy counterculture movement.
The pair were trailblazers in their field, creating many of the stoner tropes we see portrayed in the media even today. But who really are Cheech and Chong, and how did they wind up being the face of cannabis culture?
Who Are Cheech And Chong?
Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong were an unlikely duo. Marin, a self-described Chicano from Southern California, and Chong, a half-Chinese Canadian hippy, the improbable pair initially bonded over a mutual love of improv and music.
Marin was born in Los Angeles in 1946. He acquired the nickname that would follow him for the rest of his life only a few days after his birth when his uncle likened the newborn’s appearance to a little chicharrón (fried pork rind). After graduating college in ‘68, Cheech moved to Vancouver to avoid getting drafted into the Vietnam War. It’s here where he would first meet the man who would define his career.
The Canadian-born Tommy Chong was a high school dropout trying to make it as a musician, but after being ousted from the chart-topping soul band Bobby Taylor and The Vancouvers, Chong went on to start an avant-garde improv theatre company that performed out of a ramshackle Chinatown strip club.
Cheech, who upon arrival in Vancouver had gotten an unpaid writing gig for a local rock music magazine, quickly became immersed in the music and nightlife scene. Eventually, he was introduced to Tommy, who hired him as a writer for his improv show.
Here, the pair developed proto versions of the sketches that would propel them into comedy stardom by performing for eclectic audiences made up of students, bikers, hippies, and other countercultural fringe types.
Why Did Cheech And Chong Split Up?
Cheech and Chong’s records and standup routines generated a significant following for the pair, which culminated in their first feature-length movie “Up in Smoke.” The film was a box office smash and cemented Cheech and Chong as stoner legends.
Unfortunately, the subsequent follow-ups to “Up in Smoke” didn’t generate the same level of commercial success as their first major motion picture. Citing creative differences, the pair split on tumultuous terms. Cheech went on to find future success in acting, moving away from the pothead Chicano caricature that originally launched his career and into some more serious roles.
Tommy Chong didn’t quite find the same level of success in the acting world as his former partner and would eventually serve jail time after taking the fall when a federal investigation took down his son’s bong business. Out of the 55 individuals charged as a result of the operation, Tommy was the only one to receive a prison sentence—likely because the government wanted to make an example of such a recognizable figure in cannabis culture.
How Cheech And Chong Became The Face Of Cannabis Culture?
Cheech and Chong were the right people in the right place at the right time. The counterculture movement of the ‘60s changed society as we know it. While many tried to capitalize on this shifting zeitgeist, few did it as authentically as Cheech and Chong. They weren’t actors pretending to be hippies—they were hippies.
Their over-the-top portrayals may have been exaggerated, but they were written from a place of genuine experience. When Tommy Chong speaks in his deep sing-songy voice, stretching the word “man” into three syllables, that’s not an act; that’s just Tommy being Tommy.
In essence, the pair was able to do something extraordinary—package counterculture, with all its drug use and perversions of tradition, into something palatable for mainstream society to enjoy without fear while simultaneously remaining authentic in a way that resonated with the culture they were parodying.
How Did Cheech And Chong Influence Cannabis Culture Within The Mainstream?
The Cheech and Chong formula wouldn’t die when the pair parted ways. It can still be seen in modern media today. Cheech and Chong walked so that Harold and Kumar could run. The buddy stoner trope can be seen in other characters as well, like Jay and Silent Bob or James Franco and Seth Rogen’s characters in the movie “Pineapple Express.” Even Ice-Cube has said he partially modeled his iconic stoner flick “Friday” after Cheech and Chong.
Very few comedians have the cultural impact that Cheech and Chong have had over the years, and so many of us in cannabis-related media have them to thank for helping pave the way.