When talking separately to the newly reunited comedy team of
Cheech and Chong
, an interviewer often gets to hear different sides of the same story.
For instance, Richard "Cheech" Marin told me their tour was inspired by the harsh revelation that "it was now or never" for these aging, pot-stoked humorists to hit the road again. Then there's the, ahem, civic responsibility they're fulfilling.
"Really we're doing it for the kids," Cheech repeated, tongue-in-cheek, on several occasions.
For partner Tommy Chong, who doesn't hold back in the truthiness department, it was the nudging of their Web master at www.cheechandchong.com that finally got the two to patch up their legendary "differences."
"He sent me an article about how the Police and Led Zeppelin were back together again, even though they hated each other, and were making a ton of money," Chong recalled. "I told him to send it to Cheech. Then his people called mine, and the next thing you know, we're back together - joking, laughing, having a great time."
And yes, indeed, the "Light Up America" tour - making its U.S. debut at the Tower Theater tonight - has already proven a hit. "When the shows went up for sale, most sold out in minutes. We've even had to add second performances in a lot of towns," marveled Cheech.
So now how long do they think they can keep this up?
"Till we've sold every fan a ticket and a T-shirt," vowed Chong.
While known for their Spartan stage ways, this time around they're doing it up "with theatrical lighting, props and big-screen TV displays," said Cheech. So even the folks in the back will enjoy their zonked-out, slow-burn and otherwise goofy facial expressions.
A film version of the stage show also is in the works, Cheech added, and likely to be sold to one of the pay TV channels. "We'll start shooting about halfway through the tour."
In a separate chat, Chong also let on that Hollywood producers "are jumping over each other" offering deals for the duo to make another comedy flick. It would be their 11th; the last was 1985's "Get Out of My Room."
There's also been talk of a "Larry David style" TV series for the duo.
"Our thing was always a form of reality show - with the camera following us around, watching as we try to put a band together and get high," Chong said. "We probably wouldn't change that formula now. We're still hippies, just older. If it's not broke, why fix it?"
Cheech said the old skits came back to them in a flash.
"The first time we got up on stage [recently] at a comedy club in La Jolla [Calif.], it just clicked. It was like we had never broken up, had only been apart for a week."
Chong countered, "We didn't really remember the old routines. We had to watch them on YouTube."
But he agreed that performing on stage again is fun.
"Working live was always the easiest part of our career, much more so than making albums or movies. If something wasn't clicking on stage, we could adjust it instantly. When a movie doesn't work, it takes a lot of fixing."
Even their memories of how long they were an act don't exactly jibe. Suffering some long-term memory loss, too, are we?
"We were together for, like, 20 years, then apart for, like, 27," exaggerated Cheech. "The good thing is that today, our act is brand-new for a lot of people. They weren't even around when we last did it."
Chong remembers them working live for 10 years, then making movies for another four, "and that was it."
The ever popular artistic differences and career fatigue eventually broke the duo up, they both agreed, turning them into the boomer generation's Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
Cheech remembers "a lot of fights over the movies - who was writing the script, who was directing."
Maybe they should have emulated their comedy characters and used a bit more, um, preventive medication, which Cheech still compares to "taking a drink at 5 p.m." and Chong argues is mankind's "best solution to the stresses of the world."
"I can't really smoke anymore, because of lung problems," claimed Cheech, "but I've discovered these marvelous pot suppositories . . ."
"Um, where do you find them?" I wondered out loud, falling into his trap.
"Up my butt!" he responded with glee.
Chong allowed that he only smokes "once or twice a week" and sometimes goes for months without it. "Going to the gym is more important to me now."
"Truth is, we were never stoned when we were working," claimed Cheech. "We had to keep our heads on straight, to keep things focused."
After the split, their divergent career paths served to distance them even more. Cheech became a popular character actor - starting, ironically, with voice parts in family-friendly Disney cartoons such as "The Lion King." That led to major roles in the TV series "Nash Bridges," "Judging Amy" and "Lost."
"None of that was really much of a stretch from doing comedy," Cheech said. "Comedians are always acting, in their way. They just had to fit me to parts that fit my personality, that wouldn't seem odd to people who remembered me from the comedy days."
Chong allows, with some disdain, that Cheech "went Hollywood, got into that whole social scene."
Chong did a bit of acting too, on "That '70s Show" and in Dave Chappelle's cinema homage "Half Baked." But he stayed "mostly focused" in the world of stand-up comedy, working as a solo act or in tandem with his wife, Shelby.
His act took on an increasingly political tone after he was busted in 2003 and imprisoned for nine months for the crime of selling "Chong's Bongs."
Chong now believes he was "set up," then given jail time, even though he was a first-time offender, "as an example to others, to squelch hippie protests after the start of the Iraqi war."
And, he argued, the strategy worked very well. "Only one protester came to my trial. He was holding up a sign: 'Free Drugs.' I don't know if he was arguing for it or giving them away."
Both guys agree that their legacy has been their series of head-case film comedies, which jump-started with the $47 million grossing (in 1978 dollars!) "Up in Smoke," just re-issued in a 30th-anniversary edition.
"We pioneered the stoner film genre," said Cheech. "A cottage industry has grown up with other filmmakers emulating that style, with films like 'Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,' 'Harold & Kumar,' 'Knocked Up' and 'Pineapple Express.' I haven't seen that many of them, but the ones that I did made me laugh."
"Three generations of fans have come to know us from our movies," added Chong. "In an unguarded moment, a Warner Bros. executive shared with me that our movies are 'second only to Disney films in terms of rental popularity.' "
Like a proud parent, Chong makes it his business to see "every stoner movie" that comes out, "and I love them all. But for honest insights about the scene, nothing beats the Showtime series 'Weeds.' "
A couple of years ago, Chong allowed in an interview that another obstacle to their reunion was that Cheech had come to regret as politically incorrect the "dumb Chicano" he presented in comedy bits and movies - starting with that loony "Dave? Dave's not here man!" routine.
But when I asked Cheech about that the other day, he denied having any problem with bringing the role back: "People know that guy's not me and not real. He's a comedy persona."
And Cheech believes there's a useful slice of life in all the C&C material, from "Sister Mary Elephant" and "Santa Claus & His Old Lady" to that goofy, arse-sniffing dog bit that got them busted for obscenity in Florida.
Said Cheech, "Social commentary has been central to comedy from Aristophones to Cheech and Chongones." *
Tower Theater, 69th and Ludlow streets, 7:30 tonight, $39.50 and $59.50, 215-336-2000, www.livenation.com.