Pubdate: Thu, 08 Feb 2018
Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2018 Star Advertiser
Author: Steven Mark


It only seemed appropriate that a long-distance phone call to Cheech
Marin would go awry, repeatedly getting dropped. Hearing each other
say, "Hello, hello, are you there?" back and forth was like reliving
the famous "Dave's not here" routine of Cheech & Chong, where a
stoned-out Chong keeps telling anxiety-ridden drug dealer Dave
(Cheech) knocking on the door that "Dave's not here."

Cheech Marin, left, and Tommy Chong at the 2014 Guys Choice Awards in

Cheech, though, knew better than to simply blame cellphone technology.

"The government probably cut us off," he quipped, once communication
was restored. "We're those kind of guys."

"Those kind of guys" are the quintessential stoner-dude characters
that Cheech and Chong created back in the 1970s and will be bringing
to Blaisdell Arena on Saturday, highlighting the three-day Hawaii
Cannabis Expo. Whether it was as Dave or Pedro and Anthony of "Up in
Smoke" film franchise fame, the pair blazed up doobies while blazing a
trail to comedy immortality, laying the groundwork for marijuana to be
accepted into mainstream culture.

Now, with California recently beginning legal recreational marijuana
sales, Cheech is feeling gratified, if not downright giddy.

"We've always behaved as though it were legal anyway," he said. "At
some point during this journey, when journalists and everyone were
saying, 'You're promoting marijuana use, blah, blah' -- at some point,
we had to go, 'You know, what if we're right? What if marijuana is
good for you?'

"So who's laughing now?"

Enough are laughing to make the use of marijuana -- continued federal
criminalization notwithstanding -- no longer a joke. According to a
Gallup poll released in October, 64 percent of Americans, including a
majority of Republicans, support some level of legalization for
marijuana. Nine states and the District of Columbia have fully
legalized it; 20 more, including Hawaii, have legalized medical marijuana.

For Cheech, marijuana has been an eye-opening experience from the
moment he first tried it. As the son of a Southern California police
officer who put him in Catholic school, he was destined for a career
in the seminary. But when he tried marijuana as a college student, his
first reaction was, "OK, so what else have they been lying to us about?"

"My discerning facility, through my Catholic education, was at its
'highest' point," he said with a laugh.

That led not only to a counterculture lifestyle that was focused -- to
the extent he could focus -- on political issues like the Vietnam War
and civil rights, and personal issues like meeting girls and trying to
figure out life.

"It was a mess," Cheech recalled with a laugh. "Too many things going
on at the same time. I needed to smoke a joint and calm down, get some
depth perception about all this."

Cheech was in the final semester of college when he got turned on to
pottery, studying with an art professor who knew of his anti-war
politics. That helped him land a position in Canada, thus avoiding the
draft. He eventually met Tommy Chong, who ran a club in Vancouver, and
since both of them played guitar, and they began performing there,
incorporating funny sketches into the act.

Soon the humor eclipsed the music, and the pair looked to the U.S. to
further their career, but the problem was getting Cheech back into the
United States. He had trashed his draft documents and was on an FBI
watchlist of those who skipped the draft. He was part of a
class-action suit challenging the draft, but that ruling was uncertain.

Thanks to lackadaisical border checks at the time, Cheech was able to
recross the border.

"It was very easy to come back in, so I still think about this today:
'Were they really after me or not?'" he said. "The answer came when
the court decision (in his favor) came down, and they tried to redraft
me the next day.aE& It was like they hit the auto-reset button."

This time, he reported for his physical, but he was recuperating from
a broken leg and was disqualified.

Once back in the States, Cheech and Chong got their career started in
South Central Los Angeles' black clubs, where their affinity for jazz
and soul music as well as their own upbringings -- both grew up in
African-American neighborhoods -- found a home. It gave the pair a lot
of freedom to develop their routines.

"We were making up our own guidelines, because there'd never been a
thing like us before," Cheech said. "When we first started, comedy was
dead for our age group. I was told that all the time: 'No, the hippies
don't have any comedy, get out of here.' Well, we're kind of hippies,
and we do have comedy, so we just kept battling that."

Fueled by the pair's own pot-induced experiences, their refreshing
portrayals of burnouts, low-riders and hippies caught on, resulting in
more exposure and a recording contract. Their famous "Dave's not here"
routine came out of their first recording session, when Chong played
an impromptu joke on Cheech, leaving him outside the studio in the hot
sun while Cheech went apoplectic trying to get inside.

"It happened by accident, but all good things happen by accident,"
Cheech said, laughing. "But it connected with things that were totally
prevalent but hidden, rather than out in the open. We started bringing
them out in the open. Because we were two hippies, we didn't know any

The two split in the 1980s over creative differences, but after a
period in which both pursued acting careers, they reunited about 10
years ago. Cheech said it's a "joy" to be working together again and
attracting audiences of all ages.

"The thing that's happening right now that's kind of shocking to me is
that we're getting bigger crowds than ever before," he said. "It's
amazing that we just go out there, and whoever shows up, shows up.
It's like Noah's Ark out there."

When he's not making laughs, Cheech is heavily involved in collecting
and promoting Chicano art. He's a self-taught connoisseur who has
promoted Chicano art for decades. He's been a collector of things his
whole life -- "baseball cards, bottle caps, matchbook covers, marbles,
whatever it was, I always got the whole set."

"I self-educated myself in art from a very young age, like 11 or so,"
he said. "I went to the library and took out all the art books and
found out what was up. When I finally discovered these Chicano
paintings, I knew what good painting was, because I'd seen it all my

He's now applying that tastemaker's touch to -- what else? --
marijuana, which shows how times have changed.

Whereas Chong, as recently as 2003, was imprisoned for selling pipes
and bongs by mail, Cheech has now established "Cheech's Private
Stash," which he called a "curating" service.

"We go out and seek out really good strains and present it to the
public," he said. "There are new strains coming out all the time, so
while (the recommended strain) will change, our guarantee is that it
will always be good."

Cheech is part of a team that does the testing, but fans can get a
vicarious thrill of sorts knowing they've essentially shared a joint
with Cheech. He'll make sure to have personally tried the final
selection and give it his seal of approval.

"I don't see anybody else's name on there," he said with a laugh.
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