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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Marin & Tommy

Ever wonder if Cheech & Chong would have made it as big if their names weren't alliterative? I mean, what are the odds two guys with 'ch' names meet and take the comedy stoner world by storm? The mind boggles.

In last week's Georgia Straight, I wrote the cover story on the comedic duo, who met right here in Vancouver. It's the definitive biography, if I do say so myself. Treat yourself to that fine bit of writing. Go ahead. You deserve it.

It was fun putting the story together, if a bit rushed. One thing I was really hoping for was to talk to former RCMP narc, Det. Abe Snidanko, who C&C immortalized as the Clouseau-like cop on their trail in the movies, Sgt. Stidenko, as played by Stacey Keach. I actually did talk to Snidanko, who's now retired, but he wouldn't talk. “I don’t give interviews. Thanks anyhow,” is all he would offer. I would have loved to have heard his opinion on the stoners, and to find out if it's true he was shipped off to Turkey for 17 years after he became well known.

Here are some other morsels that didn't make the story.

I spoke to the pair on Cheech's cellphone as they were driving (or being driven) from Portland to Eugene, Oregon. So it appears they genuinely do like each other. Remember, for years and years they didn't have a lot of nice things to say about each other. Cheech went on and on about how easy it's been getting back on stage with his old buddy. There were virtually no awkwardness on stage. And they did next to no rehearsing beforehand. "It took us like 30 seconds," he said about how long it took to get their rhythm back. "I'm not kidding you. It was scary. Like when you have a tattoo and you go get it off you have a scar that looks like the tattoo. It was beyond easy. It's part of our DNA."

Cheech never said one way or the other how important the comedy was back in the heyday, but he did mention something that suggested he knew the gimmick was equally important in their quest for fame: "Wherever we went, we attracted an audience. And most important, we attracted a reaction from everybody. In L.A., we played black clubs in the black sections of L.A. because they paid money. The white clubs would convince you to do hootenanny night. So we started honing our act in black clubs. And we kept ourselves alive that way."

Chong, the prime mover of the duo, hinted that their stoner image was, at least in Cheech's case, just an image: "We became stoners more than starting out stoners. Actually, Cheech was almost celibate. He was like a priest. He never did anything. Then he started smoking a little bit. We became stoners. Our audiences made us become them. Because your audience really dictates your material. And when we found out stoner material and rock'n'roll really go good together, we hit upon the golden secret, the golden key. Stoner material and jazz and rock'n'roll and music... Stoner material and music really go hand in hand."

I personally was interested in Chong's musical background and his reminiscences of the early Vancouver music scene. I guess I'm just amazed any time someone has more than one marketable talent when there are some of us who don't have any. As is well known, Chong was in a group that was signed to Motown and he owned a club here in the city, taking credit for the burgeoning blues scene at the time.

"Tommy Milton and I had a club called the Blues Palace and we brought up Ike and Tina Turner to open it. They came up and more or less set the blues standard in Vancouver."

As a kid in the '70s, I never got into Cheech & Chong. I may have heard some of their albums but wasn't interested. I'm not sure why because I certainly was interested in any and all comedy I could get my hands on. But not them. I'll get a full immersion on Friday when I attend their reunion tour and report back on what I thought. Not sure how I'll refrain from inhaling the whole show, but I'll try my damndest.

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