Cheech Marin hushes the rumors and gets on with life
Mention the name Cheech Marin and you’ll likely get the response: “Aren’t Cheech and Chong supposed to get back together?”
Although the idea was kicked around a couple of years back (with possible movie titles like Grumpy Old Stoners and Lord of the Smoke Rings being rumored), the answer from Cheech is an emphatic “No.”
“I’m very happy to leave Cheech and Chong where it is. I like to leave a good-looking corpse,” Marin said with a laugh from his Malibu home.
Marin and Tommy Chong got their starts in the early ‘70s doing stand-up comedy on the hippie and drug culture. The duo recorded a handful of comedy albums in the early ‘70s, before making the jump to the big screen later in the decade with movies like Up in Smoke and Nice Dreams.
From there, the differences are like night and day. Chong is still a strong proponent of the wacky tobacky, having done nine months in federal prison in 2003 for selling “drug paraphernalia” online (he wrote about the experience in his book The I, Chong: Meditations From the Joint). And he essentially played himself as Leo on That’70s Show, as well as starring in recent straight-to-video classics like Best Buds and Evil Bong. The split was tough for Chong, who once told an interviewer that Cheech was “closer than a wife. The only thing we didn’t do was have sex.”
Marin, on the other hand, has made an effort to distance himself from his Cheech persona—supplying his voice in animated films like The Lion King and playing Don Johnson’s partner in the police drama Nash Bridges. Marin was also the go-to guy for director Robert Rodriguez in films like From Dusk Till Dawn and the Spy Kids trilogy (he also has a small part in one of the faux movie trailers between Quentin Tarantino’s and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse segments).
Marin is also an avid collector of Chicano art, and has worked with artists from what he calls the “Chicano School” of painting—a collective of Chicano artists which he describes as “reinventing a culture.” Pieces from his collection have been making their way into touring exhibits over the last five years.
“The school has the best in the world going now, wonderful painters, you know, they never gave up the brush.”
In fact Marin has been collecting for 20 years, and has amassed one of the largest collections of Chicano art in the world, with some 300 pieces. His latest art tour, Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge, features a number of pieces from his collection, and is touring the States, having hit the Smithsonian, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and reaching as far as Madrid, Spain.
The collection features the work of 25 artists including popular Los Angeles artist Gronk, whose work has appeared at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, as well as Marta Sanchez and the late Carlos Almaraz, who painted murals and banners for César Chávez’s United Farm Workers union.
These days, Marin is splitting time between art shows, movie and television projects, and telling jokes. He recently hit the road with his “Up in Jokes” comedy tour, in which he and a few up-and-coming comedians revisit some of the old skits and songs that made Cheech and Chong household names in the late ‘70s and early’80s.
Of course, broaching the subject of an artist’s early career can be risky, since most artists want to discuss current projects. And although a Cheech and Chong reunion is as likely as April 20 becoming a legal holiday, Marin doesn’t mind talking about the early days.
“Those were two characters we did that kind of reflected the times,” Marin said. “We had a good time doing it. We were kind of the foot soldiers of the cultural revolution.”