kw: book reviews, nonfiction, memoirs, autobiographies, comedians
I first heard "Dave's not here" by Cheech and Chong when it became popular as a radio bit in 1971. It was mildly funny, but because I knew enough potheads to see its truth, it seemed more tragic to me. That's the same year I was first at a party where weed was being smoked, and I had a bad allergic reaction to the smoke. I was thus rescued from any risk of becoming a pothead myself.
Cheech and Chong comedy bits became wildly popular, but I noticed at the time that a lot of people just didn't get it. I was kind of in the middle, and didn't find them all that funny, just sometimes. Now, more than thirty years later, I came across Cheech & Chong, the Unauthorized Autobiography, and took the chance to read how their career developed. I braced myself for the reading, expecting grossness overload, and that is pretty much what the author delivers.
Both Tommy Chong and Richard "Cheech" Marin started out as musicians, and each was good enough to become quite popular in Vancouver, where they met in 1968. Both, by that point, were expanding into comedy and improv acting.
Their collaboration lasted about fifteen years, but the legend lives on among the stoner community; see cheechandchong.com. The two had a brief reunion in 2008. In thirty years they'd had time to recover from their breakup.
The book weaves together a few threads. One is a long apologia in favor of legalized marijuana. Here's one thing I noticed about that: in a late chapter the author relates an incident in which Cheech was stopped by Malibu police for speeding and unsteady driving, after which they shepherded him home. Not two pages later he states that smoking pot makes you a better driver. Izzat so? Then I'd hate to be on the road with a weedless Cheech! My observations of stoners convince me that they are much the worse off. Cheech and Chong were wildly successful, yes, because they happened to be good at something they could do while stoned. If someone happens to be good at computer programming, they can't do productive work while stoned. I've seen it tried.
Another thread is the lifestyle. I thank God I got out of the popular music business before it plunged me into the world of hoods, pimps, whores, conmen, and shysters that Tommy Chong considers his normal milieu! As part of this lifestyle, he fathered a child with one woman while courting another, married the latter and had a child by her, then almost immediately took on a mistress, had a child by her, and later married her. That marriage finally stuck. It isn't quite the optimal way to locate one's soul mate.
The third thread is the style of their humor. Simply put: if you want to be degraded, go for it. Toward the end of the book I realized what was happening when I first heard their material. You have to be stoned to appreciate it. If you have your head on straight, their bits take too long and seem to go nowhere. If you are stoned, your thinking is slow enough that it all seems brilliant…and you don't want it to go anywhere anyway.
Had Cheech and Chong come along a generation or two earlier, they'd have gone nowhere. It took the Boomer generation, specifically those Boomers who prefer having their brains stewed in weed, to make the duo rich.