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While giving an art lecture in San Diego two years ago, Cheech Marin stirred things up with hilarious anecdotes about the legendary comedic duo, Cheech & Chong. An audience member named Margaret McBride approached afterward and suggested he write some of his stories down. “Turns out she was a literary agent. She got me the book deal and here we are,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter about the origins of his new memoir, Cheech Is Not My Real Name…but Don’t Call Me Chong!
After honing their act in a Vancouver strip club, Cheech & Chong (Marin is a native Angeleno; Chong was born in Edmonton, Alberta) hit it big when producer Lou Adler signed them to a record deal. In 1971, Cheech and Chong captured the zeitgeist of the hippie movement with its unique brand of pot-based humor, making them stars. Several multiple double-platinum albums later, they made their first movie, Up in Smoke, which became the highest-grossing comedy of 1978.
After a falling out in the mid-’80s, they parted ways but Marin, 70, continues to thrive in Hollywood (he reprises his Ramone character in Cars 3, opening June 16) and in the art world, as a renowned collector of Chicano works. Here, Richard Anthony Marin, who’ll speak about his book at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica on March 30, recalls smoking pot with Little Richard, smoking hash with Peter Sellers, dancing with Kate Middleton and fighting with Tommy Chong.
I know you’re happily married, but I read that a few years ago you were seen snuggling with Kate Middleton?
She’s only human. I was at St. Andrews at a golf tournament, and they had just announced themselves as a couple, she and William. The band started playing and nobody was dancing and she got up from the table, came strutting across the floor and stuck out her hand and said, “Let’s dance,” and that she wanted to get the party started.
In the book you talk about interviewing celebs as a reporter, before you were in the entertainment business, people like Little Richard.
Somewhere in the process, like two in the morning, Little Richard realized, “Hey, they’re hippies, they smoke dope!” How unusual! He gets this little shoebox full of sticks and seeds. It was like, “Oh man, Richard, you got ghetto weed, dude.”
And Peter Sellers offered you a chunk of hash the size of a Hershey bar on your first visit to London?
It was amazing because he treated us as equals. It was surreal for us because we were brand-new, and here was the world’s greatest comic actor, and it was like we were his buddies. Peter Sellers was unknowable cause he was in this other plane in this other consciousness and he drifted in and out of different stuff. I’ve never met anybody like him. He was really loving and giving and really generous, but he was unknowable.
Will recreational pot stay legal with Jeff Sessions running the Justice Department?
Their first statement was, “We’ll go after recreational.” They’re up to their ass in alligators right now. They don’t want to take on 32 states, and cut their tax base. And Sessions has always been a states-rights guy. You can’t be states rights for some things and not for others. I think they just said, “We’re going to leave it like it is.”
You and Tommy had great success together but things went south in the mid-’80s. What happened?
Tommy always had a very healthy ego. And then with the advent of fame and success, it gets blown up even more. I called him the world’s humblest megalomaniac. I don’t know if it was a macho thing, but he was used to being the leader. He couldn’t take anybody else challenging his leadership. Eventually, I had enough.
But you get along now?
We get along. We realize that we’re brothers, and we’re not best friends. Sometimes your brother pisses you off, but he’s always got your back, usually. We have a business and we’ll go along and do our business.
Legendary record producer Lou Adler gave you your first break, and directed your first movie, Up in Smoke. After that, you broke with him.
Up in Smoke, the deal that went down there, it was not a good deal for us. But it was partly our fault. We were just these two street hippies and never really had a lawyer to say, “You should take a look at this.” We were part and parcel of the times, very trusting, very open. The deal was bad and we tried to give him every opportunity to change it, and he chose not to, so goodbye. Maybe he believed we only had one film in us. We were estranged for a lot of years. At the end, we have a real good relationship.
You talked about Jeff Sessions and recreational use of pot, but what do you think is driving this conservative backlash?
It makes me wonder about the intelligence of the electorate. There were a lot of people who voted for Trump because they wanted a job. They didn’t bargain for the rest of this shit. I hope they’re starting to realize their mistake. This is the last gasp of the white uneducated. And they’re the dinosaurs in the tar pit. I feel sorry for them, too. I understand they’re not being listened to and they have a bad economic situation. It’s like, “Hey dude, welcome to our world.”
You have the largest private collection of Chicano art in the country. How do you expect the coming show, LA/LA, the largest showing of Chicano art ever, to impact the market?
We’re going to see a real expansion of all the Latinos who are working and creating great American school art, and American school art is not all Plymouth Rock. I’ve been collecting this for 30 years. It’s about getting access to platforms, and that’s what we’re doing.
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