Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke has definitely aged in the 40 years since its release, and so has the prohibition creating its environment for contextual comedy. Commemorating this anniversary as well as the first year of cannabis legalization in California, Los Angeles’ Grammy Museum is showing off the archives of Tommy Chong, Cheech Marin, and Lou Adler — the think tank behind the stoner comedy template.
After peeking the Grammy Museum’s selection with curator Nwaka Onwusa, we got the vibe that this exhibit had a message for the millions of tourists who visit Los Angeles: This is a part of the local culture, not just a blip, but an entire keystone of many forms of comedy — the slow breakdown of prohibition, and California’s place in this paradigm.
Onwusa showed us details that are not apparent at first glance, such as the Bambu album with a giant rolling paper, or the jacket that was actually smokable paper. One of the best points Onwusa and the Grammy team curated was a sense that this was the foundation of their work, the work of so many others, and that comedy as a recorded format used to be the only way it made it into our lives. Stand up recordings were bestselling media, and Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong were Grammy winning comedians, despite being entrenched in the cannabis taboo.
Linking with Tommy Chong after seeing all of this, we had to ask what his favorite piece of memorabilia in the exhibit was,
“There were some roach clips in there that we presented Virginia Graham, we went on her show, “The Virginia Graham Show”. She didn’t know what they were, they’re Cheech and Chong heads with [clips], and so we had to explaIn it to her,” said Chong.
There’s so much merch out there from this movie franchise, but seeing counterfeit stuff really gave them a kick. Chong remembers, “There’s so many bootleg shirts out there, I would take pictures of them if i could then copy the bootlegs and put them out ourselves.”
When the subject turned to cannabis history, Chong’s lifelong advocacy informs his discussions. After noting the historical importance of cannabis to make canvas sails, rope, and other vital exploration supplies, Chong really illuminates the long term context of cannabis as a commodity of the ages, “Here’s a little tidbit for you. The word drug store, ever wonder why they call it a drug store? The word drug comes from the Dutch word droog which means ‘to dry’. So what they would do is they would harvest cannabis, and take it to the drug store to dry it out before they sold it. So cannabis has been a part of our life forever, we don’t even realize it.”
Chong also speaks freely and openly about politics like all comedians should, dumping on Trump & co’s latest indictment batch:
“FBI, they’re like Comey, think about it. They’re professionals. All they do in their life is to figure out how to put criminals away. They’re experts at it. So when they meet a Trump who lies like Trump does, and is as crooked as Trump is? Trump confesses everything on twitter! He confesses, he can’t help it! He’s only good at one thing and that’s destroying himself. That’s the only thing he’s good at.
By the way the rest of the people that were supporting Trump like Nunez and Pence and all those guys, they’re dirty too. They’re going to go down too, because think about it, if, and they know already that Manafort has been colluding with the Russians and paying off people like Sean Hannity. The Russians have been paying him and paying him cash money, laundered money, and all of this all gonna come up probably with [Michael]Cohen, the papers that Cohen’s got. They’ve probably got a list of payments from Russia. All of those guys are going to be indicted. They’re going to go to court. They’re going to flip on each other and they’re going to go jail. So we’re riding very high right now.”
Riding high is a great way to put both Chong’s outlook and hopefully the future of the US, may they legalize it ASAP.
Photos: Maria Penaloza