False Things You Believe About Cheech And Chong

For a generation of fans, the names Cheech and Chong are synonymous with raunchy comedy, political commentary, and, of course, heavy use of recreational marijuana. The albums, movies, and live stage shows that these partners have put together over the years include some of the most beloved humor of the 20th century, and even today, well into their advanced years, these two legends of the comedic arts continue to thrill fans, both old and new, and still command a notable place in American culture.

Given how well so many people know the oeuvre of Cheech and Chong, it's surprising how many untrue stories and misconceptions about them are out there, both as individuals and in the context of the comedy duo. Their enduring coupling makes it hard to imagine either man on his own, but they are actually quite different from one another, and in, in many ways, much different from the impressions you may have of them. Whether you think Tommy Chong is always high, or that Cheech Marin has been smoking pot since his teenage years, you might be surprised.

Here are some things you (probably) believe about Cheech and Chong that are actually not true.

Cheech and Chong are stage names

While they may sound like cleverly baked-up stage names, Cheech and Chong both go by their real names, in a matter of thinking. Chong was born Thomas B. Kin Chong (via the Post Gazette), thus the actor, comedian, musician, and businessman is simply using his actual surname as the name of his character. As for Cheech, he was born Richard Anthony Marin and took on the nickname Cheech based on a moment in his early childhood when an uncle joked that he looked like a little chicharròn, a term for a fried pork rind in Spanish, according to SCPR.

So, both Cheech and Chong were indeed Cheech and Chong long before they met up and formed a duo — the fact that the names work so well together is fortunate, but they were not created or spun to work for the pair once they began writing together and performing their shared act.

Cheech Marin is a lifelong pot smoker

Given the always-high persona you see in movies, on stage, and in countless comedy recordings and songs, the fact that he owns a company that sells glass marijuana apparatus, and given that he was a teenager in the 1960s, you may well assume that cannabis is a big part of Cheech Marin's life, and that he started using it at a young age. But in fact, he lived a clean and completely drug-free life as a young man. KPCC reports that Marin's dad was a police officer with the Los Angeles Police Department, which might have helped keep him on the straight and narrow during his teenage years. According to Pot Network, Marin hadn't tried marijuana before college.

As he recalls, he was at a party during his first year of college when he decided to try smoking a joint that was handed to him. He found the substance a thrill and it would go on to play a large role in the next five decades of his life, but before college, Marin had never once used the substance with which he is so closely associated.

Cheech and Chong have always been an act together

While it's hard to imagine Cheech without Chong and Chong without Cheech today, both had careers before they crossed paths and joined forces. Before he got into comedy, Cheech Marin was an amateur musician, a writer, and an avid potter, according to CBC. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he moved to Canada after college to escape the Vietnam war draft, according to Biography. While living in Alberta, he apprenticed with a well-known potter, and was delivering carpets in Vancouver when he met his comedy partner.

Tommy Chong was a serious musician long before he was a comedic musician, actor, and performer. In the early 1960s, he played guitar with a band named the Shades (the band changed names several times), co-operated a nightclub in his home town of Vancouver (via All Music), and later helped run an improv comedy club with his family. When Marin and Chong finally met and began performing together, it was initially as a musical act, but audiences found the casual, easy banter between the two men so funny that it was immediately clear they had comedic chemistry, and a comedy act was soon born.

Tommy Chong has always had his hippie persona

If you had met Tommy Chong in the early 1960s, chances are that he would have been wearing a sharp, crisply pressed suit and had carefully styled hair and closely trimmed facial hair — a far cry from the wild hair, big beard, and hippie-style garb with which most people associate him. In fact, Chong was generally a clean-cut gent before meeting Jimi Hendrix, according to the Wrap.

"When we met Hendrix, everyone started dressing like Hendrix," Chong is quoted as saying. "We all [started wearing new] outfits, doing our hair long. And I changed so radically that when I got back to Vancouver, they wouldn't let me back into my own club because they didn't recognize me." His new look would come to be his genuine style, not a getup, as Chong embraced the drug-using, freewheeling lifestyle he had become familiar with in the mid- to late-'60s, and he never went back to his clean-cut style.

Cheech and Chong were little known before their 1978 movie Up In Smoke

The 1978 film "Up In Smoke" is the work for which Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong are arguably best known, and for many people, it is what put these two on the map. But in fact, the duo already had a nearly decade-long comedy act that had made them quite famous and successful. According to Rolling Stone, the two men met in 1968, in Vancouver, and discovered a shared love of comedy. "We started in a strip bar that Tommy's family owned in the worst part of Vancouver," Marin told Rolling Stone. "He wanted to do improv theater, but he wanted to keep the topless element at the same time in order to preserve the audience that was already there. So it became topless improv, hippie burlesque.

The pair then recorded and released numerous comedy albums during the 1970s, including multiple records that went gold, according to Rhino. Their albums sold well according to various metrics, including their self-titled debut album entering the top 30 in the charts, and their second, "Big Bambu" peaking at No. 2 in the Billboard 200 charts. In 1973, their third comedy album "Los Cochinos" won a Grammy award for the best comedy recording.

Their hard work on the comedy circuit made the pair popular, but their movies, including "Up in Smoke," "Cheech and Chong's Next Movie," and "Nice Dreams" enhanced their profiles and brought in a slew of new fans.

Cheech Marin speaks Spanish fluently

Cheech Marin's most famous character, Pedro de Pacas, who he has played in movies, comedy recordings, and on stage, is Chicano (defined by Oxford Languages as "an American of Mexican origin or descent") and speaks English with a Mexican accent, and also drops Spanish phrases into his speech.

Marin is American by birth, speaks completely unaccented English, and in fact does not even speak the Spanish language beyond some casual use. According to the Bend, as of 2018 at least, Marin had never even visited Mexico, the country many people assume to be his birthplace. 

Marin has said he does self-identify as Chicano, stating, "I really hated those hyphenated names — you know like Mexican-American, and so finally, when I heard this term Chicano, and I found out what that meant, I knew that was me." He has long been a promoter of Chicano art, saying "I started going to galleries in LA and that is how I started discovering Chicano artists. I wondered why I had never heard of them before, because they were so good. So, I started collecting them and it was a perfect storm. I knew what the art was, I had the money to collect it, and I had the celebrity in order to promote it."

Tommy Chong was acting, not actually always high

Many actors and actresses become closely associated with a specific character or with a type of character they tend to play, despite the assumed persona being nothing like their own offscreen, real life self — think of the murderous gangsters played by Danny Trejo or the drug kingpin Bryan Cranston played in "Breaking Bad," for example. In real life, both are kind and compassionate family men (via Ranker). But Tommy Chong? When it comes to the drug use, that's no act.

Chong has described himself as "always high" when prepping for performances, writing, on stage, and on screen, according to the Wrap. His act is really no act at all, but merely Chong putting a big part of his real life on display via the character known simply as the Man. Which is little surprise when you think about it, given the fact that beyond his stage work, comedy albums, and films, he established a business selling paraphernalia used to imbibe cannabis (via Pot Network).

Cheech Marin was always high

Cheech Marin is most famous for playing the perpetually stoned pothead character Pedro de Pacas, but in fact much of it was an act. While Marin is an unabashed user and proponent of cannabis, he was rarely if ever high while actually performing, as Marin actually takes his art quite seriously. According to the Wrap, he has said that he "didn't get stoned making the record, [and was] never stoned on stage." 

Marin describes his approach to acting and performing as disciplined and concerted, saying that the reason he comes across as such a laid back and natural stoner when in character is because he works so hard to portray that persona, not at all because it is his actual affect. When seen out of character, it is easy to believe that he means it: Marin comes across as present, poised, and sharp — a stark contrast to Pedro, who is usually confused, giggling, and anything but serious about anything going on around him, be the scene one in which he is smoking marijuana or facing a judge in court.

Tommy Chong's business was ruined by his jail sentence

More often than not, when someone is sent to jail for the business they run, that business is done for. But that wasn't the case for Tommy Chong. His marijuana-accessories business has endured despite him being sent to federal prison for a nine-month sentence following his being wrapped up in an investigation called Operation Pipe Dreams, according to Post-Gazette, as well as being hit with multiple fines and asset seizures, and the forced relinquishing of the domain name he operated. Through his Nice Dreams site, Chong and his team had sold some 7,500 pipes and bongs before being shut down by the government.

Did any of that shut down Chong's business operations? Not at all. Today, Chong is a part of several different cannabis-affiliated businesses, such as the online mega retailer of pipes, water bubblers, bongs, and other paraphernalia called Cheech & Chong Glass and the Chong Bong, which offers a $5,000 decorative water bong so popular it is often sold out.

Tommy Chong hated being in federal prison

For Tommy Chong, his 2003 nine-month sentence in federal prison following his conviction for selling drug paraphenalia wasn't all that bad of a time. Chong served time after he took a plea deal in which he plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute drug paraphernalia in exchange for no charges being brought against his wife and son, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

In fact, Chong didn't much mind his time in federal prison at all and actually described it in pretty positive terms later. He also made lasting friendships, including with Jordan Belfort, the stockbroker portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Wolf of Wall Street." In fact, it was conversations between these two prison buddies that apparently led Belfort to write the memoir that became the basis for the hit Martin Scorcese helmed picture. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Chong has described Belfort as "A little crooked, but a genius."

While incarcerated, Chong spent time writing, reading, exercising, and was seemingly generally at peace with his situation. He went so far as to later offer consolation to other celebrities destined for relatively short minimum security prison stays, such as when he said Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman should relax and not worry about their sentences for their roles in the college admissions scandal (via the New York Times).

Cheech Marin is a dumb stoner

Cheech Marin is best known for playing a dumb stoner who gets himself into all sorts of trouble due to his drug-addled, less-than-brilliant mind. But that character is a product of acting, not his true self. In reality, Marin is a college-educated polymath who collects art, writes books and music, has produced, directed, and starred in myriad screen, stage, and audio productions, and who, among other things, is a nationally ranked golfer and noted philanthropist (via cheechmarin.com).

Marin has also dedicated much of his life to promoting Chicano art and cultural contributions, serving as an outspoken champion of the often under-appreciated work by the community with which he identifies. Now in his mid-70s, he is a father of three and remains active in film and TV production, in live stage work, and in his many other pursuits. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he was a vocal supporter of mask wearing and other safety protocols, calling on Mexican Americans in particular to use masks (via Facebook). Twice divorced, Marin is now married to Natasha Marin, a celebrated Russian-born classical pianist and accomplished artist in her own right (via Biography).

Far from being a dumb stoner, Marin is somewhat of a Renaissance man.

Cheech and Chong have always gotten along well

As noted earlier, Cheech and Chong both had careers before they crossed paths, and though their partnership is undeniably the reason each excelled to greater fame, it hasn't always been easy. In fact, the two had a falling out that lasted for decades. The two barely worked together from the late 1980s to the early 2000s, not truly making amends until after the end of Chong's 2003 stint in prison (although Marin did visit Chong there once) and not really working together again until a 2008 tour, according to the New York Post.

The main reason for the personal and professional schism that formed between Cheech and Chong had much to do with their work. The Daily Mail reports Marin as saying "'A real struggle set in between us. Tommy wanted to be the boss and make all the decisions" and that Marin was bored with playing stoner characters but that Chong was happy to continue with the kinds of roles he was known for. Marin did expand beyond the stoner movies and broke out of comedy, with roles including six years in the CBS series "Nash Bridges" and various voice acting parts in animated movies, according to CBS News.

Despite the tension behind the scenes, the two comedians remained devoted to their act through it all. Marin has said, "We could be having a knock-down, drag-out [fight] off-stage, and we'd walk on stage and the rhythm would be there. It never affected us [as performers]" (via the New York Post)0