Tommy’s not here, man! For most, Richard "Cheech" Marin will forever be thought of with his buddy, Chong. The two groovy herb enthusiasts found more than their fair share of hijinks and a large cult following across several albums and films from 1971 to 1985. But for the younger set, the days of Los Cochinos are long gone, and many know the lovable Marin for his memorable supporting roles in children's fare: Ramone the Lowrider in Pixar’s Cars, a smart-mouthed hyena in The Lion King, and Carmen and Juni’s fake Uncle Felix in the original Spy Kids trilogy,
“There’s a Cheech for every generation!” the 70-year-old funny man says, glowing, who will be interviewed by Houston Public Media's Ernie Manouse and sign copies of his new book, Cheech Is Not My Real Name, But Don’t Call Me Chong, at an event hosted by Brazos Bookstore at the River Oaks Theatre on Thursday, April 6. “There’s Mexican food and then there’s nouveau Mexican food. I get this great opportunity to be irreverent [and] insightful,” says Marin, also the grand marshal of the 2017 Art Car Parade.
Without his stoner persona on display, expect to see a gentler side of Marin – the art collector, the academic, the Jeopardy! champ. “Well, I don’t like to brag about it, but I slaughtered [Anderson Cooper],” the comedian good-heartedly brags about his 2010 upset against the well-read newsman. “Jeopardy! was a very particular programming contest, because not only do you have to know the right answer, but you have to know it first. If you get off-keel, all of a sudden you miss a couple, you get taken care of real quick.”
Yet part of the reason the comic’s win against the CNN anchor is so impressive is that it seems so improbable. Marin, though, swears his role as a burnout in the movies hardly means he doesn't have his act together. He laughs at being called the “smart stoner,” saying: “You know, it’s because I was smart! The ‘stoner’ part was what you had to act at!”
But the performer admits to not minding the misconception. “I was always interested in academia and knowledge and learning,” he shares. “That’s what happened when I went into comedy — how was it constructed? How am I going to succeed here and learn from the past?”
As a kid, Marin says he devoured all the comedy he could find, from radio to The Ed Sullivan Show. “I was a big fan of a lot of comedians growing up," he reflects. "I was a big fan of comedy. If they had one funny joke, I liked them. I used to watch anybody who was on Sullivan. I was a fan of Alan King, Myron Cohen…I was a huge fan of Red Skelton!”
Of course, Marin could never know he’d later be one of the masters of the comedy album – a form not popularized until he was a teenager himself. With Tommy Chong, the duo made eight chart-topping comedy records, and seven big-screen vehicles that raked in hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet, after a bout of critical thrashing and some growing pains, Cheech called it quits with Chong for nearly 20 years – though the two have since reunited on occasion.
On the cover of his new book, Marin plays with fans' perceptions a bit: The lime-green cover features a present-day Marin smashing a piñata likeness of his '70s counterpart, with candy spewing from his mangled guts. “It’s the image of myself that I’m smashing, [though] some people say I’m hitting the piñata of Chong because he needs a good whacking,” he says, cracking up.
But the cover shows a bit more depth that most might expect from a comedian tell-all. “It was what [the editors] observed by reading what I wrote and observing us in our relationship. The piñata was a metaphor for breaking out,” the comedian sums up, before adding hastily, “and I wanted that green color because it had to be seen from across the airport.”
Cheech Marin will appear at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 6 at River Oaks Theatre, 2009 West Gray. For information call 713-523-0701 or visit brazosbookstore.com. $27. Ticket required for entry; must reserve a book at least 24 hours in advance.
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