Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong rose to prominence making hilarious, deeply stupid comedy for stoners, and, despite the stench of herb that clings to their public personas, the pair has managed to each build diverse, fascinating careers. For a wonderful, sprawling new profile in Rolling Stone, the comedy duo reflects on their debut feature, Up In Smoke, which is now getting the deluxe reissue treatment for its 40th anniversary. The story’s packed with fun anecdotes and insights into its creation, but no revelation harshes our mellow more than Cheech’s reveal that the stoners were stone sober on set.
“We maybe smoked after shooting,” Marin says, “but not when we’re working. We had to sustain a level of energy, especially making movies. We had long days on set. If we got stoned, we wouldn’t get it done.”
“We couldn’t do those big joints,” he adds, shattering the dreams of bud lovers everywhere.
Of course, it’s this kind of discipline that allowed the pair to more or less build a franchise out of their comedy, one that still perseveres to this day. That said, there was still a loose, improvisational feel to their process, says Marin.
“I personally wrote pages on a yellow pad,” he says. “I’ve still got ‘em in my basement. It had a smattering of dialogue. But it was mostly a roadmap.” Chong adds that the movie was relatively easy to make “because we didn’t know any better,” saying there was barely any rehearsal and plenty of mid-scene changes during filming.
No cult classic, Up In Smoke was a major hit upon its release. Before it ever hit theaters, though, its success was writ in the stars by one particular critic: Jack Nicholson. “He had just had a car accident and had broken or dislocated his shoulder,” director Lou Adler says. “He wasn’t supposed to laugh, because every time that he laughed, it would hurt him. And I showed him the film, and I was basing it on those [agonizing] ‘uh, uh, uh’ sounds coming out of Jack. I could judge where the joke hit and not to go over the joke. I heard a lot of ‘ugh’s’ and ‘oh’s.’ Yeah. He almost wanted me to stop.”
If that doesn’t make you want to revisit it, nothing will. Check out Rolling Stone’s whole retrospective here.