President Barack Obama promised change. To some, that means health-care reform; to others, economic renewal, or new takes on everything from foreign policy to the reproductive rights of women.
For Tommy Chong, the future is bright with the potential of no-holds-barred marijuana humor. "The new government has lifted the comedy embargo," says the actor and comedian, and one half of the team that once took drug-laced merriment to new heights.
Decades before Pineapple Express flamed on the silver screen, long before Dude, Where's My Car? -- and with even Dazed & Confused still a pipe dream -- marijuana was ready for its close-up. It arrived via the hands, bowls and bongs of Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong.
Indeed, excepting a few long-forgotten, pre-Code jazz curiosities and the high-camp classic Reefer Madness (a great big shaggy hoot the first time you see it, 12 years old and introduced to the contact buzz courtesy of an older sibling), the cinematic oeuvre of Cheech and Chong provided the sweet leaf with its first starring roles. Flicks starting with 1978's hit Up in Smoke roused a nation, or at least a subculture, to rejoice as stoner hilarity ensued. All were heartened to learn that it was possible to be a pothead and have your ideas actually come to fruition instead of dissolving into ash.
But before making movies, the pair had established a loyal following on the standup circuit. Touring comedy clubs across the nation is how their greatest routines were perfected, many eventually being showcased on record albums and on screen.
Now it's been what the men themselves describe as "a million years" since they hit the boards together. But with Bush out of office, it seems to be safe to travel again.
Cheech cites personal desires as his impetus for hitting the long-untraveled road, and in particular claims that the need to visit Pittsburgh, apparently a land of culinary delights, spurred him to tour. "You have the French fries on the sandwiches, man!" he hollers across a continent and a staticky cell connection. "You can't get that anywhere else. I can't do that at home!"
Chong's motivations sound far more altruistic. "I think the world needs a big warm hug, man," he says. Chong's warm-and-fuzziness regarding the Steel City is somewhat surprising, since his most prominent recent appearance here involved a 2003 conviction for selling drug paraphernalia, which resulted in nine months in federal prison and more than a hundred thou in fines.
Chong declines to comment on his less positive time in town, and when pressed again refers to hugs (although happily he doesn't follow with "not drugs"). In 2007, Chong returned with his wife Shelby, to perform at the Improv and was not arrested in the slightest.
Whatever the cause of their reunion, they're back to bring fans traditional two-man standup. Classic routines immortalized on film or brand-spanking-new laughs? The duo is noncommittal. "It's the 'what we can remember' tour," quips Chong. Whatever they come up with, it will definitely be green.
Cheech & Chong Light Up America with special guest Shelby 8 p.m. Fri., March 6. Benedum Center, 719 Liberty Ave., Downtown. $40-60. 412-456-6666