I would like to officially call for a moratorium on the phrase "Unauthorized autobiography". I know certain readers would like to call for a moratorium on calling for moratoriums but until the entertainment world stops doing stupid shit that needs to cease, like, yesterday, I will shamelessly continue my moratorium-seeking ways. I'm sure the first time this paradoxical phrase was introduced it was, perhaps, mildly amusing. Meek chuckles may have ensued. But by this point it's more likely to engender eye rolling, groans and sighs of irritation than hearty guffaws.
But in the case of Tommy Chong's Cheech And Chong: The Unauthorized Autobiography the phrase is both brutally unfunny and strangely accurate. For while the book is, of course, an authorized memoir by the less talented member of the legendary stoner duo it's anything but a joint autobiography (no pun intended). Cheech barely figures in the first eighty pages of this slim (243 pages) tome and once the story of Chong becomes the story of Cheech and Chong he's never more than a supporting player. He's a crucial supporting player, to be sure, but a supporting player all the same.
The first third of the book focuses on Chong's pre-Cheech career as a guitarist for several semi-prominent Canadian soul bands, at least one of which was signed to Motown. It's fascinating subject matter conveyed in a non-fascinating manner. Basically the book has two fatal flaws. For a veteran screenwriter and best-selling author, Chong is not a very good writer. And for a legendary comedian his book is brutally unfunny.
Here is a tantalizing glimpse of Chong's prose stylings, from a section devoted to opening for Ike & Tina Turner:
Tina was a wonder–a pure African sex goddess with energy and attitude that complemented her husky voice. When Tina sang, the mic became a big, hard cock and it was your cock that she was breathing hot, sultry lyrics into, at times breathing her beautiful lips against the substitute penis. The Ikettes moved and danced with the precision of ancient, tribal, ritualistic mating dances–voodoo dolls moving in close formation, driving taut, hard dancer bodies with the hypnotic rhythms of ancient Africa. If Tina was the African goddess then Ike was the tall, skinny African king. He commanded the stage like an emperor, leading the band with the chopping motions of his Fender Stratocaster, which he waved like a Samurai warrior, slashing the blues-packed air as he signaled the music breaks in each song.
That, friends, is how you belabor a metaphor, or in the case of his description of Ike, a deliciously mixed metaphor (see, he was an African King who was also an Emperor and a Samurai warrior too). I could be wrong, but I suspect that what Chong is trying to say here is that there was something a little bit sexual about Tina Turner onstage. Also, that she and her ex-husband are black.
Chong quips repeatedly that in his younger days he lived as a black man, though his concept of blackness begins and ends with playing black music, smoking a lot of weed and leaving his wife and kids for a foxy young thing. Later, Chong indignantly reports that a white waitress at a show he was working took exception to Cheech and Chong's stereotypical black characters "Right On Washington" and "Blind Melon Chitlin". This perplexes Chong. Here's his take on being offended by other people being offended:
I was pissed off, not because (the waitress) was offended by our humor, but because she worked at the club and kept making money while she was being offended. That black-power bullshit always pissed me off because I had listened to black comics giving it to the white people for years. And now, just because we were giving it back to them, we were insensitive disgraces? We did this act in front of big-name pimps and they laughed at the humor. Black people never came up to us and gave us the shit that Nina, a white girl from Canada, gave us. Black people understood comedy that depicted them in a humorous manner. Right-on Washington was funny! And besides, Cheech isn't white! He is Mexican! He has every right to get them back, considering all the Mexican jokes that black comics have used over the years.
Chong's argument might seem a little thin and his tone overly defensive but you can't argue with that many exclamation points. It would be one thing if Right-On Washington was merely funny. But Chong, a disinterested third-party observer, insists that he was funny! You can't argue with "funny!"
Yet through the smoky haze of self-aggrandizement and fuzzy memories a few intriguing tidbits slip through. Chong asked Terence Malick to direct the follow-up to Up In Smoke. Malick very diplomatically said that since Chong had written the screenplay he should direct the film himself, which is a polite way of saying "Are you fucking kidding me? I'm Terrence Malick! Oh God no! No, no, a thousand times no!" I guess Malick acolyte David Gordon Green directing Pineapple Express is as close as we're ever going to get to a Terence Malick-directed Cheech and Chong movie.
Chong's attitude towards his ex-partner is exquisitely passive-aggressive. He praises Cheech as one of the smartest, funniest, best-read people he knows yet subjects him to a thousand barbs and thinly veiled insults. In the following passage indirect jabs at Cheech share space with transparent attempts to pass off poor business decisions as noble, principled stands:
Years later, after Cheech and I had parted company (Jeffrey) Katzenberg offered us parts in The Lion King for Disney. I have a ton of respect for Jeffrey; however I did not want to work for Disney and I turned down the job. Of course, that was a very stupid thing to do, as The Lion King made a shitload of money for everyone involved. Cheech not only did the voice of Banzai the Hyena for The Lion King, but also other voiceover work and movies for anyone who would hire him. But I stand by my decision because I am a rebel and I take pride in being the guy who stayed true to the hippie code of peace, love and good smoke.
Chong writes extensively about favorite gags from Cheech and Chong movies in ways that make them seem anything but funny. I should probably here concede that of the duo's movies I've only seen Up In Smoke, which I enjoyed quite a bit. The author emerges as a seeming paradox: a pothead control freak. Chong presents Cheech's decision to write and star in Born In East L.A as a betrayal of Shakespearian proportions.
Here Chong broods on all that will be lost if Cheech is allowed to pursue a solo project:
I wanted to make funny movies for the rest of my life with Cheech because we had something that no one else had. We had honesty. Our humor came from the gut. It was real. Every joke we did had truth to it. Our movies rang with so much truth that you had to watch them over and over to get every little nuance, every little movement, because they captured real-life experiences. We influenced the entire planet, first with our records then with the movies. We have had entire generations after generations watch and study our movies to learn the culture of the sixties. We carried the sixties into the seventies, the eighties, the nineties, right up to present time. And we did it with six albums, six movies, and ten years of personal appearances. Richard Marin and Tommy Chong. Cheech and Chong. Cheech went on to write and direct Born in East L.A and he called me to do a cameo in his movie but I refused. It was another insult. A fucking cameo. I stayed away from Born in East L.A because I knew it would only piss me off. And I was right. When I finally saw his movie I did get pissed off because it was a lie. He did exactly what I would never let him get away with: He acted the part. He became a Hollywood actor playing different characters. Like we really need more fucking actors in Hollywood.
The more Chong tries to depict Cheech as a selfish monster, the better he comes off. Call me crazy, but I saw Cheech's cameo offer as a thoughtful and considerate attempt to include a partner and friend in a solo endeavor, not a grievous insult. To me, it seemed like a nice way of reaffirming their partnership, not a callous attempt to dissolve it. Besides, if a lucrative and seminal partnership can't withstand a Born In East L.A how strong can it really be?
It's understandable that Chong would be bitter about the death of his golden goose but you can't blame Cheech for not wanting to be the seventy-three year old guy traveling from town to town doing tired pot jokes. Chong might have wanted Cheech and Chong to last forever but can you even imagine the hellish torment of doing the "Dave's Not Here" routine for the thirteen thousandth fucking time?
But that, alas, is not all folks. For Cheech and Chong came close to reuniting following an appearance together at the Aspen Comedy festival. A reunion tour would undoubtedly have meant untold millions for both comedians but Chong predictably sabotaged it with the following bit of hilarity:
Our performance was the next night, and true to his plan, Cheech sang his Chuck Berry song and then went into "Mexican Americans," leaving me room to come in with "Beaners." Cheech had not heard my updated version of the tune so he had a few laughs at rehearsal, but the night of the show he was not laughing because I went on to sing a version of "Me and My Old Lady" that I would do in my live show. It went something like "Me and my old lady, we like we like, we like to come to Aspen, Colorado, and rent a Cheech and Chong tape. Go home and make some popcorn, then smoke a real big fat one, get so stoned you forgot you got the tape! So you end up watching two frogs fucking. You start thinking "Gee, Cheech looks funny without his mustache, and who's that frog fucking him? It looks like Don Johnson!' Then you find the tape a month later, bring it back and pay a hundred dollars!" The song used to kill at comedy clubs all across America and it killed at Aspen. They told me Cheech was pacing back and forth like a caged animal when I did that song. He was pissed and did not talk to me the rest of the time in Aspen. We tried to have a "meeting" with some agents who wanted to pitch us a tour idea, but Cheech was not into getting back together, not after what he went through. I felt great because I got off! And in comedy "getting off" is the goal. When you get off you feel so good for the rest of the night. And I felt great that night
So there you have it folks, the reunion of the greatest, most truth-telling comic geniuses known to man died because of a hilarious Cheech-getting-sodomized-by-Don-Johnson gag. Stupid fucking hippie.