By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
and James Robert Shaw (The Wind up Geek)
Up In Smoke Tour w/
Cheech & Chong and War
The Royal Theatre
July 20, 2014
J: After 30 years of watching their films and listening to their comedy albums, I was ecstatic to finally be able to see Cheech and Chong live on stage. I will say that the years have not been kind to their low-brow style of comedy, which served them better in its heyday during the 1970’s.
It doesn’t mean they’re any less funny (goodness knows they are) but that does make it tough for Cheech and Chong to find a new generation of fans. That much was self-evident in the make-up of the audience. Except for one youth, the rest of the attendees I saw were at my age or older.
The reason may be due to the demand for a Cheech and Chong reunion hit its peak a decade ago.
E: Their tour with the funk band WAR makes up for what could not happen back then, and I believe their music overshadowed the skits. The evening’s entertainment tried to be like a variety show, and it was. Cheech and Chong presented a greatest hits package of their best routines, which includes their Dave’s Not Here sketch. The highlight has to be the Christmas one, and the best numbers have to be when they’re with their pals of WAR, rocking it out as they played, “Born in East L.A.”
J: It should really be called WAR with special guests Cheech and Chong. That is how little time was spent on stage by the pair. I was saddened by this fact.
As tied to their era as they were, they are still laugh out loud funny. The Santa Claus and His Old Lady sketch proved this. But when comedy acts like the UK’s Mighty Boosh tours, they know enough not to let their music overrule the thing that makes them great, their comedy. And it was here that Cheech and Chong showed little restraint over.
E: I have to wonder who came up with this pairing. Was it C&C or WAR? Or is it simply them slowing down with age? They must be in their 70’s and with Monty Python Live (Mostly) fresh on my mind that day, it seems a lot of the comedic greats are wanting to call it quits sooner than later. Retirement is a bitch, and thankfully this show is continuing well into the end of this year and maybe continue next. Thankfully for Cheech and Chong at least, they are not going cold turkey. They’re not up in smoke just yet.
J: And the problems I felt didn’t start there. The audience was given an impression that an informal Q&A would open the show. But rather than answering written questions from them, it was all staged. With something like that, they could do better by being relaxed and open with the audiences than to work through a scripted routine.
I had already seen the opening of the show via Youtube and I knew what was being said almost line by line. It’s hard to fake such a scene in this digital age.
E: At least with the performance by WAR, they did more than impress. Although there were a few technical difficulties that night, I’m sure that’ll be fixed by the time they hit other venues. I noticed a few lighting cues that did not go off quite right and I think one of the sound systems blew. Even the music coming off the speakers were off. More emphasis could have been placed on the voice track (especially when Low Rider played) or the other tracks could have been lowered down by a few decibels.
This band certainly has their groove on. Drummer Sal Rodriguez certainly caught my attention with his skill on the tubs. Together, guitarist Stuart Ziff and harmonica player Stanley Behrens showed how much they loved the blues. This band’s musical diversity is to be commended. I loved every tune they played. Their diversity went from protopunk to pure R&B.
J: Even one of our local Victorians managed to get into WAR’s act. People may have thought this man’s eagerness and his comedy delivery was staged, but after speaking to him during intermission, I learned that even the band members didn’t expect what he was going to do.
The audience member (whatever your name may be) made my night and I’m sure others will agree.
E: It made me wish Cheech and Chong did more improv. That’s how they started out back in ’71 at the comedy clubs. I would have loved to see them flub a few lines or attempt to upstage each other. That would have made for some great guffaws to see a bit of rivalry return so that WAR would come to stage to play, Why Can’t We Be Friends to close off the show.
But to see the ever lovin’ Marin have fun with the ever so laid back Chong brought some of that good ol’ 70’s style love was good. They even have a bit of fun reflecting upon the good times and the difficult times so audiences are brought up to speed in all that’s happened between them throughout the years. But that kind of autobiographic material is not enough to get everyone interested. What’s past is past.
J: And their past works is where one should start first in order to truly appreciate this duo’s talents. If you want to get to know Cheech and Chong from the ground up, my advice is to listen to their albums and start with their self titled debut, Cheech and Chong (1971). It’s pure comedy gold.
Before they formed, Tommy was a part of a Canadian soul group in the 1960’s called Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers. Two of my favourite songs by them were Melinda and Fading Away. For Cheech Marin’s work, fans can enjoy his solo work in the movie Born in East L.A. (1987) and his humor in the film Charlie’s Ghost (1995) can be enjoyed by the whole family. These projects will give you a better appreciation of their skills as musicians and comedians.
These, if not the stage show, will give fans more time to spend with these greats of comedy.