Cheech and Chong: Secret Shapers of History

Movie Talk
Cheech Marin, left, and Tommy Chong
Cheech Marin, left, and Tommy Chong

Cheech and Chong are more than the seemingly clueless, raunchy stoners they appear to be in their act. You may be surprised to learn that some of pop culture's foremost phenomena can be traced back to them.

For one, Michael Jackson may have never been discovered if it hadn't been for Tommy Chong's initial thumbs up. And that not-so-little Oscar winning film "Inglorious Basterds" by Quentin Tarantino may have never been conceived had it not been for Cheech Marin's influence.

If you think this is a joke, read on.

The ostensibly airheaded stoners – who recently spoke to Yahoo! Movies -- have a new animated film out now on DVD called (surprise, surprise) "Cheech and Chong's Animated Movie." Known for their comedy record classics like "Basketball Jones" and their 1978 film "Up in Smoke," the duo has been around since the early '70s.

But before they joined forces, Chong was a touring musician in Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers. And The Jackson 5 once opened for his act at a Chicago gig in the mid-'60s. "We were amazed at this little guy that could sing like an adult and dance better than anybody we had ever seen," Chong told us.

That one performance proved to be a history-making catalyst. He recalled his bandleader Bobby Taylor urged the Jacksons to go to Motown Records the very night of their shared gig. They went to Detroit immediately, and about a month later The Jackson 5 was signed to the Motown label. "Joe Jackson brought me the first contract because I was the whitest guy that he knew," Chong said with a laugh. "I was the closest thing to a lawyer he [could find]," he joked.

Chong recalled going over the contract with Jackson and offering the famous stage dad his full endorsement, saying the move to Motown was best thing they could have done at the time. "That’s where Michael and the boys learned how to perform and that's where Michael really learned his music chops," Chong said. "He was such a genius."

'Cheech and Chong's Animated Movie'
'Cheech and Chong's Animated Movie'

Flash forward to 1972, when Marin and Chong's record comedy bit about a German Nazi was making fans laughs – and eventually leaving an imprint on film auteur Tarantino. "Tarantino was telling me a little while ago that when he and Eli Roth were writing 'Inglorious Basterds,' they were in some cabin… and they listened to 'Tortured Old Man,' one of our bits, [and that] it's in the movie," Marin told Yahoo! Movies. (Roth directed a segment of the film, acted in it as Sgt. Donny Donowitz aka Bear Jew, and received a "special thanks" in the credits – though Tarantino is credited as the sole writer.) "[They] listened to it constantly. They turned to each other at some point and go, 'We're writing Tortured Old Man, you know!'" "Basterds" was essentially Tarantino's take on the Cheech and Chong bit that appeared on their second comedy album, "Big Bambu," Marin pointed out.

Whoopi Goldberg is a longtime Cheech and Chong fan. Her animated likeness even appears in their recent pot-themed music video (along with Bill Maher and other celebrities) called "Weed Are the World." Goldberg has good reason to keep supporting the comedy team: They – along with Jack Nicholson of all people – helped her rise to fame in the early years of her career.

"She was just an unknown comedian from San Francisco," Chong said, explaining how he and Marin first became aware of Goldberg's talent as a standup. "They did a showcase in the Belly Room at the Comedy Store [in Los Angeles], and [Jack] Nicholson and myself and a bunch of other people came down, and I met Whoopi then," he said, adding that Goldberg would watch them perform San Diego, "and then go home and do our bits."

Perhaps their longtime comedy act as clueless sex-crazed stoners has been a long-running ruse to deflect attention from their scope of impact – which also includes stoner-comedy successors Seth Rogen and even James Franco. Or maybe they just smoked a doobie and clumsily stumbled into the right place at the right time. Regardless of their intentions, make no mistake about it: Cheech and Chong have double-handedly altered the continuum of entertainment history.

Watch Yahoo! Catch Up With Cheech and Chong:

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