by Adrian Mack on March 23rd, 2018 at 11:50 AM
THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT
The laugh is instantly recognizable. It sounds like a Volkswagen skidding through slush on a gravel road.
“How’s Van?” asks Cheech Marin, the voice equally familiar, if less exaggerated than we’re used to.
Van is becoming a playground for the rich, I answer, during a call to the comedian/actor/weed entrepreneur at his home in Los Angeles.
“Every place is becoming a playground for the rich,” he shoots back, that laugh threatening to devour all our bandwidth again. “I think the idea is to get rich yourself!”
Fair enough. Getting rich himself is nothing you could ever hold against the East L.A.–born Mexican-American itinerant who landed in Priddis, Alberta, back in 1968, when a poor-ass Cheech Marin first hit the cold north to avoid the draft.
His recollection of E.C. Manning’s Alberta in the ’60s: “I was expecting Sgt. Preston of the Yukon and Eskimos on their bobsleds, and it looked like Bakersfield. Cause it was oil and cattle country. It was northern Montana. It was country-and-western, but Ukrainian.”
He adds: “I wasn’t ready for the big city of Calgary.”
The better-known origin story has Marin eventually establishing himself in a somewhat bigger city than Calgary as “a broke hippie that was doing improv theatre in a topless bar on Main and Pender”. The Shanghai Junk was run by the one-time musician Tommy Chong, and the rest is memory-impaired history.
“Now it’s a bank,” he notes wryly. No kidding, we note back.
“Vancouver was the San Francisco of Canada,” continues Marin, fondly recalling, among other things, the early days of the Georgia Straight. “The counterculture revolution was happening there. But they didn’t have a war to protest against, so the galvanizing fact was that they were all young and had that sensibility in common.”
Marin came back to the city recently—he describes 21st-century Vancouver as “Pacific Rim cosmopolitan”—to make the exceptional, locally set weed-noir thriller Dark Harvestwith actor-writer-director James Hutson (lovingly reviewed by the Straight here). A would-be facetious inquiry into whether or not he thinks his new bud Hutson is a “flash in the pan” prompts another slushy round of laughter.
“It’s kinda like Cheech and Chong. Everything we did and every benchmark we achieved was thought of as a flash in the pan,” he says. “We were the number-one grossing comedy act for years in movies and records, and every time we did it, it was: ‘Ah, they just lucked out.’ But we just kept lucking out. For 30 years.” Here comes the laugh again. “It cracks me up.”