Smokey on MJ and Chong on smoking

Songwriter, talent scout, producer and successful recording artist Smokey Robinson has long been the heart of Motown. Nowadays, in addition to his own touring and music, he sponsors Human Nature’s Motown tribute at Imperial Palace. The successful show just grabbed a two-year extension in the midst of the worst recession in Vegas history.

To Robinson—in town to celebrate its one-year anniversary—Human Nature’s popularity requires little explanation: “A lot of times, when you’re doing concerts, I hope the people have fun. I hope that they, even if they’ve had problems in the last 10 minutes before the show starts, that something happens to make them forget that, and that they have fun, and they can go away and say, ‘I enjoyed myself,’ and that’s what happens when you see them. I’ve seen the show, I don’t know how many times, and I enjoy myself every time. That’s what the key is—they make people have a good time and enjoy themselves.”

On the other hand, Robinson predicts that trying to pay worthy tribute to another of his proteges, Michael Jackson, will prove a major challenge for Cirque du Soleil:

“I think it’s going to be a difficult thing to pull off. Michael is so revered and so loved by everyone around the world, whoever tries to pull that off is going to be under the microscope. They’ll be under so much pressure to pull that off and make people not think so much about how it would have actually been with Michael in there. You know, they’ve had Michael Jackson impersonators since Michael was a young man. People have always tried to imitate, but I think that the impact is much greater now that he’s gone. It’ll be critiqued much harder now that he’s gone, and so like I said, good luck.”

Light this up. According to Tommy Chong, there’s a reason that during his glory years with Cheech & Chong they never got busted: “During the ’70s, Cheech and I never sold anything. We never even sold T-shirts. So they couldn’t zero in on anything. But the age of the Internet changed everything.”

In addition to stand-up comedy, Chong started a family business focused on what he was best known for. “With my son, we started a bong company and we were advertising over the Internet and that’s how they get you.” Chong expected the charges, but the results were a surprise: “I went into the bong business because I wanted them to challenge me. I was very naive. I did not understand with our Constitution how they could outlaw thinking. Studies have shown pot is relatively harmless compared to legal intoxicants. I was ready to challenge that in court. Little did I know they have all these potholes they could steer around and put me in jail.” After getting busted in 2003 and serving a sentence, Chong was released in 2004.

In 2008 the reunited Cheech & Chong proved remarkably popular. This is their third trip to Vegas (The Mirage, May 21-22, 792-7777) since their return to stage—a big deal for guys who see themselves as outside such mainstream institutions.

“Entertainers are like a stock market, and ours is doing great now. But I know it is temporary,” Chong says. To keep their “stock” rising and to recruit a new generation of fans, they are working on an Up in Smoke sequel.

Could Cheech & Chong see themselves doing a regular gig in a Vegas showroom? Surprisingly, absolutely: “Yes, Cheech & Chong would love a regular Vegas showroom. I would love that. That was our dream. We want to be mainstream. But with our act it is always a onetime thing.”

Chong does think he knows why Cheech & Chong have continued to entertain audiences for all these years. Of the loyal fans, he notes: “If you are on pot, everything is funny.”

Shhhhhhhh … While nothing is official and papers still need to be signed, I am hearing a strong rumor that Just Imagine, a musical tribute that offers the audience a double fantasy of John Lennon being alive and performing a final concert, will be heading to Planet Hollywood for a trial run.

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