ed a relationship among the characters with a nonlinear through-line, a larger arc, and increased accessibility—all of which built towards a better ending. The other major challenge was casting," he continues. "Not every actor could do the accents correctly. The Chicano accent is very different from the Puerto Rican accent—and those distinctions are important. Latinos in the audience will know the difference."
Marin wears many hats: comedian, actor, director, musician, golfer, and art collector, among others. In addition to being known as a standup comic, he also had a high-profile role as Don Johnson's sidekick on the television show "Nash Bridges," now in syndication. Last year he had a recurring role on "Judging Amy."
Strides on Television
The son of American-born parents of Mexican descent, Marin's early goals "were to stay out of trouble and," he adds, "to become sophisticated. My father was a policeman and all my cousins were working-class. But they were also academic and intellectual. And we were always competing with each other."
At California State University at Northridge, Marin majored in English literature with the career ambition "of getting out of school."
Part of the late-1960s hippie scene, he gravitated north to San Francisco, with its beaded, longhaired street performers, and to Instant Theatre, an improvisational company he found "savvy and weird," he recalls. "I said, 'I can do this.' "
Shortly thereafter, Marin joined forces with comic Tommy Chong, who was acting at "a hippie burlesque at the time." The team's drugged-up sensibility was emblematic of the era. So, too, was its multicultural makeup. The comics hit a chord and it didn't take long for Cheech and Chong to develop an international following.
"We were the ethos of American culture," he says. "A Chicano and a half-Chinese Canadian. It was the heyday of the cultural revolution, yet we started a trend, pointing to our ethnicity. And during the 17 years we worked together—if anything, with growing self-acceptance—we became more ethnic in our humor.
"We were viewed as avant-garde in the world of popular culture," he continues. "But in fact we were just middle-of-the-road dopers. And the audience laughed, even when they realized we weren't kidding. That's the great thing about being a comedian: You can say what you're really thinking and doing and get away with it because you're presenting it as a joke. You're hiding the truth behind the comedy."
Many years have passed since Cheech and Chong worked together, but their irreverent films continue to do brisk business on video. According to Marin's Playbill biography, they rank as "the number-one weekend video rentals."
Attitudes toward Latino actors have evolved, Marin reports, "but there is still the belief in Hollywood that Latinos are not sophisticated. Still, in 'Judging Amy' I played a gardener who was intellectual and wealthy."
"There is the growing realization in Hollywood that the Latino market is not a monolith," he says. "That's good, but the fallout of that is the fact that producers don't want to deal with it. So they don't." On the other hand, "they're turning to Latinos for their expertise."
Of all the media, television offers the most opportunities for Latino actors, says Marin. Theatre has presented more obstacles, but progress has been made and "Latinologues" is an example: "But we're still not offered parts in Ibsen or Chekhov. Each generation we're allowed one or two actors who can go mainstream. There are Anthony Quinn, José Ferrer, and now Jimmy Smits."
Marin does not view his Latino heritage as a disadvantage. On the contrary, he says, "As Latinos, we're able to bring a unique perspective to our roles" or to whatever other art form they may be tackling. He notes the recent outpouring of important Latino novelists and painters.
Indeed, Marin has a special interest in Chicano art and is a major collector. Currently his collection is on a five-year, 15-city national tour after making its debut at the Smithsonian in 2002.
"I believe the art explains Chicano culture," he says. "But more important, it's very beautiful. I would hope that people who see the exhibit realize what wonderful painters they're seeing and wonder why they hadn't heard of them before."
Similarly, Marin is optimistic that theatregoers at "Latinologues" will recognize the unexpected—perhaps even seemingly contradictory—layers of Latino life: "We are funny, complex, and dumb—on occasion, all at the same time."