Famed comedian Cheech Marin produced his first record at age five, a collection of Spanish songs that he gave out to his neighbors. The content of Marin’s songs at that age? “Always love,” he jokes, “I was the Barry White of the kindergarten.”
He describes himself as many things—comedian, artist, poet, writer, musician, or a blend of several titles at once—but notes that he’s always been a musician. Any time someone would start to sing along, or “even better, laugh,” Marin says he knew he’d done something really good.
“That was the best, when people laughed,” he told Carla Hayden, the 14th Librarian of Congress, at this year’s “The Long Conversation,” an annual event that brings together more than two dozen thinkers for an eight-hour relay of two-person dialogues at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building.
Marin attributes his comedic talent to growing up in a very quick-witted family in south-central Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. He calls himself a scrappy little kid; sometimes he’d need to fight his way out of sticky situations, but at other times, he would joke his way out of things. His comedic energy allowed him to breach social divides in his community and with people he meets to this day.
“I made more friends with jokes than fists,” he says.