A year after I interviewed Devin Smith and wrote about his remarkable story, I had lost touch with him. We had not spoken for a few months, and I honestly wasn’t sure if he was still homeless, or even still alive. But I still thought about him from time to time.
Then one day, I was standing outside a restaurant at lunchtime. Again, I was smoking a cigarette, and again, I was on St. Marks Place — just a few doors down the block from Bull McCabe’s, the bar where Smith and I had arranged our first interview one night a year before. Down the street, I noticed a small black man in a fedora, jumping from one foot to the other and gesturing with his hands as he talked to a group of people.
I walked towards the group and confirmed that it was Smith, telling jokes to earn some change. I waited until he had earned his money, then said hello and asked how he was doing.
It turns out that Smith had been living with an elderly couple on the Lower East Side for several months, but was now being kicked out of their slum apartment. It was almost his 46th birthday; last year, he was 45 and said he was “glad to be alive.” Wasn’t he still glad to be alive?
“How dare you?” he asked defiantly. “How dare you turn my words against me? That’s why I hate you, and that’s why I love you, man. You remember, and you care.”
We walked around the block, me smoking a cigarette and Smith chomping on half of a soggy unlit cigar. He was still hoping to get a dog, still hoping to find a place of his own, still trying to do the right thing and earn money, rather than take it. But it kept getting harder, he said, and he was tired.
“I’m 46,” he said. “And i just wanna take a nap.”
But Smith is still out there doing his job, making New Yorkers laugh as they walk to work, walk home, or hang out smoking a cigarette. Unlike most of the street performers you see in the subway stations or crowded corners of the city, Smith walks the streets telling jokes all day because he has nowhere else to go. And unlike most of New York City’s homeless, he will never ask you for money. Instead, he says that if he makes you laugh, as a working comedian he should earn some change.
Read more about Smith’s journey here. If you see Devin Smith on the street, let him tell you a joke. And if he makes you laugh, let him earn some change.