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NYC's Comedic Enigma in Sweatpants41:21
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(Photo art credit: Shanasia Jones)
(Photo art credit: Shanasia Jones)

Earlier this year, our producer Quincy Walters stumbled upon a viral video on Twitter. The tape is ripped from TikTok and pofsted for the world to see: a group of muscular men shouting each other on a NYC subway car. But instead of a fistfight, the men battle it out in a dance off. Then, a shirtless man in sweatpants swaggers into the frame and swings from the handlebars, dropping coins from his pockets as he flips upside down.

That shirtless man is comedian and content creator, Esteban Tino Romero – who goes by Tino, or his social media handle IG Bum. His bit? Portraying a homeless man, filming short videos for TikTok and Instagram getting up to various antics, all while wearing his notorious gray sweatpants.

Tino is not new to viral fame. In 2020, he sent NYC netizens into a tailspin when he filmed a video pretending to defecate in a mop bucket. While the skit was a collaboration with a fellow comedian, watchers said it was a commentary on NYC's lack of public bathrooms or evidence of Mayor Bill de Blasio's inefficient leadership.

But who is Tino when the cameras stop rolling? How did this stand-up comedian, who has experienced homelessness, come up with this alternate ego? And how is Tino handling his rise to viral superstardom? Quincy takes us into a day of the life of the comedian in this episode of Endless Thread. 

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Full Transcript:

This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text. 

Amory Sivertson: Hey Ben.

Ben Brock Johnson: Hey Amory. And hello producer Quincy Walters.

Quincy Walters: Hello everyone.

Amory: So Quincy, you have what we might call  a profile for us today. On a man that I didn’t know until you started talking about a poop bucket video?

Quincy: That’s right.

Ben: If you’re eating lunch folks we apologize. But this also involves my former true urban landscape love NYC where all kinds of crazy stuff goes on right next to normal stuff. So if you’re in New York you can probably stomach this one.

Quincy: Also, you might know this guy. Or know of him. This is an influencer in New York who has really been on a meteoric rise to fame over the last few years.

Amory: His best known work is this poop bucket video, which went super viral. It shows a packed New York subway tunnel with people walking from one train to another. And there’s like an Metropolitan Transportation Authority worker mopping the hallway while commuters go by.

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Quincy: And then this man who appears to be an unhoused person gets involved.

We all watched this video together some weeks ago…

Amory: Okay. There’s a guy mopping. Oh boy. Oh God. There’s a guy mopping and then our, this guy just sits down, pulls down some gray sweatpants, sits down on the mop bucket — and starts presumably taking a dump and then the guy who’s mopping approaches him — yeah yeah the big yellow ones. The guy who’s cleaning approaches him and they fight over the mop and the guy taking the dump throws the mop down and then he gets right back to business.

Ben: This video definitely had a moment. Everyone saw it. But not a lot of people really knew whether it was real or staged. Or what. But our P.I, podcast investigator Quincy Walters, was on the case.

Quincy: A right wing blogger quote tweeted it saying "This is Bill De Blasio’s New York City." That went viral. The moment was also featured in a recent episode of MTV’s Ridiculousness.

[MTV Audio] 

Quincy: And as more of this man’s video’s surfaced, so did his influencer identity.

Um, I came across this guy who goes by IG Bum on instagram and Tik Tok — IG stands for Instagram. His real name is Esteban Tino Romero, but he just goes by Tino. And a lot of his posts are captioned with “homeless man does such and such.”

[TikTok audio:

Homeless Man plays the piano at Macy's

Homeless Man wakes up angry at being woken up by sumo wrestlers.

Bum dances at Jewish wedding.

Homeless man does dance at Yankee Stadium

Homeless man pays his bus fare in NYC.

Watch: Spiderman stops homeless man from stealing mangos.]

Quincy: Over the last year a half, two years even, Tino has become a true social media celebrity. And a really unique celebrity in the social media influencer economy. He’s referenced by famous rappers, by Right Wing Pundits, and police officers in New York who take selfies with him.

Ben: And fortunately, Quincy was able to get to Tino before he got too famous for us. According to what Tino told Quincy.

Quincy: Correct.

Quincy: We just got in.

Tino: You just got in by this skin of your teeth. It's going to be like, excuse me! Speak to management, alright buddy? Leave me alone. How much you got?

Quincy: They say the most important part of comedy is timing, so I don’t know

Tino: Timing, you guys got it in in Boston.

Quincy: I’m no comedian.

Tino: You’re pretty funny to me.

Quincy: I don’t know how to take that.

Tino: (Laughs.)

Amory: So Quincy, did this guy defecate in the bucket?

Ben: Yeah. And is he really homeless? Is this guy for real?

Quincy: I’m not quite sure he knows himself. Which could be interpreted in multiple ways. A few months back I spent the day with Tino in New York City to try to understand who he is and why he is. Because whether you view him a Shakespearean scoundrel or a surprising branding genius, Tino’s social media star is rising. And he’s not like the others — he’s not creating perfection on a plate or spurring a dance craze. He’s an agent of chaos.

Producer Quincy Walters interviews Tino in his basement bedroom in Brooklyn, NY.
Producer Quincy Walters interviews Tino in his basement bedroom in Brooklyn, NY.

Ben: I’m Ben Brock Johnson.

Amory: I’m Amory Sivertsen.

Quincy: And I’m Quincy Walters, P.I.

Ben: Podcast Investigator? PI, Podcast Investigator of Influencers? Whatever the case, you’re listening to Endless Thread. 

Amory: We’re coming to you from WBUR Boston’s NPR station.

Quincy: Today’s episode? Tik Tok’s Comedic Enigma in Sweatpants.

It’s raining when Tino comes out of his garden-level apartment in a somewhat rugged-looking corner of Bushwick in Brooklyn, with his signature sweats. No shirt.

Quincy: You really don’t wear a shirt in real life?

Megan: It’s just hot lately though, right?

Tino: Yeah, yeah. 

Megan: It went from 40 to 80. 

Quincy: That's my colleague: Megan Cattel.

Tino: And yes, this is my modus operandus. 

Megan: I wish I could be shirtless too sometimes.

Tino: Yeah, I’m sorry. Are you guys uncomfortable?

Quincy: No, I’m fine. Are you?

Megan: Yeah, I’m fine.

Tino: You sure? Because I could put a shirt on.

Megan: The humidity also went from zero to 76% in like two days. It’s ridiculous.

Tino: See! There are numbers to this, there are numbers to this. 

Quincy: Okay (laughs.) 

Tino in the kitchen. He's currently staying with his friend Alex, who he lovingly calls his nephew, in Bushwick, NY.
Tino in the kitchen. He's currently staying with his friend Alex, who he lovingly calls his nephew, in Bushwick, NY.

In a few minutes, he’ll put on a purple shirt that says "Legends Never Die" and it has an image of an older Kobe Bryant putting his arms around the shoulder of a younger version of Kobe.

And he takes us to his front door, there's trash in front of it and it kinda smells of urine outside. And I guess this whole thing isn't an act. But he opens the door, and I gotta say, I wasn't expecting what I saw.

Tino: This is the place I call home.

Quincy: Thank — oh wow. This is nice. A lot of space down here!

Tino: Not bad for a homeless guy, right?

Quincy: Should I take off my shoes?

Tino: Oh no, no.

Quincy: “Not bad for a homeless guy” is kind of an understatement. This sprawling, sparsely-furnished apartment has pristine hardwood floors, exposed brick walls. A random man — we later find out is his roommate and friend and nephew and personal chef and former cinematographer — is cooking steaks on new kitchen appliances.

Quincy: How long have you been living in this space?

Tino: Uh, going on 4 years?

Quincy: Four years?

Megan: Alright.

Quincy: Okay.

Tino: Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Quincy: So you’ve been living – but I thought you said you were homeless?

Tino: Yeah yeah, It goes and comes, you know what I mean? it goes and comes. I’ve managed the last four years to hold it down, as they say. Always homeless at heart.

Quincy: An empty bedroom has a decorative fireplace. Tino says a pretty lady TikTok collaborator used to stay in there. They used to do things like the Silhouette Challenge together. This TikTok trend where a person goes from clothed to naked behind a filter in the app and an innocuous Paul Anka song transitions into a sensual Doja Cat beat drop.

["Put Your Head on my Shoulder" x "Streets" remix

Quincy: Tino says she wanted to do solo content, so she moved out. He says it’s a sensitive subject.

Weeks later, Tino will get annoyed when I ask if he could put us in contact with her.
I reached out to her on my own. I got no response.

Tino takes us down into the basement. He’s an amenable kinda guy who feels at home wherever there’s weed, food and heat. He’s says he’s been a squatter, He’s couch surfed, he’s been homeless. He lived with his mom until a few years ago, but had to move out because she stopped letting him smoke weed at her place.

Anyway, this basement. It’s gotta be about 1,000 square feet. It’s got shiny white porcelain tile floors. A clothing rack of outfits and props. There's a broken down black pleather futon in a corner resting on a pink and black milk crates.

And the focal point of the room seems to be Tino's bed.

Tino: Creative stuff that I, you know happens in my daily.

Quincy: This isn’t like a porn studio is it?

Tino: I wish. No, no, no, no. I mean, not yet. Not yet.

Quincy: Not yet?

Tino:  We mess around with porny stuff. But you know.

Quincy: Oh, okay.

Tino: But being the old guy I’m like, “Hey! stop it. Let’s get to work and get viral.” But yeah. It’s fun, we use every inch of this basement, upstairs. A very very famous bed. A very viral bed.

Quincy: Why is it famous and viral? A viral bed doesn’t sound very good.

Tino: (Hysterical laugh.) On Instagram it does, you know what I mean.

Quincy: The bed does seem to be a recurring character in a lot of Tino’s content. It seems like a third of his videos is him on the subway, the other third is him in random places around New York City and the final third take place in or around that bed.

In one video, a young attractive woman is in this bed with a young attractive man.

[Skit audio: 

Man: Hold on, hold on, I need my pills. 

Woman: Pills for what?

Man: You wouldn’t understand, I just need my pills.

Woman: What the f***? These pills? You too young for pills!]

Quincy: And the camera zooms in on the woman who dumps the pills on the floor.

[Man: Yes I do! I need them! No, no, no!]

Quincy: The camera zooms out and now Tino has taken the place of the young man.

[Woman: Like, I don’t even know what’s going on. I just don’t. What the f***?

(Bang sound effect.)

Tino: Performance for my heart. (Flatline sound effect.)

Woman: Oh my God!]

Quincy: At 51 years old, Tino’s an unlikely multi-social media platform sensation.

Tino: Pretty women, 30 seconds, I can do that.

Qunicy: But the internet seems to love his zany shenanigans.

And he seems to have harnessed whatever magic got him here. He says that notoriety has spilled out into the real world. He says he’s got teenagers recognizing him in McDonald’s. People recognize him on the subway-which gradually it makes it harder and harder for him to shoot these videos quickly.

I found out about him on a Twitter thread — the irony here is that Tino doesn’t know how to use Twitter that well. The videos cross-pollinate to multiple platforms — so he doesn’t really have to worry about that.

Anyway, There was a video of several tough-looking muscular dudes on a subway looking like they were about to fight each other,

[Video audio:

Man: I know you not talking to me like that!

(Shouting.) 

Man: I know you not talking to me like that! You wanna talk to me like that? What you gonna do?]

Quincy: But then it turns into a dance off. And a few seconds later, Tino rushes in out of nowhere, shirtless, in ripped dirty sweatpants and tells the guys to get out of his train car, then does a flip on the railing as coins fall from his pockets.

I think it’s safe to say, though, He’s really proud of that bucket video though, because it got him the most likes and had the most impact. When that video went viral, people thought it was emblematic of a New York City in decline.

And Tino thinks that video reflected badly on former Mayor Bill de Blasio. Enough that it had a real impact.

Tino: I'm probably. One of the reasons why he's no longer in the administration. When s*** hit the fan when. I when that video came out because it did point out some of the flaws in the system. And our fine mayor, you know. 

Quincy: de Blasio was wildly unpopular.

[Newsreel audio:

Man: The fact that they like Trump more than like de Blasio should tell Bill de Blasio something.

Woman: I think He’s very courageous because nobody likes him, that I know.

Reporter: Nobody likes him?

Woman: That I know.]

Quincy: But New York City mayors can only serve two terms, so de Blasio would be gone regardless of Tino’s antics. Mayor de Blasio is running for Congress. We tried to reach the team via Facebook and Instagram, but we haven’t gotten a response. There’s no press contact on his website, which was kind of weird.

Quincy: So did you really s*** in the bucket?

Tino: Ah ha ha, the million dollar question there, huh? (Laughs.) Well you know, there’ll be a tell-all book one day. (Laughs.)

Quincy: But also...

Tino: Let’s talk about that s***. 

Quincy: Let’s Talk About That S***. A memoir.

For all of his jokes and his stoned influencer content, Tino does seem to have a motivation to prove something to his family. He says he wants to make his mother proud. He says she lives in the projects not too far away. But, he doesn't go over there anymore.

Tino: I separated. I separated

Quincy: Oh no. I’m sorry.

Tino: Oh no, no, no. I still love her. I just can’t Maybe when I get some money I can go over there, "Alright. What you want now?" 

Quincy: His mom isn’t the only family member he doesn’t see. He has kids that he doesn’t really have a relationship with.

These days, he says it seems the only people who want to get close to him are people who want a piece of his clout — he says his phone rings a lot. If aspiring influencers wanna amass followers fast, they DM him or text him or call him. For a collaboration.

Tino: I mean, it's not fair because I had to work my a** off to get to where I'm at. But, you know. Go ahead. Come on, leeches. Go ahead. Just, you know, tag me, collab, whatever you want to do. Go ahead. Just take my people. Whatever. Take the girls. I work so hard to get whatever.

Quincy: Tino seems to be referencing his supposed magnetism for the opposite sex there. He says there are leeches and there are flakers too — people who want to aggregate his success and audience but who are unreliable.

If he could choose, Tino says he wouldn’t deal with this cockamamie influencer stuff. He kinda wishes he could be famous for singing — that’s his first love.

Tino: It’s a song called "Mi Llama Panama," and it goes into a whole thing.

Quincy: His other love is Panama

Tino: (Sings.) Mi llama Pana, mi llama Pana...

Quincy: So, you’ve got your Panama hat on, that’s where you’re from? Can you talk a little about that?

Tino: Yes, yes. I’m one of many immigrants that come for a better life. Well, my mother did, but I came to mess it up. But yeah, I’m originally from Panama.

Quincy: He moved to America about 3 decades ago.

And on the day we meet him, Tino’s preparing to host an event downtown to promote local Panamanian American comedians. And he’s hoping his growing Internet following will allow him to help get publicity for them.

Tino: I've not been able. To do anything for Panama. So what I can put it out there are do a show in a little venue, which is very little. I try to just, you know, it makes me feel like. I'm doing something for Panama. I love you, Panama. You know? I know. I don't forget, you know, I can't.

Quincy: More on Tino’s love for Panama, his run-ins with the police, and his busy influencer schedule...in a minute.

[SPONSOR BREAK]

Quincy: Despite the popularity of his bucket video, Tino’s rise to internet infamy didn’t happen overnight. Like Shakespeare’s mischievous troublemaker Fallstaff, Tino’s been a character in other plays before this latest attraction. I’ve poured over old podcast appearances where he’s being skeptical about the impact of social media and talking about his attempts at standup comedy. Looked at his old accounts before they disappeared. And talked with him about the dicey nature of his moniker, like IG Bum. It seems like Tino has been searching for the right venue for his brand of tomfoolery for a while.

It’s finally starting to take off.

Alex Montenegro: Social media is the new TV. 

Quincy: These days, he keeps a busy schedule. He records content between the hours of 1 and 4pm Monday thru Friday. Unless it’s a night shoot. Or a weekend shoot.

It’s basically his job. When we spoke, he said he hadn’t figured out how to monetize, but usually gets paid from collaborations through Cashapp or Venmo or WhatsApp.

Now an agent handles business inquiries. We reached out to the management company to get more information via email, but didn’t hear back.

But after a few hours of phone tag – a few weeks later – I reached his agent. She didn’t want to be recorded. But she says the company’s email inbox has about 150 requests from small businesses for Tino to quote make a spectacle in or in front of their stores. The rate starts at $250.

It sounded like she even got a couple of requests during our call.

Really the reason I got interested in meeting Tino wasn't his collabos, though. Or, the infamous poop bucket video. It was more about a message he was putting online about an apparent influx of police presence in the city — in subways and homeless encampments at the behest of the new mayor, Eric Adams. But Tino’s real life run-ins with the police have been mixed.

Alex Montenegro, Tino’s roommate and personal chef, who was cooking in his apartment when we first arrived, tells a story about them going to an engagement in Atlantic City.

Alex: We had two cops that stopped us on the way there. Mind you, all they wanted to do was take a picture once they realized who's in the car.

Quincy: Oh, really? Wow.

Alex: Tino Romero.

Quincy: Have cops been, like, antagonistic to him when he's filming, though?

Alex: Oh, that I don't know about. But when I see that love from the NYPD, especially when all the controversy is going on with the NYPD, what more can I say and what can I say? Like, yo, we just wanna take a picture with you. When you ever had a cop pull you over and say, "Oh, I want to take a picture with you"?

Quincy: The more I learned about the man who problematically calls himself IG Bum on Instagram, the more it seemed like his online persona didn't match his offline one. But the online persona is so popular.

Quincy: Is that your phone? 

Tino: Is it? Oh yeah.

Quincy: Even if it's like a business call...

Tino: I'll call you back. Yeah, I'll call you back. Yeah, that is fine. There is a lot of that. A lot of it. But I blocked them because I'm emotional.

Quincy: Tino’s full of odd comments like this and it’s hard to tell if they’re cracks in a facade, showing his true character, or if they’re red herrings. He says the person who called him is a flake. They were supposed to collaborate but the person bailed.

But is Tino actually emotional? He seems that way in some of his videos which often involve him yelling or doing something kind of out there. But then he’s nonchalant about things you’d think he’d be emotional about. His kids. His mom.

He’s definitely hard to pigeonhole. I’m also not always sure that his art is purely absurdist or silly. Sometimes it feels like Tino is touching a nerve on larger New York City issues, like the availability of public restrooms. Or how the city treats unhoused people and subway performers.

I reached out to the NYPD about Tino. He’s been on social media posing with the police. I didn’t get any response. But I did get a nibble from the Mayor’s office. Turns out a friend of a friend had the mayor’s deputy press secretary’s cell number on hand.

(Cell ringtone.)

Quincy: Hey Chris? Oh, sorry. Charles. How are you?

Quincy: Charles Lutvak is the mayor’s deputy press secretary and he asks if I want to speak to the mayor but before that, he wants to know more about what this story is.

Quincy: Right. Yeah. So, this is going to sound really goofy, but there’s this, I guess, TikTok influencer in New York, who’s kinda like rising in popularity. And I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but a couple of years ago there was a video filmed in a subway station where a man pooped in a mop bucket. Are you familiar with that incident?

The mayor’s deputy press secretary says thankfully he’s not familiar with Poop-Bucket Gate. And after telling him what the story is about, it seems like the initial offer of speaking to the mayor is no longer an option.

Tino’s phone rings again. It’s the guy he says he blocked for flaking on him. And Tino explains to the guy why he’s upset.

Tino: But bro you gotta give like a text or something back, just to say like ‘yo. I’m gonna get back to you,whatever’. But the no nothing — especially when I’m calling you and texting you — that’s high anxiety s***.

Chao Williams: My bad.

Tino: Like I gotta talk to him. I’m gonna explode on somebody.

The man on the other end of the phone says he’s been battling depression and it’s been hard for him lately and he’s been melting down and he knows Tino’s dealing with a lot too.

Tino: Oh, damn. So we, we’re both going through it.

Quincy: The guy on the other end, his name is Chao Williams. And he’s also a comic in the city.

Chao Williams: I know him from comedy, you know, this [CENSOR] looked like that since ‘97.

Tino: (Laughs.) 

Quincy: He hasn’t aged a day since?

Chao: Yeah yeah. No we met through comedy. Like when I first started standup, he was already in the scene pretty hard and connected with the underground scene.

Quincy And how do you think about his like, you know, newfound celebrity I guess?

Chao: I mean. How do I think about it?

Quincy: Yeah.

Chao: I think it's f****** cool as s***. I mean, I've always said this [CENSOR] should have been bigger than where he is now, so. I mean, I've always seen this [CENSOR] as a f****** crazy motherf***** that, that people need to know ground work. I mean, you know how long I've been saying that s*** before?

Tino: Yeah, yeah, yeah 1997? Whatever you said.

Quincy: Tino seems to be in a continuous cycle of adaptation.

Back at Tino’s house, some more seemingly random people have appeared. There’s Alex – the guy cooking. And now there’s a young guy with model-like bone structure and wearing a durag in the kitchen, icing his chiseled face with frozen vegetables. I couldn't see any injuries by the way. And a lady sleeping on a nearby couch.

The young guy has been contemplatively staring at the brick wall. His name is Rafael German.

Rafael discovered Tino online.

Rafael German: Me and my little brother was watching, you know, some random video. And that's when I saw one of his videos that he did. They got us. Cracking up first thing in the morning. 

Rafael didn’t know what Tino would be like in real life. And now, it seems Rafael feels like Tino changed his life.

Rafael: Yeah, it's true. You should become an actor and the comedian at the same time. I'm like, Oh, okay. I said that, and I looked at him like like a kind of was shocked me, like how I get to meet a famous comedian for the first time and got that and received. That blessing message.

Quincy: The woman on the couch wakes up. She says she’s not really online so she didn’t warn Rafael that they were going to meet a celebrity today. She says her name is Ocean and she calls Tino "Pops."

Ocean: Pops. You know, when you start becoming a millionaire, you know, you want to fund me and my projects, not me, but my projects, because I'm all about sustainability and giving back and women empowerment and empowering the youths. 

Quincy: The youths though are on the platforms, and as Ocean says she is not.

Quincy: Have you noticed that people in public, though, are responding to him?

Ocean: No, I don't. I'm sorry.

Quincy: Oh, you just come over here.

Ocean: Maybe it started last year. I'm not so sure, but I wouldn't have known.

Quincy: It’s possible that Tino’s stories of being recognized on the street are apocryphal.

Still it seems he’s got this orbital magnetism, people are drawn to him. And maybe that’s what’s made him so popular so fast.

He says he just tries to do what’s fun and he thinks it’s cool that other people are fans of what he does.

Tino: Because, because I love giving life a chance. Like you guys coming over and wanting to talk. I mean I like that, you know. And they don't think it's a good idea. 

Quincy: That’s a beautiful sentiment.

Tino: I’m a product of giving life a chance, good or bad...

Quincy: What do you mean by that? 

Tino: (Laughs.) Like just getting into situations where...you don't choose to go through it. But giving life a chance, I won't know it if I don't do it.

Alex Montenegro, Tino's roommate, chef, and personal cinematographer. Alex says Tino's humility is a reason for the comedian's success and magnetism. Bushwick, NY.
Alex Montenegro, Tino's roommate, chef, and personal cinematographer. Alex says Tino's humility is a reason for the comedian's success and magnetism. Bushwick, NY.

Quincy: Alex, the guy cooking steaks, says it’s probably because he’s a humble person. And Tino reacts to this.

Tino: Uh, wow. Yeah, I don't know. I mean, you know, it's just one of those things I. I know, I know I'm not going to say, like, I'm the s*** ever, because I just like. 

Quincy: In that silence, Tino is crying. Literally silently crying that cry where you don’t know whether to comfort the person or just give them the space and silence to cry. It came out of nowhere. Like a sunshower. Behind him, handwritten puns on construction paper and notebook paper are taped to the wall.

Quincy: You okay?

Tino eventually composes himself in a “show must go on” manner.

Tino: You have to be. Let’s just go.

Quincy: He gets his outfit on. It’s a black suit, a white button down cuban-style shirt, a straw hat with the Panamanian flag wrapped around it and hiking boots — and he’s literally almost unrecognizable. Tino initially said we’d take the subway to the show.

By the way the MTA said they would not comment on Poop-Bucket Gate or the trend of people who film hijinks in the subway. When we asked why, we didn't get a response.

Tino said I’d be able to see all the people who recognize him. It would make for a good scene in this podcast. But right now, it’s not a podcast — it’s real life and we have to take an Uber because we are running way behind schedule. And who knows? Maybe the Uber driver will recognize him.

Quincy: Um, excuse me, sir? Driving the Uber. Do you know who that guy is? Have you seen this guy before? Have you seen him before?

Uber driver: No?

Quincy: Okay.

We get to the venue, El Carnival Restaurant. It’s in the Lower East Side.

Tino on the move. Lower East Side, NYC.
Tino on the move. Lower East Side, NYC.

Quincy: And no one’s really here. There are a few of the comedians performing tonight and the family member’s they’ve brought along, Like David Rey Martinez and his 14-year-old son.

He says he’s been friends with Tino for a decade and he thinks it’s cool that his teenage son is a fan.

David: My son showed me one of his videos. He's like, oh, look at this guy, he's homeless. He does this crazy stuff. And I was like, he's not homeless. That's Tino, you know, that's my comedy friend. But he went, oh, my God, why are your friends famous and you're not? (Laughs.) 

And I'm like, well, it's it took, you know, a long time to get there. You know, everybody has their different journey. And I told him, my son, I was like, I've been raising you for a long time. So that's why I was taking so long. 

Tino with his longtime friend and supporter, David Rey Martinez. "It took [Tino] a long time to get there," David said when asked about his take on Tino's viral fame. Tino says David has been a "cheerleader" for his career over the years.
Tino with his longtime friend and supporter, David Rey Martinez. "It took [Tino] a long time to get there," David said when asked about his take on Tino's viral fame. Tino says David has been a "cheerleader" for his career over the years.

David: I think he's bringing his self to the role, which is what makes it funny because it's like he still wants the stripper he married, like he want a beautiful lady, you know. So he's still bringing himself to the character. And. Just mapping it on to being homeless, because people do look at people who are homeless as and they don't have one to me ever want to have fun or things to do that is like, no, right here. Come on, We're human beings, and we all want the same things.

Quincy: I think, what David’s trying to say is that as human beings we want to win. We want to be validated. That might not exactly come in the form of dating a stripper, per se. But anyway. David says Tino’s been a cheerleader.

Endless Thread producer Quincy Walters interviewing David Rey Martinez.
Endless Thread producer Quincy Walters interviewing David Rey Martinez.

David: Just a really good person and would always be encouraging to people that keep going in comedy, you know. 

Quincy: Tino tells us to go to a corner of the restaurant, a tad out of sight, so that people passing by know that there’s still room.

Many minutes after the performance was set to begin, Tino asks us to actually go back so that passersby may be lured in from FOMO.

There weren’t a lot of people. Maybe 15 people? About half were performers. It’s not quite the turnout Tino was anticipating.

But I had a couple of good laughs. One comedian, Andrea Pascasio, she told this joke or story about like this padding or something for her bosom falling out on the train. And she pulls it from her blouse and holds it in the air on stage.

Andrea Pascasia: It got glitter on the back! Look it! Look like chicken breast.

Quincy: (Laughs.)

I laughed so hard my guts hurt and I cried.

Andrea Pascasia was the emcee for the night. She opened up the show with her stand-up set and later introduced Tino, the man of the hour. Lower East Side, NY.
Andrea Pascasia was the emcee for the night. She opened up the show with her stand-up set and later introduced Tino, the man of the hour. Lower East Side, NY.

Several comedians later, it was Tino’s turn. He was going to close out the night. Hours ago, I wondered what the standup-set of a 51-year-old man who didn’t know his social media handle is widely deemed offensive — would be like.

Earlier I had told tino that the term "bum" had kind of fallen out of fashion. He told me he was bringing it back into style. So imagining his standup approach gave me anxiety.

I’ll say that like all the other moments up until this one, it was hard for me to discern fact from fiction, or a story from absurdism.

Tino: But my daughter graduated Penn State, you know what I mean? Yeah, yeah. (Applause.) I’m very proud of that. It’s funny because I got out of, you know, state pen. Me and my daughter are kinda like in sync. (Sighs.) What about my life? I’m single as f*** aye! What's going on?

Tino takes the stage for his stand up set. Later, Tino would admit he was hoping for a larger audience turnout.
Tino takes the stage for his stand up set. Later, Tino would admit he was hoping for a larger audience turnout.

While he was on stage, someone told him he should get an OnlyFans – you know, a platform where people make homemade adult content and he responded by reflecting on the evolution of porn.

Tino: It used to be so hard to record a porno when I really said that. Because if I step on it and I just don’t show my face just don’t show my face and you can do whatever I want. Where was I when this was happening. You know what I mean?. You got to remember, back in the days of porn, he used to record women, right? Oh, you know, I'll remind you. Yeah. First you got a f****** big a** camcorder, and then you had to find an apple. You had to hide in a corner. Right? Then put a blanket over it. 

Quincy: Nobody laughed at this attempt to joke about surreptitiously recording women without their consent. And that awkward silence validated my anxiety. Tino might want to stick to the skit humor.

Tino says he’s happy he got to showcase other local Panamanian comedians. But he can’t help but be a little hurt by the turnout. He promoted the event on all of his platforms. They had flyers. And people told him they’d come: strangers, friends.

He had hoped his internet popularity would bring out a crowd. As the sparse crowd dispersed, Tino leans against the bar, saying bye to everyone and drinking a tropical drink he doesn’t remember ordering.

Tino: What was the question?

Quincy: How are you feeling about the turnout?

Tino: Oh, the turnout was it was the thing that that that affected me pretty much because I'm like all the years that you get online, all the like, I'll be there, all that, you know. And I'm, you know, I, you know, it it was in my it was in my head. The fact that I. Wow. So when they tell you, you know, like I'm still at this level of like when people still are telling me they're showing up and not showed up. I mean, I know we had the rain and we had like the elements against us or whatever. But I still I still want people, you know, to come. And, you know, I like to be shown love, you know, because I would show love.

Tino after finishing his stand up set at the El Carnival Restaurant. The show, organized by Tino, featured a variety of local Panamanian American comedians in New York City.
Tino after finishing his stand up set at the El Carnival Restaurant. The show, organized by Tino, featured a variety of local Panamanian American comedians in New York City.

Quincy: Earlier in the day, Tino told us that he turned to comedy when his mom left him and his siblings in Panama to pursue the American dream.

Tino: It was a survival tactic. Like, hey. You know, my. Mom was not here. Hey! Keep a smile on your face. You know what I mean, hey just trying to survive 'til she gets back.

Quincy: And tonight, it’s like comedy — that survival tactic — stood him up or something. At least that’s what it looks like as he silently sips the pink drink with an umbrella in it, while wearing his suit.

The following morning, he’d hop on a plane and send me a picture of him shirtless, in ripped and dirty sweats, doing rock & roll hands in the aisle as flight attendants and passengers huddle together and look on.

In the weeks that followed our interview, I had a few followup fact-checking questions that Tino kinda evaded. I asked if any of his kids would be willing to lend their voice to the story. He said he told his daughter about my request and thought it was silly. When I asked if he had the contact info for his former roommate collaborator, he told me I was becoming a madman and told me lets stop and use what we got or else he’s done.

But, in the true win-some, lose-some rhythm of life, Tino messages me back to apologize for his crankiness. He sent me a link to his newly launched Bandcamp account.

["Loco Loco" audio]

On the one hand, it’s honoring what he’s always wanted to do: sing.

But on the other hand, it’s like another tentacle of Tino’s enigmatic comedic empire.

Ben: So Quincy, there's a bit of a post script here. Would you like to read the extremely viral tweet that went out?

Quincy: Yeah. This tweet went out on August 29th. It's got over 30,000 likes. And it's a tweet from a woman who says, she has a screenshot of Tino's Instagram page.

Ben: 'Kay.

Quincy: And it says: "This man is literally an actor and a former stand up comedian. He has representation. He has an instagram with 36K followers. He acts homeless and is constantly up to antics like this, and further stigmatizing and otherizing houseless people in NYC - nasty work."

Ben: Wow. So the Tino mystery continues.

Quincy: Yeah it does. Although, you know, I don't know if many people know, or at least according to what he tells us, he has been unhoused.

Ben: Yeah.

Quincy: So as the story kind of shows. But maybe there is something to be said on potentially capitalizing on that plight, if you will. But I mean...I don't know. That's the nature of the internet, maybe.

Ben: There's a lot of gray.

Quincy: It doesn't always conform to what makes sense.

Ben: Ain't that the truth.

[CREDITS]

Ben: Endless Thread is a production of WBUR in Boston.

Quincy: Want early tickets to events, swag, bonus content? My price structure for collabos, Ben’s facebook campaign website? Join our email list! You’ll find it at wbur.org/endlessthread.

Ben: This episode was written reported and delivered with panache by Quincy Walters…

Quincy: ...to a couple of Agog cohosts named Amory Sivertson and Ben Brock Johnson.

Ben: Editing help from Jeb Sharp. And the rest of the team. Dean Russell, Nora Saks, Grace Tatter, Kristin Torres. Our web producer is Megan Cattel.

Our show was mixed and sound designed by Emily Jankowski.

Quincy: Endless Thread is a show about the blurred lines between digital communities and maybe pretending to defecate in a bucket IRL for internet points. If you’ve got an untold history, an unsolved mystery, or a wild story from the internet that you want us to tell, hit us up. Email Endless Thread at WBUR dot ORG.

Quincy Walters Twitter Producer, WBUR Podcasts
Quincy Walters is a producer for WBUR Podcasts.

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