If you asked him 19 years ago, Mo Smith would have said: No way.No way a native New Yorker would move to Boston and stay here all this time. But the friendships he made pulled him through, from his time in prison to his rise as a comic, from his training as a chef to his decision to stop drinking.
His friends in Boston would not leave.
Below, in his own words, is the story of how he found his footing in Boston:
“First of all, I just want to say this: I hate every Boston team that you got. I hate every single team. I hate the Little League team in New Hampshire that went to the Little League World Series. I’m all pro New York.
But the city of Boston? I do love the city of Boston. The people of Boston? I’ve traveled around this country—a number of states—have met people from all walks of life, from the East Coast to the Midwest to the Dirty South to the West Coast. And there’s nobody on this planet like Boston people.
When you have a friend in Boston, you have a friend for life. They ride with you. They ride with you through the good, through the bad. If you’re wrong, they won’t say it in front of somebody else—you may get behind closed doors, and they smack you up, and you know you were wrong, but they are friends for life. And I just love the culture that the Boston people carry.
I love the abrasiveness. Like when Whitney Houston died, and Bobby Brown’s sister, like, went off at the funeral, and the whole world was saying, “Oh, she made a spectacle of herself,” I was like: “Y’all guys don’t know about Boston people. They handle it right there, on the spot. She knew it was something wrong—that Whitney’s people was doing something wrong—and she was being true to her roots, true to her Orchard Park Boston roots. And that’s what I love about Boston.
I mean, y’all are crazy…but y’all are cool.
I’m a chef and a comic, so I feel I have the two traits that the world needs. You can’t live without food. And everybody needs laughter.
I got my start in comedy in prison. One of the guys, he was a rapper, and he said: “Man, you always sayin’ something funny. You need to write this down.” And so I wrote it down. And then we started charging dudes soups (Ramen noodles) to come see me perform—cuz, you know, soups is a big commodity in jail, since we ain’t got no more cigarettes.
And they were laughin’. And a lot of these guys was in there for murder. And they were like: my life is in shambles right now. If you can make ME laugh, and I’m sitting here possibly never coming out in the world again, then you can do it on the street.
So I came out to the streets with all that confidence, and I did my first big show, at a place called the Comedy Vault on Boylston, Remington’s Bar… and I BOMBED.
Nobody laughed. My best friend was like: “You need to pick another career.” But I kept at it. And eventually I started getting better and better, and that’s when I jumped into the comedy world.
Comedy is very hard. You have to dedicate yourself to being out every night, on the road, sometime working for nothing, maybe paying for your own room, paying for your own food. You get janky promoters who promise you the world, and you get there and it’s not what it’s supposed to be. You get the backyard comic who was funny at the cookout, so they think maybe they can come to the comedy show and be funny with me on stage, and I say something to them and now they want to fight me, and the girl want to go home with me.
I can make 5, 7, 10 grand in a month easily—but then you can go two, three months and you don’t have a lot of money. You’re basically living off your money from your big event.
When I had a son, it was unexpected, so I wanted some consistent income for my son. I went to get a certificate in culinary arts. I’m in the middle of getting my Associates. And now I cook every day. I work at the Liberty Mutual headquarters in Back Bay.
The name I’ve given myself is The People’s Cook. Whatever I cook for the rich people, I cook for the same person that’s on the corner with nothing. Your status should not dictate what you eat.”
Mo was interviewed and photographed by story ambassador George Powell at the STEPRox Recovery Support Center in Dudley Square. The interview was then transcribed and edited for length, clarity and flow by Cara Solomon, founder of Everyday Boston, in partnership with George. Cara wrote the intro text.
STEPRox is a peer-led center that uses the ‘participatory process,’ which means members are involved in the decisions the Center makes. It offers 12-step meetings, recovery- focused groups, card games and movie day.
For more information, call (617) 442-7837 or stop by 9 Palmer Street.