The last time Hillsborough comic Jeremy Alder was featured in the INDY, it was as the subject of a story about the day-to-day grind of the local stand-up comedy scene.
What a difference six months can make. This time, when there’s no longer any such thing as the day-to-day grind, he’s back in a very different role: accidental Twitter philanthropist.
Since mid-March, when concerns over the coronavirus shut down restaurants and bars, Alder has been giving away his personal savings to people on social media—some friends, but mostly strangers—who say they need help with rent or other essentials.
Alder estimates that he’s given about $30,000 to about 50 people so far. That’s 15 people’s rents for April, and the rest in $100 to $1,000 increments for medicine and other essentials.
And he’s still going.
It all started on March 15 with this tweet, which Alder posted to help his friends in the service industry, inspired by something similar that The Ringer staff writer Shea Serrano had been doing on Twitter:
Hey friends, I know a lot of you are stressing right now about missing work and having enough to pay bills. I have more than I need at the moment, so DM me with any bills you can’t pay and your Venmo/PayPal address. We’re all in this together.
— Jeremy Alder (@JeremyAlder) March 16, 2020
At the time, Alder had a small Twitter following that consisted mainly of people he knows. But when the blue-check comedian Erica Rhodes retweeted it to her 133,000 followers, it took off. In the thread, dozens of people posted their pay apps and, sometimes, their heart-wrenching stories and photos. Some comments went unanswered, but Alder replied to others, asking for the user’s PayPal, to which their bewildered thanks almost invariably followed.
“I think by the end of that day I had 100 DMs,” he says. “It was overwhelming and also really wonderful. I got messages from Europe, Latin America, Asia. I ended up spending all day and most of that night responding to messages and PayPal-ing and Venmo-ing people.”
He did it again on March 20, though he’d learned to set a limit:
Hey friends, If you’ve got bills you’re worried about paying this week, comment with what you need and a link to your PayPal/CashApp (I’m over my limit on Venmo) so we can all help each other out. I can do $100 per person until I get to $5000. Just be cool. We’re all we’ve got.
— Jeremy Alder (@JeremyAlder) March 20, 2020
That one got 434 comments. He did it several more times in March, usually saying he had $1,000 that day to distribute to people who needed help with food and medicine. The word continued to spread—a retweet from Serrano, a small Spectrum News feature.
Then, on April 1, Alder upped the ante:
It’s the first of the month and our greedy overlords haven’t cancelled rents. Post your rent bill and PayPal link below and I’ll pay rent for as many people as I can. We’ll get through this together. 🤟
— Jeremy Alder (@JeremyAlder) April 1, 2020
Alder says he paid 15 people’s rents that day. Though the INDY did not review every transaction, we saw a representative sample of Venmo, PayPal, and other payment app receipts in varied amounts, including several for rent, and spoke with two rent recipients who had never met Alder.
“I am a teacher,” said one, who received $1,540 from Alder via PayPal and who wished to remain anonymous. “I reached out because of the financial struggles I’ve had and trying to keep my head above water. I know Jeremy is a comedian and have seen clips of his shows. I don’t know him personally, but I don’t think he’ll ever truly know what a powerful thing he did for me.”
Tori Pool, who helps run a comedy co-op in San Antonio, just happened to see Alder’s post. She says she was already in dire financial straits when the coronavirus shutdown wiped out her tattooist husband’s income as well as her own, with her car repossessed and her mortgage two payments behind.
“Some people are skeptical of a guy giving away money on the internet,” Alder says. “I would be.”
Pool was one of those people. She had good reason to be. She had been desperately trying out dubious promises of free money on Twitter, and so far, she had only encountered fraudulent schemes and people who wanted to buy silicon molds of her feet.
“They weren’t doing good shit out of the kindness of their heart, it was like, let’s sleep together over the internet or steal your data,” Pool says.
But she had at least heard of Alder, who had once performed at the comedy club where she works, and he was only asking to see a bill, so she decided to give it a shot. She screenshotted her foreclosure note and DMed it to him, and he asked for her PayPal.
“I was like, OK, I’ve done this before,” Pool says. But within 10 minutes, Alder had sent her more than $1,000.
“I cried, like, is this for real?” she says. “I’m a supremely negative person, and I never win anything, I’m very unlucky. Just getting it, I thought, I wonder if there are other people like this, because I haven’t found them. And I’ve looked. Everybody’s in the same situation, just panic, and if this is just a drop in the bucket, I feel so happy to be in that bucket.”
Alder comes from a charitable background. He grew up in a “very religious family”—his Twitter bio calls him “the bad boy of Christian homeschooling”—and he says his parents frequently took in people who were down on their luck.
“They set a pretty good example of sacrificial giving,” he says. He was also inspired by times when people showed generosity to him. He says that after graduating college, he was married with two kids in Austin, Texas, and couldn’t afford the rent. Someone from his church moved in with a roommate so that Alder’s family could live in his house rent-free for a year.
Though he stands on the impeccably moral principle that he shouldn’t hoard unused resources that others desperately need, Alder is far from pious about what he’s doing. He portrays himself almost as someone who has blundered into a comedy of errors and doesn’t view his scattershot philanthropy with any messianic pretensions, though he does quietly choke up a little when he talks about the stories he’s heard.
But mostly, he thinks this is some bullshit that he shouldn’t need to do: filling in where the government and corporations have failed.
“I’ll be honest with you, I hate this,” he says. “This is the dumbest shit. It’s a drop in the bucket. It’s all of these people in desperate need hitting me up. There’s no way I could possibly respond to everybody, and it feels totally random. I’m just some fucking dude in my boxers picking people to send money to. I kind of hate charity. I much prefer justice, and that’s what people need right now. They’re not getting it, and that’s why people need money from me, because our leaders and corporations are fucking us up.”
In vetting the sincerity of people asking for help, Alder goes with his gut. He’s the first to admit it’s an imperfect science, and one that he’s ill-equipped to practice.
“You can tell some people, they started their Twitter profile mid-March and only follow people who are giving away money,” he says. “But then again, I could be wrong. I kind of came to the conclusion that I’m sure I’ve given money to scam artists, but scam artists gotta eat and pay rent, too.”
Alder doesn’t know how low he’s going to let his savings go, but for now, he’s still going. And he’s raising more money to give away on Twitter by selling the last comedy set he did before the shutdown. (You can also watch his recent livestream show with Mettlesome on Facebook.)
Alder isn’t ultra-wealthy. His internet-marketing company has had a good couple of years and hasn’t been shut down. Still, he is a single father of four, and his willingness to give away his savings at a time of economic uncertainty is extraordinary, or even reckless. But if his drop in the bucket can set an example for the ultra-wealthy—the likes of Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Elon Musk, whom Alder has tagged in his posts—that drop could become a transformative flood.
“It feels weird and a little bit irresponsible,” Alder admits. “If I pay too-close attention to what I give away, I get nervous and start getting greedy. So I kind of just tally it up at the end of the day. Something feels right about being a little irresponsible with this money right now. I’m taken care of. My kids are taken care of. So in a way, this is justice. If I have money sitting in my savings account that I’m not using and there’s people who aren’t eating, it’s not charity. Justice requires I give what I have.”
“Which is a dangerous thing to say, because I don’t know when to stop,” he adds, laughing.
Contact arts and culture editor Brian Howe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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