YouTube phenomenon Josh Paler Lin decided that in one of his incredibly popular videos he would hand $100 to a man begging on the street – and then follow him to see what he does with it. Needless to say, what the guy eventually did made Paler Lin speechless, and you won’t believe it either.
This video, though, was something out of the ordinary for California-based Paler Lin. After all, this is a guy who describes himself on his YouTube channel as the “craziest and most creative Asian prankster alive.” He’s a massive hit on the video sharing site, however, and he has over 2 million subscribers.
Naturally, then, some of his videos – with titles like “How To PRANK A Gold Digger LIKE A BOSS!!” or “The Devil Baby Scare Prank” – are made purely for laughs. In these films, he goes undercover to trick people for no other reason than to make viewers giggle.
His other videos – like “How Easy Is It To Make Someone’s Day?” – have more of the feeling of a social experiment to them. Paler Lin still uses a hidden camera in these clips, but there’s a real message in the outcome.
The prankster started in all in March 2013 when he uploaded his first YouTube video. He saw increasing numbers of fans and followers with his subsequent releases, but it wasn’t for another 18 months that he would release this video about a homeless man, and that is when he really went viral.
This video has got the rather on-the-nose title of “How Does A Homeless Man Spend $100?” So, to recap, Paler Lin was carrying out another one of his so-called social experiments by giving a homeless stranger $100 and following him to see how he spent the money.
The clip, which was uploaded to YouTube in December 2014, starts pretty much as you would expect. Indeed, Paler Lin is seen approaching a man on the side of the road and handing him $100.
After he’s given the money, the homeless man – who turned out to be named Kenny Thomas Nickel – becomes understandably emotional. So after Paler Lin seemingly disappears Nickel heads off to go and spend the cash. He apparently has no idea that Paler Lin is on his tail.
And, of course, Paler Lin is still secretly filming Nickel when he goes inside a nearby liquor store. For many people, this would be a controversial moment, but so far we have no clue as to what Nickel is hiding in his bag as he leaves the store.
And, in fact, as Paler Lin follows the man to a park, Nickel reaches into his bag and produces not a bottle of liquor but bundles of food that he starts handing out to other people in need, who are gathered around on nearby benches. Paler Lin, shocked, immediately drops his tail and goes over to talk to Nickel.
Paler Lin apologizes to the man at once. “I thought you were going to buy alcohol or something,” he says. Nickel accepts it, and he explains that he was just made homeless by circumstance, not through any fault of his own. It’s a tragic story, and it goes to show that you should never judge a book by its cover.
It seems that Nickel quit work to look after his stepdad, who was fighting cancer. He was living with his parents when – within two weeks – both his mom and dad died. Their condo was sold soon afterward, and Nickel found himself homeless. This had all occurred just four months before Paler Lin came into his life.
But Nickel is clearly in need himself, so why buy food for others when that $100 could have helped him so much? “There’s things money can’t buy,” he says in the video. “I get happiness out of what I’m doing.”
Not surprisingly, Paler Lin’s video became a YouTube smash hit. Indeed, at the time of writing it had received over 45 million views. It was Nickel, though, that initially captured the hearts of viewers, and he became an internet star himself not long after its release.
In fact, after the amazing reaction to the video, Paler Lin launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to give Nickel a fresh start. And the campaign ultimately raised $145,873, which was a massive 1,440 percent of its target.
In December 2014, then, Paler Lin made another video with Nickel. This time he surprised him with a Christmas makeover, a meal, and a promise that this was just the beginning of his fresh start.
Two months after this Paler Lin released a third and final video with Nickel. In it, he’s seen arranging a bank account with Nickel, reuniting him with his estranged father and telling him about the phenomenal amount of money raised in the Indiegogo campaign. But despite all of this good work, Lin’s crusade did have some critics.
Indeed, some accused Paler Lin of faking the first video. What’s more, Nickel’s own brother – Kevin Nickel – noted that he normally goes by the name of Kenni, rather than the name of Thomas that he gives in the videos, and Kevin claimed that Kenni was sitting on a $150,000 inheritance.
One person also claimed to have witnessed Paler Lin drive Nickel to the liquor store himself, while others question whether he ever received the funds donated to him. However – even going beyond this controversy – this story would have a deeply tragic conclusion.
In June 2015 Nickel was found dead in an L.A. alley, finally succumbing to chronic alcoholism. His brother Kevin went as far to suggest that some of the blame for this lay with Paler Lin. “They should have been showing him going in the hospital and getting help, not having lobster dinners and haircuts and suits,” his brother Kevin later told Reuters.