(warning: disturbing photo below)
Comedian Doug Smith was heading home after doing a set when he witnessed something all of us hope we will never see. He walked down the stairs to the Second Avenue subway station and saw a man violently attacking a woman on the platform, and nobody was stepping in to help her. He did. The incident left him with a gaping wound, 23 stitches, a permanent scar on his face, and the story of a lifetime. It also gave him something you might not expect- inspiration for a comedy web series.
The web series is called “Secret Weapon.” In it, Doug plays an urban survival expert teaching New Yorkers how to defend against some of the city’s everyday “crimes”. The series co-stars comedian Matt Wayne, and casts stand up comedians Greg Stone, Anthony Devito and others as either assailants or victims, dealing with urban perils like “rowdy teenagers”, “bluetooth-using disgruntled cab drivers”, and “sidewalk charity clipboard gangsters.” It’s a comedy series- not a real life self defense course- but the crime that inspired the series, landed Smith in the hospital.
We talked with Doug about his new series, and the very real incident that inspired it.
In the opening narration, Doug’s voice over explains, “Four years ago, I saved a woman from a violent sexual attack. Then the deranged assailant pulled out a knife and stabbed me in the face. Can you believe it?” The incident portrayed in the opening sequence was 100% real, as is the scar it left behind. But Doug says he’s been having a hard time getting viewers to realize that it really happened. “I tried to convey that as best as possible but I guess since its a comedy people think that it’s just a made up premise,” he said, “which kind of sucks because I really did want to convey that that happened to me but… I don’t know if there’s an easy way to do that. But yeah, that’s pretty much exactly as I tell it, that happened to me.”
It was 5 years ago now, on September 30, 2011 in the Second Avenue subway station. Smith says he was coming home from a show, when he saw a guy grabbing at a girl on the platform, and trying to rip her clothes off. “She was screaming, everybody was ignoring her,” he said, “and then he hauled off and he punched her in the face.” Doug had never been in a fight before, never thrown a punch, but remembers thinking, “If I’m gonna be in a fight, what better reason than this. It sounds cheesy but, I will defend this woman’s honor, ya know?” First Smith tried verbally confronting the attacker. “I yelled out to him exactly as I do in the intro [to the webseries], I said ‘Hey Buddy…that’s a lady.'”
Of course, yelling that didn’t deter the attacker. Smith admits it’s not the most threatening assertion you can make in the face of a possible rapist, so he yelled a few other things which were equally ineffective. “He finally saw that I wasn’t going to be going anywhere so he let her go and then he came after me, and backed me into a corner. And I swung on him and missed, I had never been in a fight before, so I swung and I was a good eight feet away from him and then he stepped in and hit me. And I didn’t even realize – I didn’t see he had a razor blade between his fingers. So what I thought was a punch- he sliced my cheek wide open and then he went running out of the station.”
At the time, Smith’s adrenaline was up, and he didn’t even feel the slash. He said he was just about to get on the train and go home, when a woman stopped him. “She was like ‘oh my god you have a massive laceration on your face.’ And I looked down and there’s blood just pouring down my jacket. And she handed me a wad of napkins and helped me up to street level and called an ambulance and there was like 20 cops on the scene within 2 minutes.”
The woman who had been attacked disappeared into the night, never filed a police report, and he never saw or heard from her again. It would have been his word against the attackers but it turned out she wasn’t the only woman attacked that night. “As I was going down into the station, I remember passing a girl coming up the stairs who was crying and acting really traumatized. And I kind of was like ‘jeeze what’s her deal,” he recalled. “After I got my face slashed, I went up to street level, she was standing there, talking to police. She had been punched by the same guy just moments before I got down there and saw this other girl. So he was really going for broke just roughing up as many ladies as he could down there.” The second woman, an NYU Graduate student and opera singer had been punched in the throat by the assailant.
Doug says they gave a description to the police, and the attacker was caught three days later, hanging out at the same station.He was a 51 year old homeless guy with no prior convictions other than panhandling and public intoxication. It took 23 stitches to close the wound, and weeks of painfully sipping protein shakes through a straw– although Smith will tell you the recovery time was “not that bad.” What was worse, he said, was dealing with the legal process. “We both went in to pick him out of a lineup, both had to go testify against him in court, which was terrifying. He just had this cold dead stare, you know. Zero remorse whatsover. And I had to sit in a witness stand and be like that’s the guy.” He was sentenced to 15 years.
The incident hasn’t stopped Doug from taking the subway late at night, or performing comedy, and about a year ago, it gave him the idea for his first web series. He’s had ideas for series come and go over the years, but never had the tools to bring them to life. “I’m not tech saavy at all. I don’t have a camera, I don’t know how to edit, its been very easy for me over the last few years to come up with various ideas for things that I wanted to shoot, but then I’d be like, well, I don’t know how to do it- I don’t want to pay somebody to do it- so I just would sit on my hands forever.” But this idea was one he was determined to see through, so he decided he had to find someone to help him create the series.
“I was just like I really want to do this so I’m just gonna find somebody whose work I admire and somebody whose not going to rip me off. And this guy Dan Hirschon- I met him years back he used to be a stand up, he doesn’t do stand up anymore, he now just focuses on video stuff, like video sketchwork. And he had filmed some stuff with Mike Cannon and Joe List in the past that I really liked so I sent him the idea and he really liked it and we had a couple of meetings.” Smith credits Hirschorn with setting the tone for the intro to the show, and making the series work visually. “He was great. He was a huge part of the creative process.”
Smith has filmed three episodes so far, and is planning to do more. “It was incredibly stressful but it was a blast.” You can watch all three episodes now on Smith’s YouTube channel, here’s episodes two and three, and you can watch the first episode right here.