By Sarah Harvey
Marvin Gnad is the resident comedian at the Denver VOICE office; he’s also known by many of his regular customers as “the guy who tells jokes.” Marvin loves being the joke guy and making people smile. “If it’s a good joke, they’ll tell it to someone else, and I like knowing that,” he says. He likes to think that somewhere out there, all his best jokes are being told over and over again, slowly spreading smiles across the country.
Born in Hays, Kansas, Marvin was the seventh of eleven children. “It wasn’t the Waltons, trust me,” says Marvin of growing up in Kansas. Although most of his family is still there, Marvin hasn’t been great about keeping in touch lately.
Marvin joined the army in 1981, a year after graduating from high school. His first MOS, or military occupational specialty code, was cook. During those army years, Marvin also found time to study psychology. After leaving the army in 1987, he worked as a cook and did other odd jobs. He has been married twice, and first found himself homeless in Seattle around 2003. In spite of all that, he considers his life to be pretty boring.
After becoming homeless in Seattle, Marvin started selling the city’s street paper, Real Change. After arriving in Denver in late 2014 and once again experiencing homelessness, Marvin went to the library to find out whether Denver had a paper similar to Seattle’s. That’s how he found the VOICE.
He enjoys selling the VOICE. “It gives me something to do with my day,” says Marvin, who can’t work due to a long list of health issues.
“It’s not just making a few bucks. It’s making a few friends now and then and doing something with your life,” says Marvin.
Marvin usually starts selling the VOICE around 7:00 a.m. in front of Republic Plaza. He has a few regular vending spots he likes to rotate between before he heads over to the Central branch of the Denver Public Library in the afternoon. At the library, he likes to watch movies and read sci-fi—the Star Trek series and Sherlock Holmes are some of his favorites.
Marvin stays at the Denver Rescue Mission when the weather is bad, but otherwise sleeps outside. “It’s healthier for you,” says Marvin with a laugh. He tries to make enough money to buy his own food. A typical meal for Marvin is a hotdog and a soda from 7-Eleven, which comes to about $2. Many of the free meals around town serve too much oatmeal for his taste.
“I could eat stuff that would make a goat puke, but I can’t eat oatmeal.”
Before telling a joke, Marvin will ask someone what kind of sense of humor they have—he’ll then choose something from his repertoire to best suit his audience. One perennial favorite goes like this: “What’s a politician say when they step into a pile of manure? Damn, I’m melting.” He finds that, overall, Seattle and Denver have pretty equal senses of humor.
When asked what homelessness in Denver is like compared to other cities, Marvin laughs.
“It’s like being homeless anyplace else. It sucks.” ■