The Smiling Man Explained (Creepypasta)

This is the story of the Smiling Man. What happened?
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CreepyPasta: The Smiling Man

In April of 2012, L.S. Riley was having nightmares. He’d always been a night person, staying up well after his roommate had fallen asleep, but now he had even more of a reason to stay out of bed. 

Riley had once heard someone say that fresh air was the best way to chase the demons away, so he’d started taking night walks to avoid the terrors in his sleep. But Riley was about to learn a hard lesson: The worst nightmares are the ones that come for you when you’re wide awake.

This is the story of the Smiling Man. What happened? Who is he? Why are some smiles so creepy? And most importantly, how could you survive an encounter with him? There’s only one way to find out…


The story of L.S Riley

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Like we said, Riley had a habit of taking nighttime walks. He lived downtown in a major US city, and he’d been taking his nocturnal strolls around town for four years without any kind of incident. He’d once joked to a friend of his that in this city, even the drug dealers were polite. Maybe that’s why he let his guard down on the one night he needed it most.

It was Wednesday, a little after 1:00 AM, and Riley was walking further away from his apartment than he usually would. He was at a police-patrolled park, normally as safe as your backyard. He noticed that the whole town seemed unusually dead tonight – he hadn’t seen anyone during the entire duration of his walk. But as he rounded the corner into a small, dark side street, that was about to change.

An encounter with the smiling man

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“Smiling man (creepy pasta)”Photo by John is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

In the distance, he saw the silhouette of a tall, lanky man, dancing. It was a kind of odd, loping waltz, somewhere between a dance and a walk. There was something off about the man. Something uncanny. Riley shooed away the irrational fears and figured the guy had probably just had a few too many drinks at a local bar. He walked out onto the road to give the stranger more space on the sidewalk, but as the two got closer, Riley realized he’d made a mistake.


The man was moving a little too gracefully to be a drunk. He was dressed in an old suit, his face craned up, looking at the night sky. Riley noticed his eyes were practically bugging out of his head, and most notably, he was wearing a wide, toothy smile. The kind of smile that looks almost like it hurts. A creepy, cartoon grin. 

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A close shave…

Riley crossed the street to give the Smiling Man a wide berth, but the man stopped, perfectly parallel with him across the street. He was looking in Riley’s direction, still facing skywards. Riley kept moving, wanting to put as much distance between them as possible. A block later, he looked over his shoulder, and saw the Smiling Man crouched in the shadows a few feet behind him. Still grinning, bearing his teeth like a predator.

Riley was frozen as the Smiling Man rose to his feet and began waltzing towards him, faster than any person should be able to. He was in grabbing distance when the Smiling Man stopped in front of him. Terrified, Riley choked out a desperate noise. He wanted to sound intimidating, instead, he sounded terrified. But Riley got lucky – the Smiling Man turned tail, and began waltzing off in the other direction.


Riley got moving again. He was closer to his apartment; he just needed to get inside, and then he’d be safe. But that’s when he heard the footsteps behind him: Pounding at the asphalt. He turned and saw the Smiling Man sprinting towards him like a maniac, eyes bulging, smile still freakishly wide. Lucky for Riley, perhaps because of fear and adrenaline, he could run faster. He sprinted until his legs burned and he was finally able to lose the Smiling Man.

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No more night walks for Riley

He returned to his apartment that night, traumatized but alive. He lived in that city for six months after that, but he never took a night time walk again. The nightmares in his head had nothing on the nightmare he encountered on the streets that one night. Riley knew from something in the man’s face that he wasn’t drunk and he wasn’t high. He was truly, dangerously insane, and Riley had been lucky to escape with his life.

Riley posted this story on the r/LetsNotMeet subreddit, a place for people to post real, frightening encounters they’ve had with strange people across the globe. It seemed like a freaky isolated incident, but as it turns out, L.S. Riley was only one of many people who’d had terrifying encounters with the Smiling Man. He was just the person to finally give it a name. 


In fact, so many people out there had had their own experience with this terrifying grinning phantom, they started the r/TheSmilingMan subreddit to share their experiences. 

More Smiling Man encounters

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“Smiling man (creepy pasta)” by Sukanto is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A user named PoptartMuncher relayed a terrifying encounter outside his home. He saw a distant, waltzing figure as he was pulling into his driveway. When he got out of his car and began walking towards his house, the figure broke into a frantic sprint, just like in Riley’s story. PoptartMuncher ran into his home in a panic, locking all the doors and windows. That’s when the Smiling Man appeared at his front door, trying to slide it open, his face pressed up against the glass. He grinned and hissed out the words, “I’ll be back again for you”, before waltzing away.

Another user with the appropriate handle “grinningmanwatching” had the Smiling Man appear outside of his home in the dead of night. He lived in an isolated farmhouse out in the woods, so when an unusually tall, grinning creep appeared in his yard, staring in through the windows, he knew that nobody was coming to help him. He was just lucky that the Smiling Man wasn’t able to enter his home that night, and eventually decided to waltz off of the property. Things could have gone a hell of a lot worse.


A former Smiling Man-skeptic with the username Anonyme13 had the closest encounter yet. While outside his home, he saw the Smiling Man appear and begin waltzing towards him. He looked so terrifying and unnatural that Anonyme literally collapsed to the floor as he approached. The Smiling Man crouched over him, and leaned in so their faces were almost touching. Anonyme described feeling the man’s breath on his skin: It was cold, like a winter breeze. He got lucky, and the Smiling Man let him go. He was able to get up, limp back into his home, and shut the monster out.

The subreddit moderator, a user called HeckToTheYeah65, studied all the entries on the subreddit to extrapolate the best description of the Smiling Man. He’s always above six feet tall, often wearing an old-fashioned suit and sometimes a small hat. He often looks up at the sky and can be identified immediately from his strange, waltzing gait. Many of the stories seem to come from the state of Iowa, and he typically stalks dark streets and isolated homes. And of course, he’s never seen without his wide, unnatural smile.

So who or what is the Smiling Man? 

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He’s become the stuff of Internet legend, and fans have drawn parallels with a number of popular creepypastas. These include Smile Dog, the classic tale of an image believed by many to be pure evil. If you haven’t seen our video on Smile Dog already, the gist is that it’s an image of a Siberian Husky with a wide, demonic human smile. Anyone who sees the image is haunted in their dreams by the monster, encouraging them to “Spread the Word” and infect more victims by showing them the photo. Another, similar Creepypasta often associated with the Smiling Man is “The Grinning Man.”


The Grinning man

In this story, the narrator’s friend dies a horrific death. The only lead on what may have caused it is an email he received, containing a photo of a grinning face and the trigger word “Desperation.” Exposure to this is believed to cause violent insanity in victims. However, this isn’t the only Grinning Man often associated with the monster we’re covering in this video. And if the connection holds water, the Smiling Man may have been around for a lot longer than we thought.

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“Smiling man (creepy pasta)” by Illustration by Daniella Urdinlaiz is licensed under CC BY 2.0


The town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, is no stranger to weirdness. If the name is familiar to you, it’s because it was where the legendary Mothman was first sighted. But a lesser known monster was also sighted here by a sewing machine salesman named Woodrow “Woody” Derenberger in 1966. Woody was driving along a hill just outside Parkersburg on Interstate 77 when he encountered a strange vehicle: It looked almost like a giant oil lamp, traveling towards him on the road. He pulled over in sheer confusion. That’s when a hatch in the vehicle opened, and someone stepped out.

He was a strange man with a dark overcoat and an unseasonably dark tan, but the strangest thing of all was his freakishly wide grin. The man identified himself to Woody as Indrid Cold, and told him that this would be the first of several encounters. But Woody reported that Cold’s grin didn’t shift once during this conversation – he was speaking telepathically. He even encouraged Woody to share the story with the authorities, before climbing back into his strange vehicle and disappearing. Two other men reported a similar experience that same night, describing the grinning Cold disembarking from his craft and asking them strange questions.


Cold kept his word and met up with Woody several times after that. He told the sewing machine salesman that he was an alien from a planet named Lanulos, simply visiting earth. The 1960s were a real heyday for mysterious, grinning figures. A few weeks before Indrid Cold allegedly appeared in West Virginia, two young boys – James Yanchitis and Martin ‘Mouse’ Munov – encountered a similar figure in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Both boys claim to have spotted the “Strangest man they ever saw” standing behind a chain link fence. He didn’t say a word, he just stood there, freakishly tall and grinning like a maniac. That certainly sounds like the Smiling Man to us.

The “Smile Study”

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Nobody could blame you for feeling freaked out right now. Is he an alien, a monster, a demon, or just a dangerous, smiling lunatic? And why is a smile – a facial expression meant to indicate happiness – so disturbing in the right context? According to a research study performed by the University of Minnesota, it all depends on the type of smile. The study aimed to find out what makes a smile seem likable, and what makes a smile seem creepy or off-putting. 

The study found that the following features were often associated with creepy and threatening smiles: Being too wide, showing too many teeth, and conforming to a “V” shape. Sound familiar? According to a meta-study published by the BBC, there are nineteen different types of Smile, each one communicating something different. The Smiling Man’s signature grin seems closest to what the article calls the “Angry-Enjoyment Smile.” These wide, fixed grins often indicate a malicious intent, or a kind of sick joy in hurting others. That’s why it’s often applied to frightening villains, from Jack Torrance to The Joker, and the Smiling Man is no exception.


Sometimes, a smile like that of the Smiling Man can indicate sickness and disease. The rare illness Risus Sardonicus, often associated with tetanus and Wilson’s Disease, can cause facial muscle spasms that force the face into a malicious smile, or “Rictus Grin.” This definitely sounds like the Smiling Man’s painful-looking cartoon grin.

Finally, how can you hope to avoid the Smiling Man? 

Well, according to the Smiling Man subreddit, your best bet is to avoid going out at night – especially if you live in a quiet or isolated area – keep your doors and windows locked, and if you ever encounter the Smiling Man himself, don’t make a noise and get out of the area as quickly as possible. 

The Smiling Man could be anywhere now. Perhaps even a little closer than you think…


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