For years, budget-bouncing impresario Broke-Ass Stuart has shared scores of secret power-ups and tips for stretching gold in the two poles of this country that matter most (if you’re the creative-pilgrim type) with guidebooks on San Francisco and New York City, and on his eponymous web log. Now Stuart (nee Schuffman) is aiming nationwide with a third book, Young, Broke & Beautiful, and a TV show of the same name on IFC that debuts tonight. Brokelyn had a chance to skim the book, preview a few episodes, and chat with our brokester-in-arms about the evolution of his hobo wisdom and hustler ingenuity. We’ve got a few copies to give away to Brokelyn readers too before it even hits the shelves.
It’s not that Stuart is (circle one) a. “blowing up;” b. “selling out;” c. all of the above, but that the gauge-earringed Colonel of Cheap has expanded beyond serving local cheat sheets to highlights of the low life—toward synthesizing his Broke-Ass expertise into an open-source worldview; an ethos we certainly share at Brokelyn.
YBB offers delightfully creative suggestions such as sitting in on trials (the chapter on Free Entertainment), and motherly advice like how to de-frizz humidity-ravaged hair using honey. The TV show doesn’t so much reveal cheap restaurants and budget transport options in a half-dozen cities (though there is that too) as remind the viewer there are kick-ass things to do everywhere for free, even if it’s as simple as scraping up a skate park in San Diego or looking at the map of Baltimore and giggling over place names like Hoes Heights.
Think “No Reservations” but with tandem bicycles, boombox museums and women who cuss in John Waters films.
Your earlier guides were so city-specific that they were largely consumed with creating an index of free food and other local secrets. YBB is more about how to think like a Broke-Ass and snort out those things even after your sensei gets killed. Was it harder to put that into words?
It was frustrating for a long time. I wanted something that could be accessible all around the U.S. But it’s so hard to get there because we don’t want it to turn it into a self-help book or a motivational book. So much of this lifestyle is second nature that putting it into words is kind of weird.
There’s people who are just learning how to be broke. Because of the recession or because of multiple reasons. There’s people who, everything has been easy for them and they’re now having to learn new skills. A lot of it, in a way, is changing those mindsets and moving them away from consumer culture. You really don’t need it, you know. Especially if you can’t afford it.
You offer cash-saving tips, yes, but you’re more likely to lead someone to a DIY circus than tell them how to repair cashmere gloves by cutting up an old sweater. What’s the difference between Broke-Ass and broke?
Well first, the difference between being broke and being poor is a socioeconomic thing. It’s something that is often systematic, people are born into it. It’s a joke that we have to deal with it in this country. But being broke is not that. Being broke is a temporary thing. So you can work harder and hustle harder and use your intelligence to find your way out of the situation, or just live richly under the circumstances.
As for [the advice I give], there’s a difference between a book and a TV show. I mean no one’s going to watch me cut up a fucking sweater.
I’ve seen you say “compared to New York, where everything is so expensive, S.F. is so much cheaper,” but I lived in San Francisco for three years and found the opposite to be true. It’s definitely possible to spend way too much money here, but it seems like the Five Boroughs are so much bigger with so many more poor people than San Francisco, and there are a lot more choices for saving money.
A lot of that was in respect to rent. When you move to a place with only 50,000 rent-stabilized units and 10 million people, you’re probably not going to be lucky enough to get one. Unless you’re in a place since 1973 or something like that you’re not getting rent control. San Francisco has much more affordable housing, so in that respect San Francisco’s cheaper.
Do you know any good ways to live cheap in NYC that aren’t available anywhere else?
One thing New York has even more than San Francisco is so many more food choices. There are so many immigrant groups, and immigrants bring whole varieties of culture and their own kinds of food. There’s a glatt kosher restaurant from Uzbek in the Diamond District and you can eat there for like 9 bucks. Jesus Christ! I didn’t know that existed until I ran into it, you know.
On the show you flash a lot of cheap price tags and eat a lot of free meals, but often it kind of seems like you’re just getting hooked up because you’re making a TV show or you know the guy behind the counter. I wonder how accessible these deals are to everyone.
Having a camera crew around you makes things a lot easier. As with anything, whether it’s a play, TV show, pornography, it’s a matter of suspending your disbelief. At the same time, I get hooked up a lot in everyday life. You be a nice guy to people and they are nice to you. It’s a barter.
Then again, one of the points in your book is how to snag free stuff by posing as a member of the media. How much of being a Broke-Ass is fake-it-till-you-make-it?
Everything! [Laughs] It depends how comfortable you are with bullshitting. I don’t try to take advantage of people. You’ve got to hustle. It’s not about fucking people over. But if you can find an entry, it’s like yeah why not? They have those passes set aside [at concerts] anyway so it’s not like they’re losing any more money.
Looking at your episode summaries it seems like you hang out with a lot of rappers and gangsters on the show. What makes these people so good at being Broke-Ass?
Musicians in general are good at being broke. It doesn’t matter what they play. We hung out with guys in soul bands and Zydeco. We hung out with guys in Memphis and a lesbian rapper in Detroit. People ask me why I do so much music in the shows and it’s because anything that’s underground has a lot of music in it. It’s countercultural. A lot of guys in bands work in restaurants. Musicians are Broke-Asses too.
How did you figure out where to explore in each city?
Once you find one person doing something cool, you ask about other people doing cool things and one thing leads to another. In New Orleans I ended up meeting up with a guy in a bar who makes custom things for people. He’s a thingsmith. And I was talking to a guy in a graveyard and he said do you want to meet my friend. It’s about saying yes. If your spider senses aren’t going off, just say yes.
You’ve said you’re the kind of traveler comfortable wearing the same outfit day after day. If you were so broke you had to go without pants or without a shirt, which would you choose?
That’s a very good question. You need pockets in your pants, but it depends on the climate and it depends on the country. I’d probably go without a shirt.
Want a copy of “Young, Broke, and Beautiful: Broke-Ass Stuart’s Guide to Living Cheaply” to call your own? We’ve got three fresh copies to give away to Brokelyn readers! Leave a comment below about what your favorite broke-friendly city is and why, and we’ll pick our favorites (You have to be an e-mail subscriber to win. Not an e-mail subscriber? It only takes two seconds to sign up. We promise only exclusive Brokelyn content — and no annoying spam!).
Follow Lars: @beat_valley.