Local bon vivant Broke-Ass Stuart broke the mold with two decades of hustling as a travel writer, TV host, and mayoral candidate, and celebrates 20 years of his SF penny-pinching shenanigans with a Public Works party Thursday and a new zine.
It was 20 years ago when a young San Diego lad fresh out of UC Santa Cruz named Stuart Schuffman arrived in San Francisco, and would slowly transform into the local celebrity persona known as Broke-Ass Stuart. He’ll celebrate these 20 years Thursday night at Broke-Ass Stuart’s 20th Anniversary Party at Public Works, and despite becoming “Editor in Cheap” of his popular eponymous local blog, a go-to journalistic source on dive bar closings, and San Francisco's non pareil puller of publicity stunts, Schuffman does have some regrets.
“If I knew when I was 23 that I would still be doing this when I was 41, I might have chose a different name than Broke-Ass Stuart,” he tells SFist. “When people don’t know me, and I’m introduced as Broke-Ass Stuart, they’re like ‘Dude, he’s right here, why would you say that right in front of his face?’”
“I was on the local news, I was on ABC 7,” he adds. “And they couldn’t say ‘Broke-Ass Stuart’ on television. They had to say ‘Broke…Stuart.’”
How exactly does one become a “Broke-Ass Stuart?” This joker’s origin story goes back to 2002, when the new kid in town was an intern for Bill Graham Presents while crashing on his girlfriend’s couch and working odd jobs.
Wow! This was just sent to me! It's a pic of me working at Z. Cioccolato in North Beach in 2003 or 2004.— (((BrokeAssStuart))) (@BrokeAssStuart) October 13, 2022
That's the candy store I was working at when I decided to create Broke-Ass Stuart!
I'm on the right in the Curious George shirt :) pic.twitter.com/E7GNC34woc
“I was working at a candy store in North Beach called Z. Cioccolato,” he says, remembering a customer who handed him a business card saying they were a travel writer. I said ‘shit, I want to be a travel writer.’ So I decided to become one. And that summer I put out Broke-Ass Stuart’s Guide to Living Cheaply in San Francisco, and it was a 33-page zine. And that was the genesis of all of this.”
A second “Volume 2” of that zine caught the attention of travel publisher Lonely Planet, who hired him in 2006 to rewrite it as a full-length book. That did well enough they brought him back on for a Broke-Ass Stuart’s Guide to Living Cheaply in New York, then sent him to Ireland where he wrote books for their “On a Shoestring” series.
“I literally got my book deal on Craigslist, of all places,” he says. “ My joke was I was looking for a blow job and I got a book deal instead.”
Here a great little video about my 20 years in San Francisco! pic.twitter.com/lBRbWGmsVb— (((BrokeAssStuart))) (@BrokeAssStuart) October 11, 2022
The Broke-Ass Stuart website launched in 2005 as an online store for books, zines and t-shirts. In those days, profanity in the names of our favorite blog names was common: Fucked Company, Sex Pigeon, and Capp Street Crap. You didn’t have to worry about “search engine optimization,” and swear words in your website’s name did not inhibit the site’s success. Broke-Ass Stuart got a 2009 New York City interview on SFist’s formerly affiliated parent site Gothamist, which led to his next (ultimately unsuccessful) big break.
“They said ‘What do you want to do next?’ and I said I want a motherfucking TV show,” Broke-Ass recalls. “A few different producers read that, and they reached out to me.”
In 2011, Young, Broke, & Beautiful premiered on IFC. (There will be clips from the show playing tonight at Public Works featuring the late Vicky Marlane and Jack Hirschman.) But IFC put the show in the not-very-coveted Friday night 11 p.m. time slot.
“It was Friday night, it was not a great time slot,” Schuffman tells us. “We shot this really great travel show, and it was funny. After we shot everything, we had it in the can, they’re like ‘Oh, by the way, we’re a comedy network now.’”
IFC was pivoting towards screwball comedy shows like Portlandia and Comedy Bang Bang, and a travel show did not fit the format. Young, Broke, & Beautiful was canceled before its first season ended.
“I was like, I have a TV show, I’m a TV star!,” Broke-Ass Stuart says. “Six months later I was back to tending bar.”
But Broke-Ass Stuart set his sights on a new job — the one held by then-San Francisco mayor Ed Lee.
When he declared his candidacy for mayor in the 2015 election, he told SFist it was a “journalistic experiment.” That may have been another way of saying “shameless self-promotion.” And it kind-of worked, he came in fourth place with nearly 10% of the vote. But he also earned a $2,500 fine from the SF Ethics Commission. As SFist wrote at the time, “True to his moniker, he'll pay the fine in installments.”
Today is the day!— (((BrokeAssStuart))) (@BrokeAssStuart) October 13, 2022
Come to my 20th Anniversary Party!https://t.co/ANS6t37fGG
Broke-Ass Stuart will celebrate 20 years of staying true to his moniker at a Thursday night’s anniversary party show, featuring Sunset Sound System, Juanita MORE!, Kat Robichaud, plus comedy, burlesque, and other variety show aspects. (A portion of the proceeds will go to Planned Parenthood.) He’ll also introduce his new zine, Slouching Towards Neverland, a treasury of 20 years of his writing in San Francisco.
Ironically, the Broke-Ass Stuart website is now written primarily by people who are not Broke-Ass Stuart. (Full disclosure: I was one of those people for six years.) “The brand has changed a lot, it’s not just my voice,” Stuart says. “There's many voices, and we amplify voices, people get their early clips, they kind of grow with Broke-Ass Stuart.”
“It’s 100% independent,” Broke-Ass Stuart insists. “There’s no funding besides my credit card.”