In the acclaimed one-man show “Patti Issues,” Ben Rimalower used his passion for Broadway diva Patti LuPone as the foil to a deeper narrative about his fractured relationship with his father. For “Bad With Money,” the openly gay writer-performer opted to wrestle with another personal (and, in some respects, more imposing) demon: finances.
It’s safe to say Rimalower’s struggles go beyond a few bounced checks and late payment fees, as the new act, which runs at New York’s Duplex Cabaret Theatre through Nov. 6, chronicles both his brief stint as a prostitute as well as his brush with credit card fraud.
“It’s taken me to some real extreme places in my life and I’ve made a lot of really terrible, unethical choices,” Rimalower, 38, explained. He's hopeful the new show will match the success of “Patti Issues,” particularly given the universal nature of the subject at hand: “People might not tumble down the slide as far as I go, but I think they can relate to those first few slippery steps.”
The Huffington Post caught up with Rimalower shortly after opening night to talk about the new show, his biggest splurges and the impact that being a gay man has had on his struggles with managing cash.
The Huffington Post: Do you feel any pressure to make "Bad With Money" a success given that "Patti Issues" was a smash?
Ben Rimalower: I feel a lot of pressure for myself because I need the money (laughs), so there's that! But this show is so different. When I wrote "Patti Issues," the common response -- whether people loved it or were less crazy about it -- was, "This is not what I expected." In a way, we're pulling that off again, because I think people are expecting something similar to "Patti Issues," but it really is so different from that show. I think the pressure is really all internal. The show was difficult to write in comparison to "Patti Issues," which was so safe. The actual stories of "Patti Issues," in my life, I feel very evolved with. Whereas this stuff…I don't think William Shakespeare could write about me and my money struggles without some sort of f**ked-up ending.
How did the "Bad With Money" narrative come about for you?
It's weird with autobiographical things, because everything in your life is interconnected. That was the case with writing "Patti Issues." I had a lot of material in there about getting sober and a lot of material about my struggles with money. But as my director Aaron Mark and I were chiseling away at the raw material I wrote for "Patti Issues," much of the [financial] stuff was left on the proverbial cutting room floor. But I still felt very charged by those stories, so it wasn't long into the run of "Patti Issues" that I started to feel like there was another show I was going to write from those [financial] things, so it was just a matter of fleshing all of that out.
Obviously, your being gay influenced much of "Patti Issues." Does sexuality come into play at all in the new show?
I think gay men have the worst of both worlds when it comes to money. We're raised, as men, to be earners, to achieve and to amass wealth. Unlike the drive to play sports -- which is something many gay men reject -- I think we take that mentality on just like all men. But as gay men, we also want to attract men, so we aspire to a lot of what women are taught, too. We want to be beautiful and we want to be glamorous, and that costs money. So I think we've got both of those things going. That's certainly been my experience, anyway.
Like many gay men, I had a stunted romantic development. Even at Berkeley, there weren't that many out gay guys. The only place for me to meet guys was going out in San Francisco -- not a safe, collegiate environment [and a] dangerous, grown-up world I wasn't ready for. So it wasn't such a stretch from getting wasted and sleeping with random guys in the Castro to being in downtown San Francisco and getting guys to pay me for it.
What's your biggest splurge been, generally?
It's the quantity, it's the day-to-day, and it's been mismanagement. The truth is, I spend so much money on overdraft fees, interest, late charges and penalties. If you took all of that out of the picture, the amount of money I actually spend per month might not be so terrible. It's a constant hemorrhage. Honestly, my favorite shopping is Duane Reade. I go in there and I'm literally high. I can't walk out of there without spending at least $100, and I live for it. Nothing makes me happier than to just walk out of Duane Reade with one of those big shopping bags. When I'm in Duane Reade, I'm living the dream.
Why do you think your financial issues have been a bigger struggle for you compared to drugs and alcohol?
I was a crazy alcoholic and drug abuser, but then I got sober. I know a lot of people have a really difficult time, but it was very easy for me to give up drugs and alcohol and my life has been so much better and I'm much happier. But money…it's been a day-to-day struggle and I just keep coming up short.
I always think that looking at financial problems [as an addiction] is similar to an eating disorder. Unlike drugs and alcohol, you can't quit. I have a very black-and-white personality…I was a huge drinker, and I'm a huge non-drinker. It was easy for me to change the channel. But you have to spend money if you live in the world. You have to spend money and you have to earn money.
What would you say is the ultimate message of "Bad With Money"?
I think money is just such a taboo. I'm an alcoholic in recovery, and I've noticed that it's very easy to talk about that in the world, not just because I'm open about it, but it's just out there. People talk about it. That's not true of money at all. I hope that people who see my show will talk about money, and I hope it'll open them up to being more communicative with the people in their lives and with themselves about money. I think that can only be a good thing.
Ben Rimalower's "Bad With Money" plays New York's Duplex Cabaret Theatre through Nov. 6. For more information, head here.
This interview has been edited for content and length.