In 2004, Stuart Schuffman was 22, just out of college and working in a North Beach chocolate store when he decided to be a travel writer and started a zine called “Broke-Ass Stuart’s Guide to Living Cheaply in San Francisco.”
Today, he and collaborators run brokeassstuart.com, a progressive news, arts, nightlife and culture website serving The City and the greater Bay Area since 2008.
“If I knew then that I’d still be doing this 16 years later, I might have chosen a different name,” says Schuffman, who’s promoting the virtual “Broke-Ass Stuart’s 40th Birthday Roast” at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 16, a free fundraising event with donations small and large encouraged.
“It’s hard to get advertising when you have the words ‘broke’ and ‘ass’ in your name,” he explains. “Also, the brand has evolved as I have evolved and grown up as a person. At the beginning it was about where to eat and drink cheaply, and while that’s still part of it, it’s really and truly evolved into a community resource and a voice for people who don’t always get to be heard.”
But because changing the name would cost a lot and likely mean he’d lose web traffic, he won’t. “It’s crazy how much of my life I’ve spent trying to please an algorithm,” he says, “We’re at the whims of this black box that nobody knows how to appease.”
Still, he’s honored to have his family, fiancée, colleagues and friends in the lineup of guests from San Francisco’s “great community of cool creative people” at his online party, including: roast master Luna Malbroux, drag artist Peaches Christ; blogger The Bitchy Waiter; San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney; comedians Irene Tu, Nato Green and Stroy Moyd; writers Heather Knight and Peter Kane, performers Jamie DeWolf, Kat Robichaud and Scott Levkoff; and, appearing in her second Broke-Ass roast, activist nun Sister Roma.
For Schuffman, whose Broke-Ass Stuart column has run in the Examiner since 2015, the roast format is all in fun.
“I’ve got thick skin at this point. I’m a loudmouth Jew. I’m smart, opinionated and I’ve got a platform. It makes me dangerous to other people and to myself,” he says, adding, “There’s plenty of people who don’t like me and that’s fine.”
He even jokes that copies of his first zine still in his closet might be worth something someday, “when the white supremacists finally kill me.”
But he’s had a good journey since his days at Z. Cioccolato (“It’s still there”), including a Lonely Planet-sponsored trip to Ireland; a year-long stint in New York, during which he wrote a guidebook to living cheap in that city; a run for San Francisco mayor in 2015; and, in 2011, the documentary TV show “Young, Broke & Beautiful” on IFC.
“I got to travel around the U.S. and explore the weird and wonderful in different cities. I even have an IMDB page, but unfortunately not a SAG union card,” he says, adding that one episode of the show, in San Diego, where he grew up, is on YouTube.
But today the San Francisco resident is focused on maintaining his web business, which has lost half its income since the pandemic hit, and its mission to be a voice for working people. Though no donation is too small, he says “in a dream world, we’d be able to raise $10,000,” mentioning that 10 percent of proceeds from the roast will go to the Coalition on Homelessness.
Schuffman also puts a plug in for savesfnews.com, a recent fundraising effort to benefit 16 local independent news outlets, he says, for “anybody who cares about a diversity of voices in local media.”
Looking forward to “having a hell” of a 40th birthday on Wednesday – he says if it weren’t for COVID-19, he’d be in New Orleans renting a house with a bunch of friends, getting crazy – Schuffman is making the best having the ability to gather online during in 2020.
In 2019, he celebrated at Spec’s in North Beach with Golden Boy pizza on a Sunday afternoon — the only time he could get people to show up for a birthday bash during their typically busy holiday season.
It’s a contrast to this year, where everything is weird, including his writing. He says, “My stuff is less local. I’m not being local. I’m living in my head, in my house. I’m used to going out and seeing people. I haven’t been to the Tenderloin in months. There’s always a gripe about something.”
IF YOU GO
Broke-Ass Stuart’s 40th Birthday Roast and Fundraiser
Presented by Chameleon Cold Brew
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 16 Pacific time
Tickets: Free, donations encouraged