Ben Rimalower on Being Gay and Bad With Money
After exploring his complicated relationships with his gay father and diva Patti LuPone in the 2012 solo hit Patti Issues, out playwright-performer Ben Rimalower cashes in on a long and storied struggle with overspending in his new autobiographical one-man show Bad With Money, which begins performances tonight and runs through November 6 at New York's Duplex Cabaret Theatre. Opening up about his addictive personality, Rimalower considers a connection between living as a gay man and living beyond his means.
The Advocate: What does it mean to be bad with money?
Ben Rimalower: It’s a label I gave myself decades ago in the shame of my constant compulsive overspending. It’s become an identity to fall back on in place of growing up and getting my shit together. At times I’ve even flown the banner with pride. It’s been a sickness. As an alcoholic in recovery, I see my financial issues as any other addiction, perhaps most like an eating disorder or sex/love addiction, because the goal isn’t — and can’t be — total abstinence. You have to spend money to live in the world. You have to develop some kind of healthy or at least functional relationship with these things. The black-and-white, all-or-nothing paradigm of drug and alcohol recovery comes much more easily to me. My fatal flaw in AA is my hubris; in DA — Debtors Anonymous — I may be the equivalent of the guy coming to the meeting drunk, but I’m humble!
Debt is universal, but one could argue there's added pressure for gay men to competitively indulge in luxuries like the hottest fashions, the coolest clubs, and exclusive gym memberships. How much do you equate your overspending with your identity as a gay man?
Personally, it’s hard for me to separate my money issues from my gayness, just as it’s hard for me to separate them from my being Jewish — or American. All these things about my identity feel linked and of a piece, part, and parcel of who I am. But I do see overspending a lot among my gay friends. I think men are raised to be big earners — success stories living the dream — and gay men in particular tend to live in metropolitan centers with more disposable income. Also, gay men are likely more in touch with traditional feminine ideals of beauty and glamour, and that can be pricey! When it comes to money, I guess gay men have the worst of both worlds.
Due to the very personal nature of this show, are there any details you’ve felt hesitant to discuss? I know that at one point you dabbled in prostitution to support your spending habits.
Oh, honey, I’ve been waiting to cash in on that salacious story since 1997! But there are things in the show that were of more concern for me — unethical things I’ve done involving friends and business associates, which I regret deeply and am not proud of at all, but I knew belonged in this play. I’ve always been extremely open about everything in my life — to a fault. As I discussed in my last show, secrets were a burden to me in my childhood, and I think my coping mechanism has always been to wear them on the outside.
The amazing Robin De Jesus, a Tony nominee for In the Heights and La Cage aux Folles, replaced you in Patti Issues. Who could you see replacing you in Bad With Money?
You know, Robin was never someone I would have thought of to play me, but then he was an excellent choice for Patti Issues. We’ll have to see what would work in the context of Bad With Money — if, God willing, the show runs that long. I bet Wesley Taylor would be wonderful — or Michael Urie, if I could twist his arm to do another solo play so soon after his triumph in Buyer & Cellar.
Do you already have a third show in mind to complete a solo trilogy?
There are some ideas percolating. I had originally envisioned this show to focus more on love and sex, and that’s just not how it wound up coming together. Similarly, my original drafts of Patti Issues had more material on money, some of which is now in this one, so my next piece could be about love and sex. But who knows?
For tickets and more information visit BadWithMoney.net.