On a sunny fall day last September, I returned to my apartment from running errands and bumped into one of the building’s residents coming out. Tall and polite, my neighbor held the door as I walked up. “Hi, I’m Ben,” he said, and introduced himself as a new tenant in our building.
I saw Ben here and there over the course of the next year — coming, going, grabbing mail, on the staircase. He was a bright, friendly presence, always eager to say hello, never pouting or dour as I myself tend to be. An apartment building — full of residents of all ages and backgrounds, living their own private and insane lives — is rich with potential, secrets, and drama. So imagine my surprise at New York’s first look at Freeform’s “Dimes Square Reality Show” The Come Up when a photo of my neighbor Ben Hard appeared across my Twitter feed.
The Come Up is less a Dimes Square (the nouveau downtown NYC alternative to the downtown NYC alternative art scene, funded, in part, by VC capital) reality show and more of a nicecore look at New York creative life, told through the eyes of six early-20somethings just trying to figure it out. There’s model Fernando (son of Elite Model Management’s John Casablancas, brother to Julian Casablancas of The Strokes), charismatic and hilarious actor Claude, fashion line director Taofeek, steadfast photographer Sophia, life-of-the-party Ebon, and my neighbor, Ben Hard, a recent transplant from San Antonio.
A handful of episodes into The Come Up confirm what I suspected to be true about my neighbor, Ben Hard: he is nice, generous, supportive, and possibly also bisexual. Through the first part of The Come Up’s first season, Ben, who works in food service, tries out several new-to-him artforms: acting, stand-up comedy, kissing boys. I thought, I wonder if Ben would like to talk about his new reality show? I left a post-it on his door and the rest, as they say, was history.
This interview has been condensed for clarity and edited to remove building-specific information.
Gawker: Hi Ben. Can you tell me a bit about how you got involved with The Come Up?
BH: I was here maybe four months into being in New York. I saw this post on Backstage, the casting website, that was advertising for a new docu-reality TV show about young creatives in the city. I thought, “that’s me, let’s try it.” Over the course of a few months and four interviews, some up to an hour long, and I told them my life. It was a pretty traditional casting process.
Gawker: You talk in early episodes about bringing a sense of Southern niceness to New York, maintaining your roots. Have you been here a year now?
BH: Yeah, as of September 4th. A year and a week or so.
Gawker: Has New York rubbed off on you?
BH: So many ways… that New York has rubbed off on me… [laughs]
Gawker: Did you become mean?
BH: No, I haven’t become mean. I don’t know if that will ever happen to me, unfortunately.
Gawker: I think that’s fine! The show depicts you trying out all these art forms — acting, comedy, you’re a really good dancer. Is there one that calls to you specifically, or do you aspire towards something more multidisciplinary?
BH: I would love to be on a multidisciplinary track, combining my interests into something. I’m inspired by writers/actors, or singer/songwriters. Comedy has been good because life is crazy! This show and other New York experiences have been things I’ve just never done anywhere else in my life. Comedy helps with that. “What is this? What am I doing?”
Gawker: Comedy is almost therapeutic?
BH: Yeah, as is therapy. [laughs]
Gawker: The show has been out a week or so now. Are you watching?
BH: Yes! For sure.
Gawker: Has it changed your perception of yourself? How do you feel watching yourself on it?
BH: It feels so weird to watch myself. I just question who I am, generally. This is feeding into that pot.
Gawker: That’s part of your arc on the show too.
BH: My self-discovery.
Gawker: There’s a moment in the sixth episode where you mention some hesitancy around the label of “bisexuality.” There’s a prickliness around that label: people who would rather be “queer” than “bisexual.”
BH: Yeah, I think our generation is so prickly and questioning everything going on around us. It’s even more heightened when, like, talking to my cousin, she’s in her early 40s, and she hears me talking about my open relationship, she’s like, “this open relationship stuff that you guys are doing is so b.s.” Stuff like that. I’m fine with calling myself bisexual if that’s easiest. I don’t feel the need to and go out and yell to the world, “I’m bisexual! I’m out, I’m open.”
Gawker: Did you know it’s bisexual awareness week?
BH: This week?! Oh shit! I gotta hit the streets.
Gawker: We have to get you on a float or something.
BH: I could be the new face of not saying, “I’m bisexual.” The face of confusion.
Gawker: The show is centered on the downtown New York lifestyle, which has been the subject of a lot of media fascination. Were you aware of any of that scene before you moved out here?
BH: Not really, honestly. Even now, I don’t really hang out in Dimes Square. That area has been a cool place to meet some other young, multidisciplinary folks, and when I see that, it makes me want to just deviate in my own Ben type of way.
Gawker: Is your family watching? Do they have thoughts?
BH: Oh yeah, my family is watching. They think it’s fantastically done. Of course, when it was happening, they were like, “you’re on a reality TV show. Be careful.” My friends were like, “you’re so naive.” When I did comedy once, the host described me as a golden retriever. Everyone sees me like that, so they were like, “be careful!” But now they’re happy with it.
Gawker: One of the biggest surprises for me as a viewer was how nice the show is.
BH: It’s a nice show.
Gawker: Everyone seems so sweet. I thought maybe my parents should be watching this so they can get comfortable with me having a freelancer’s lifestyle…
Gawker: Does anyone on The Come Up pay for their own health insurance?
BH: [laughs] I don’t think so.
Gawker: One of my friends from back home has been watching as well, and I asked her if she wanted to ask you anything —
Gawker: Her big question was basically: “Drop the hair routine.”
BH: Drop the hair routine? Aw! [laughs] Dude, I just bought a nice conditioner, and I try not to use the shampoos that lower your sperm count.
Gawker: [laughs] Using a shampoo that allows you to maintain sperm count. How often are you shampooing?
BH: Whenever it feels necessary. There’s no regimen. I don’t straighten my hair. A lot of people think I do, but…
Gawker: Okay, I think we have to address the elephant in the room which is that we’re neighbors. Without doxxing either of us, I feel like it’s safe to say we live in the same building.
BH: We 100 percent live in the same building.
Gawker: I would see you all the time, long before I ever saw you on Freeform. Did you spend time shooting in our building?
Gawker: When the hell — where was I?
BH: March/April. They were in our unit. We did some stuff on the roof. We shot in our deli, which didn’t get used.
Gawker: I don’t think we have roof access…
BH: You can totally go up on the roof.
Gawker: Did you run into anyone in the building when you were shooting The Come Up?
BH: Yes, we ran into the person I share a wall with — she and I have some noise tension with each other. She thinks I’m loud, but I’m not.
Gawker: Does she know you’re the star of a TV show?
BH: I think I should tell her. I think that would get her to cool down a little. Like, “hey, sweetie, I’m a star.”
Gawker: Do you think anyone else in our building is watching?
BH: I don’t think I’ve done the due diligence of informing everybody. We should have building watch parties.
Gawker: Do you think me living in our building informed your role?
BH: Oh yeah. Your presence in the building was very influential. You’re sort of a grounding presence; knowing you were close by and around made me feel safe.
Gawker: A lot of what’s crazy about this is that you are one of few neighbors in our building that I know. You introduced yourself to us. The apartment I share a wall with has had a few different groups of tenants, and I’ve met none of them.
BH: It’s a friendly building, but it’s not a community. Sometimes I help [redacted neighbor] with her groceries.
Gawker: Oh yeah, so have I.
BH: I was gonna help her rearrange her closet once, but that never happened.
Gawker: I have one last question. Final fun one. In the first episode, you ask Claude her favorite New York building. What’s your favorite New York building? And it can’t be our apartment building.
BH: I was gonna say that, so. Well, not the Brooklyn Tower, no offense. Not a big fan of the new Brooklyn Tower.
Gawker: I don’t know this tower.
BH: It always looks like it’s under construction. There’s a building with a clock down in DUMBO. I really like that building. I also really like the Empire State building, the Chrysler building. My favorite structure? The Williamsburg bridge. My favorite bridge. That’s the hill I’ll die on when it comes to New York structures.
Gawker: I won’t fight you on this, even though I’m a Brooklyn Bridge head.
BH: I don’t know, the Williamsburg bridge, it has all that graffiti. It’s the people’s bridge!
The Come Up airs Tuesdays on Freeform and Hulu.