In a 60-second video, Anthony Scaramucci sits in his kitchen and calls out a man named Ed for bailing on his friend Dan. “You’ve dodged him like five times. You say you’re flying to New York, then you can’t meet. ... I don’t get it, brother,” the former White House communications director says, shaking his head. “When Dan’s calling, you gotta pick up the phone.” The video ends with a playful diss to Ed’s beloved Purdue University football team. “I don’t know enough about the team, to be honest, but I love giving guff.”
The video feels like you’re eavesdropping on a message Scaramucci has left for a close friend. But he doesn’t know Ed or Dan or any of the more than two dozen people he’s made videos for. Instead, he recorded them for strangers, who each paid $100 for a minute-long personalized video.
All of this is facilitated by Cameo, an app made by a Chicago-based company that lets users buy an exclusive, personally scripted shout-out clip from more than 20,000 celebrities, ranging from NFL athletes like Ray Lewis to actresses like Jennifer Love Hewitt to the guy who used to play the Most Interesting Man in the World for Dos Equis. And now, because it’s 2019 and why not, there’s an entire politics section where people can pay to feel closer to a small selection of political titans. (For our purposes, please count “The Mooch” among the titans.)
Cameo launched in April 2018, and recently raised $50 million from investors. Although the company wouldn’t disclose revenue numbers, over a quarter of a million people have paid celebrities from all walks of life to wish them a happy birthday, to make fun of their friend’s fantasy football draft, or even to reveal the sex of their baby. Prices typically range from $15 to $350, and Cameo pockets 25% of every transaction.
The app’s political section accounts for less than 0.15% of the 20,000 personalities (or “talent”) available to record a message. And yet, according to Cameo chief executive and founder Steven Galanis, the politicos fit right in. “From the very beginning, we always wanted to have anyone with fans be on the app,” he says. “Politicians are rock stars. They always have been. I absolutely believe anyone who is big on social media can use this as a way to get back to their fans with one-on-one interaction.”
So far, Cameo’s political talent, which includes comedians and radio personalities, is overwhelmingly conservative. (This is happenstance, Galanis says, adding that the app’s management team is “as bipartisan as it gets.”) As of October, the most prominent figure associated with liberals, or at least President Donald Trump’s critics, is adult-film star Stormy Daniels, who didn’t even know she appears in the politics category on Cameo until she was told about it.
“That’s funny,” said Daniels (whose real name is Stephanie Clifford). “It doesn’t seem accurate. ... But I don’t suppose I mind being in that company. I met the Mooch one time. He seemed like a nice guy.”
Daniels charges $250 for her videos, in which she wishes people happy birthday, shouts out bachelor parties, and often ends with a seductive wink or smile. “It’s a super fun way to connect with fans, and I especially love seeing reaction videos, the look on someone’s face when they get a surprise birthday or wedding greeting or whatever from me,” she says.