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 percent of every transaction.
The app’s political section accounts for less than 0.15 percent 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 Trump’s critics, is adult-film star Stormy Daniels, who didn’t even know she appears in the politics category on Cameo until I told her.
“That’s funny,” said Daniels. “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.
For Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren, who has been on the app for a few months, politics is key to her message. For $60 per video, she wishes people a happy birthday or congratulations for a wedding or anniversary and, almost always, mentions Trump, conservatism or the 2020 election. “One of the big things people have been asking for is for me to say, ‘No collusion, no obstruction, Trump 2020,’ ” Lahren told me.
She says she gets up to 10 requests a day and plans to use the money she earns to fund her upcoming wedding. She chose her $60 price point because “a lot of people who are requesting me can’t afford something more expensive” and “often just need a few words of encouragement.”
Some users are looking to get more out of the experience than just a smile on their dad’s face. Shane Bouvet, a conservative author, hired Lahren to send himself — and his upcoming book — a shout-out. In the video, Lahren congratulates him, thanks him for loving his president, and — naturally — mentions she’s excited to read his book. “I use Cameo as a way anyone would use social media,” Bouvet explains. “And in this case, I used it as a platform to generate more buzz about my upcoming book.”
When I asked Galanis whether these videos could be considered commercial endorsements, he said no and pointed to Cameo’s terms of service, which prohibit anyone from sending “advertising or commercial communications.” In his mind, they’re just shout-outs.
However, he says, he has gotten interest from political campaigns and sees a not-too-distant future in which candidates join Cameo as a way to both raise money and build relationships with supporters. “You go to a fundraising dinner with Elizabeth Warren, and you pay upwards of $10,000 for personal time with her,” Galanis notes. “Or you spend four hours to stand in line for a selfie. This is really just helping to democratize that.”
For Scaramucci, Cameo has not been especially lucrative. He said he donates his earnings to the Brain Tumor Foundation. “It’s been fun, and it’s been entertaining. In some ways it’s the new autograph,” Scaramucci told me. “I don’t take myself that seriously. Some guys ask me for advice, many ask how I got pulled out of the White House, and I’ve only been asked to call myself an a--hole four or five times. Plus, it’s all for charity!” Before ending his conversation with me, he added, “If your mom has a birthday coming up, tell her she can book me!”
Kalina Newman is a writer in Washington.