Cameo, The Fat Jew, T.J Miller and the Not So High Cost of "Celebrity" Interaction
Many, many years ago my friend Claire bought me a message from The Incredible Hulk star Lou Ferrigno wishing me a happy trip to Europe. This was so long ago that I’m pretty sure it was an answering machine message and also I could afford to go to Europe.
She bought it through a service that allowed fans to procure personalized voicemail messages from C-list celebrities for something like twenty to sixty dollars. I enjoyed a guilty laugh from the message, in part because it was so incomprehensible that I might not even have figured out that it was Lou Ferrigno wishing me a nice vacation unless Claire had told me herself.
I’m not sure why that particular business failed but the fundamental idea behind it, at once solid, schlocky and more than a little exploitative, has been re-born in the much buzzed-about, much mocked form of Cameo, a Chicago-based service that affords fans the opportunity to purchase personalized video messages from celebrities who run the gamut from Brett Favre to the Fat Jew.
I mention Brett Favre partially because he recently got into trouble when white supremacists tricked him into making an anti-semitic video. As the old saying goes, you can get up at any time of the day and still be able to trick ol’ Brett Favre. To put things in Smash Mouth terms, he ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed.
For five hundred dollars, you can get the NFL legend to wish you a happy hunting season, or a joyful Kristallnacht. For one hundred and twenty five more dollars you can buy the temporary services of actor, comedian, Emoji Movie star, accused sex criminal, fake bomb-threat-maker and all around terrible human being T.J Miller. Six hundred and twenty five dollars! That’s one hundred and twenty five dollars more than one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
The Fat Jew at least has the humility, as well as the unmitigated gall to “only” charge three hundred and twenty-five dollars for a message, but I’m guessing at least some of that goes to a legal fund to pay off the various people the rotund walking punchline has plagiarized/is plagiarizing.
Then there’s Chris D’Elia, who charges a cool thousand dollars to look into an iPhone and mumble a brief message. I doubt that even D’Elia imagines his time is worth twice as much as Favre’s, since, in an impressive display of honesty, under his picture on the site are the words, "Comedian - I ain’t doin’ this shit for less than 1k.”
In that respect, I wonder if D’Elia’s price is specifically meant to deter customers rather than encourage them. I can see this being the kind of thing a celebrity’s manager or agent might encourage them to do for the sake of connecting with fans more directly, or possibly because they get a cut of the proceeds.
Some celebrities are predictably unavailable for the moment, like Nancy Cartwright. As a longtime cast member of The Simpsons, she has literally hundreds of millions of dollars, assuming Scientology hasn’t taken it all.
I remember hearing about Cameo on The Best Show so I was surprised to discover that there were a few people on Cameo in the general orbit of Tom Scharpling’s comedy institution, like Dave Hill, Kurt Braunholer and Jen Kirkman. I was even more surprised to see a pair of cult rappers I adore, Ras Kass and Count Bass D, selling personalized messages for ten to fifteen dollars.
The fascinating, and sad, and revealing part of Cameo is that it monetizes fame and celebrity so nakedly and overtly. The celebrities and “celebrities” of Cameo, who include tellingly named Youtube cut-ups like Granny Potty Mouth and Emilia Fart are putting a very literal price on their time and their dignity. If the price is too high, as in the case of Miller and Fat Jew, then they look like arrogant, sleazy, exploitative jackasses who think way too highly of themselves. If you set the price too low, then you risk looking desperate and small-time.
There’s something humanizing as well as sad about Cameo but the truth is that I would do it myself if it were an option, and though there’s a form on the website to apply to join its roster of talent I am nowhere near famous enough for even these bottom feeders to want to take me on. I’m no Granny Potty Mouth, Emilia Fart or Kevin Federline. I’m not even a Joe Bob Briggs, who is probably the Cameo celebrity closest to me.
That said, if you would like to procure a personalized video message from me for a one-time twenty dollar pledge to my Patreon, feel free to do so. I doubt that I will get many takers, or any at all, but there’s something weirdly appealing about this idea and the way it connects celebrities of various degrees of fame and desperation and want with fans willing to pay for a momentary connection.
If you want me to deliver some manner of hate speech or white supremacist message that’ll be an extra ten bucks. I have my dignity and my standards but not unlike Fat Jew, I also need to pay the bills in an increasingly impossible, increasingly gimmick-based economy.
Which Cameo celebrity would you want to deliver a message for you? Who seems the most insultingly over-priced? Under-priced? Correctly priced? Also, who would you want on here, other than Paul F. Tompkins, Bruce Campbell or Michael Shannon?
I make my living through Patreon, so if you would like to pledge even a dollar over at http://patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace it’d be