Cameo is breaking down the barrier between fans and celebrities during coronavirus crisis
John Cleese will talk to you for $300 on the website Cameo(AFP Contributor/AFP via Getty Images)
With the entertainment business for now as defunct as the bird on the Monty Python dead parrot sketch — deceased, demised, passed on, expired, gone to see its maker — Python legend John Cleese has found a new way to interact with fans.
Taking a recommendation from Camilla, his stand-up comedian daughter, Cleese, 80, has become one of many celebrities to join the interactive greeting platform Cameo.
For $300, fans can send Cleese instructions to create personalized messages of their choosing. It’s an artist/fan relationship that Cleese likens to his experience participating in comic cons around the world.
“I used to find fan clubs and all of that stuff kind of vulgar,” Cleese laughed as he spoke with the Daily News.
“What I realized was it wasn’t as much exploiting fans as it was giving them an experience that they really enjoyed and were very happy to pay for. That was a learning experience,” he said.
Cleese — “typically responds in three days,” Cameo’s site says — thinks his messages leave fans happier than the Michael Palin character who paid him for an argument in another famous Python sketch (“This isn’t an argument. It’s just contradiction!” “No it isn’t.” “Yes, it is!”).
“When I started doing Cameos, I was very touched by just how enthusiastic people were... it makes a difference to people. It lifts their spirits.”
Still the skeptic, Cleese compares this new platform as a “manifestation of celebrity culture” which he finds to be “fundamentally insane.”
But he concedes it’s something that has always been around. “Even the Roman emperors had their faces on coins," he says.
“What I’ve discovered, is that it seems to be quite a good trade-off for what they pay — which seems to be a lot — they are very happy and enlivened by the contact.”
The site has a wide variety of talent to choose from, with varying prices. At one end, you could book a greeting from SNL cast member Melissa Villaseñor for $50 or a message from NFL legend Brett Favre for $250.
While some celebrities gravitate towards the site for an opportunity to make money as their work has dried up in the pandemic, others have joined as a way to raise funds and awareness for charities benefiting those who have lost work due to the shutdown.
Curb Your Enthusiasm star Susie Essman has been creating videos for $375 apiece to raise money for The Actors Fund, For Everyone in Entertainment.
Essman — “typically responds in one day,” according to the site — states that she’d be happy to call someone a “fat f--k,” as she did her husband Jeff on Curb Your Enthusiasm.
“The possibilities are endless … If you need me to be nice — I could do that,” she says on the site. “But who really wants that?”
“I’m very happy to have raised money for charity through Cameo and also thrilled to be able to make people laugh while we are all dealing with this crazy stuff,” Essman told The News.
According to CEO Steven Galanis, the need for human interaction during this time has resulted in a 500% increase in demand on the site.
“We always felt really bullish about the potential of Cameo,” says Galanis, “But I think COVID and shelter in place have in many ways, turbocharged our business and almost taken us like two to three years in the future.”