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Cameo website connecting athletes, celebrities with quarantined fans

Pete Alonso of the Mets celebrates with Jeff

Pete Alonso of the Mets celebrates with Jeff McNeil after McNeil hit a home run in the sixth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on September 20, 2019 in Cincinnati. Credit: Getty Images/Jamie Sabau

A man asked Suzyn Waldman to give a pep talk to his wife, an emergency room nurse who cries when she comes home from work and misses her Yankees.

Another asked her to tell a rec league softball captain to stop drinking beer because he would be fat by the time the season started.

Many others have requested that she sing “Happy Birthday.”

So it has gone for Waldman since April 17, when the Yankees' radio announcer signed up for the website Cameo, which has seen its business skyrocket since mid-March during the COVID-19 lockdown.

That is understandable given its format: Celebrities of various levels and genres sign up, set a price and invite people to pay for a personalized video.

They get 75% of the proceeds for themselves and/or a charity, the company gets 25% and the customer gets a video keepsake of a milestone such as a wedding or graduation or perhaps just some razzing by a friend.

The concept worked fine when the company launched in 2017. It has worked even better since most Americans stopped leaving their homes — on both sides of the transaction.

“It is something to keep me busy,” said Waldman, who was encouraged to join by YES Network Yankees reporter Meredith Marakovits. “It makes me get up and comb my hair and actually get dressed.”

Cameo CEO Steven Galanis said that since mid-March, business is up 400% overall and sign-ups by video providers are up 200%, with the total roster now at more than 30,000.

“A lot of them said, ‘Hey, I want to come on for a couple of days because I miss connecting with my fans,’ ” Galanis said. “Then they try it and get hooked.”

Even though Cameo’s roots are sports-oriented — Galanis was a friend of former Knick Lance Thomas at Duke, and Thomas was an early investor — as it has evolved, only 10% to 15% of its current celebrity roster is sports-related.

But that roster has grown in recent weeks, adding the likes of the Mets’ Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil, former Giant Justin Tuck, baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson and media members such as Waldman and Kenny Albert.

Prices vary widely and are set by the celebrities. As of Tuesday, Alonso and Jackson went for $200 a video, Tuck $130, McNeil $120, Waldman $45 and Albert $40. (Caitlyn Jenner charges $2,500.)

For many celebrities, some or all proceeds go to charity, an approach that Galanis said has doubled in popularity since March. He also said that in that period, the average asking price for a video has fallen from $64 to $45.

“What we’re anecdotally hearing is that the talent understands that fans are hurting,” Galanis said. “There are 30 million people out of work, and they’re trying to make themselves more accessible, which is really cool.”

UFC Hall of Famer Matt Serra, who grew up in East Meadow and joined Cameo last year, said he has dropped his price from $69 to $40. “It’s harder times now,” he said.

Galanis said the site’s original vision was to provide supplemental income for athletes who were not stars but for whom there might be a market. “Imagine the 15th-best Seattle Seahawk defender, people like that,” he said.

Again, the idea was “supplemental income,” not making participants rich.

Serra first became active while on a family trip to Disney World.

“I started banging out shout-outs and this and that and I’m like, ‘Man, this is great, it’s paying for the [expletive] Mickey pretzels,’ ” he said. “So I remember it was fantastic. It’s a win-win. It’s fun . . . Listen, it’s pocket change at the end of the day, but it’s fun.”

It also can help others. Alonso says a portion of his proceeds go to his “Homers for Heroes” foundation.

Albert said he was inspired to join by a group of Washington, D.C.-area media members who did it for charity, so he has given away the $1,100 or so he has earned in his first five weeks on the site to charities serving COVID-19 needs.

Galanis said consumers can submit scripts of up to 250 characters, with rules against nudity, inciting violence or hate speech. “Cameo is a place for love,” he said.

In 2018, Brett Favre was duped into reciting coded anti-Semitic sentiments. But Galanis said problems with content are exceedingly rare.

For the past eight weeks, Cameo most of all has been an online gathering spot for a disjointed world, a place where celebrities, as Galanis put it, “are able to put a smile on their fans’ faces even in a time of social distancing.”

The range of requests has both amused and heartened participants.

Albert did play-by-play for an 18th birthday in which the parents asked that their son be put on a line with the Rangers’ Artemi Panarin and Kaapo Kakko and to score in overtime in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.

He also got a request from a Long Island principal asking him to thank his staff for all they have done in teaching students online, and one from a local hospital asking him to thank support workers by name.

Said Serra: “Most of them are just positive birthday shout-outs, or shout-outs during the quarantine, like if somebody has the blues, that type of thing.”

Waldman said she has been moved by the stories she has heard and people she has reached. And she knows some fans accustomed to hearing her talk about the Yankees at this time of year at least want to hear her talk about something.

“Radio is different from anything else,” she said. “It’s a voice. It’s a companion. It can be in the background. A radio baseball announcer, you become part of it, you really do.

“When people say, ‘I miss hearing your voice,’ I understand on all kinds of levels what that means.”

New York Sports