In our snug conference room at Time Out Chicago headquarters in the Loop, comedian Mike Stanley surveyed the 20 or so staffers in attendance and quipped, “You managed to wrangle up everyone who reads and writes for the mag in one room.” It was a solid zinger and one of just many Stanley fired off for the next 15 minutes, most of them aimed at roasting our editor-in-chief, Frank Sennett. We invited Stanley to do so via CelebTango, a new service that delivers custom-made stand-up comedy routines via video chat. To my surprise, the formula works.
CelebTango is the brainchild of Cayse Llorens, a Chicago improviser and stand-up comedian with a background in consulting and software architecture. In 2011, Llorens invited several stand-ups from the downtown collective Comedians You Should Know to perform at an in-home birthday party. They killed. “It was radically different from going to the club,” Llorens says. “After the party we were all like, ‘Wow, that was crazy fun. We should do that again.’ ”
Earlier this year, Llorens decided to pursue the idea. Through the Lean Startup Machine Chicago competition, Llorens gained access to mentors and innovators who encouraged him to push ahead with the concept; by spring, CelebTango was born.
“Think Comedy Central meets Skype,” Llorens says. “You can have a comedian roast your friend for their bachelor or birthday party or just have a personal show for you and your friends on the fly in beautiful HD over a group video-chat platform.” Rates for a “tango” start at $199 for a 15–30 minute set. We decided to test it out.
Sennett agreed to a roasting at his expense. CelebTango’s site provides links to recent clips of its comedians (whom it calls celebrities), including Adam Burke, BaldHead Phillips, Megan Gailey and Joey Villagomez. I chose Mike Stanley (who delivered a deserved jab at me during the roast for the lack of coverage I’ve given him in TOC over the years). Next, we staffers supplied info about our boss’s quirks and foibles (including his love of junk food and social media).
We handled the tech through our director of IT, Fuzzy Gerdes, who says the setup, which uses Google+ Hangouts, is fairly simple. “Millions of people achieve that just through video chatting with their friends,” he says.
Despite his blah gray backdrop (which Stanley likened to Antarctica), the comedian warmed up our staff nicely with general jokes that segued into specific jabs at TOC and roastee Sennett that had us roaring, including the perfect title for our boss’s biography: Eating, Tweeting and Leading: My Road to Diabetes.
“It turned out about as well as I could’ve expected or hoped,” Sennett says. “If you have a good broadband connection and a comedian who’s a pro, which this guy was, I think it can work.” Staffers agreed. “It felt like he was in the room,” managing editor Brent DiCrescenzo says. Although we would’ve liked a longer tango (ours clocked in at just under 15 minutes) and a few more barbs aimed at our boss, the staff seemed generally pleased.
That’s good news for Llorens, who hopes to make CelebTango a national phenomenon that will revolutionize the way people experience comedy. “Hannibal Buress can be in his apartment in New York City, and he can be the one doing that tango right there,” he says. Buress, you say? That’s worth a second tango for sure.
For more info, visit celebtango.com.