stop the presses

George Santos Knows He Deserves to Be a Star

Baby, remember my name.

George Santos on a Cameo for Shawn McCreesh, December 8, 2023. Photo: George Santos/Cameo
George Santos on a Cameo for Shawn McCreesh, December 8, 2023. Photo: George Santos/Cameo
George Santos on a Cameo for Shawn McCreesh, December 8, 2023. Photo: George Santos/Cameo

The clock should be ticking on George Santos’s quarter-hour of MAGA “It”-girl fame, and with even his own party kicking him to the congressional curb, it makes you wonder what could prolong, or transform, the public’s interest in him. “How do you fit this guy into the culture? Because we need him,” Michael Hirschorn, former head of programming at VH1, who oversaw Flavor of Love, Rock of Love, and I Love the ’80s, tells me with a laugh when I ask about Santos’s prospects. “He’s like Anthony Weiner times ten, in terms of the narcissistic aspect of it, but there’s just so much pleasure in watching him — the fashion, the cockiness, the unearned swag.”

As any Housewife or fallen televangelist will tell you, camp shamelessness can get you far. No wonder Santos is already a star on Cameo, charging $500 a pop. I’ve had a few in-person run-ins with him, the most recent of which occurred after he was expelled from Congress, but never a proper on-the-record interview. I came away thinking about Trump and how he has merged politics, infamy, and brazenness in a way that gave us Santos.

Back in 2016, it was said that Trump couldn’t win because he was an unserious reality-TV showboat. But running for president is the greatest reality-TV show in the world — what are the debates if not rose ceremonies? — so, as we have found out, Trump had the relevant experience for the job. In his wake, the world belongs to the beefers, the livestreamers, and the stunt queens: Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, and, yes, AOC. And then came Santos.

He had no constituency, policy goals, or résumé. But he is, in his way, a star. “Of course Santos can do something in show business,” says Bill Maher. “It’s the only other business besides politics where there are no rules or qualifications, just whether you can get people to support you.”

In other words, take the old Ronald Reagan line — “Politics is just like show business. You have a hell of an opening, coast for a while, and then have a hell of a close” — and update it for the influencer age. All that matters is keeping your audience engaged by any means necessary. He’s finally free of his constitutional responsibilities and ready to be America’s outrageous gay best friend. He’s smart enough to know he has to be in on the joke, and he’s very good at it. And so what if he’s a crook? It’s not like Omarosa and Jax Taylor built their brands on virtue (which is how they ended up on House of Villains). Certainly nobody thought Trump was a decent man.

Personally, I think Santos ought to team up with Boebert (they’re tight) for a new season of The Simple Life as the MAGA Paris and Nicole, but he’d better hurry. “He’s kind of fading into nostalgia in real time,” says Hirschorn. “So he has a window to capitalize now.” Maybe, he adds, that could be the pitch: “I think I could sell a commercial doc with him trying to figure out how he could get paid and what he does next.”

I put that to documentary filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, whose past subjects have included Pastor Ted Haggard and Jim McGreevey, but she wasn’t interested. “It’s not like he would tell you the truth,” she says. “America does love a redemption story, but redemptions take work, and I don’t think George Santos has ever worked a day in his life. He’s a cute meme, but it’s not a whole documentary.”

Maybe Broadway would be a better fit. Santos once claimed to be a producer of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. “He should be stunt-cast in Chicago,” suggests Mitchell Jackson, a publicist who has worked with fameball curiosities like Caroline Calloway. Santos is, of course, a perfect IRL Chicago character. As lawyer Billy Flynn tells the tabloid vixen with dreams of vaudeville fame, Roxie Hart: “It’s all a circus, kid. A three-ring circus. These trials — the whole world — all show business.”

Broadway impresario Rick Miramontez notes that the producers of that show “have had all kinds of, um, interesting people in Chicago just for the name value, and so many times it’s worked, and sometimes it’s been a train wreck and it’s worked even better, so not out of the question. And as Miss Patti LuPone revealed when she rescinded her Equity card, you do not have to be a member of Equity to appear on Broadway, so he can bypass that and go right to the stage.” Equity minimum pay is $2,439 a week, and Santos would presumably make more than that. If he can’t keep up with the Fosse choreography, playing in drag as Mama Morton might be a realistic option.

Others are already cashing in on the Santos story. Mark Chiusano, a journalist who covered Santos for Newsday, rushed out a book that was just optioned by HBO, which has the Santos camp fuming. “George doesn’t want Chiusano getting rich off his name,” says one former Santos staffer. Somewhat hilariously, this person feels that if there are any hacks who deserve to profit off his downfall, it ought to be Michael Gold and Grace Ashford of the New York Times, since they broke the story of his fraudulent lifestyle and led the rest of the media on it, or Jacqueline Sweet of Patch, because, the ex-staffer says, “she at least got some of the gritty, hard-to-get stories about stealing credit cards and the Burberry scarf and the dead charity dog. Chiusano slacked on the reporting.” (They’re also all rolling their eyes this week at Naysa Woomer, a former Santos communications director who has been getting booked on cable news to trash her old boss: “Everybody fucking hates her, and nobody will hire her ever again. She got caught talking shit about her boss to the media in a James O’Keefe video.”)

Chiusano chuckles at all this and says, “I could see him going into the podcast world. He’s a big podcast guy. I listened to hours and hours of podcasts he did on both of his campaigns, and he’s very good at it, and he kind of gets the patter, and he knows how to be funny and make jokes.” He adds, “There’s this whole tradition in New York politics of disgraced politicians going into media. Anthony Weiner has done it. I think Spitzer had a TV show at one point.” (He did, on CNN, from 2010 to 2011.) Many washed-up Republicans, such as Rudy Giuliani and Bill O’Reilly, end up with shows on 77-WABC radio, which is owned by the Gristedes billionaire John Catsimatidis. But he tells me he probably wouldn’t give Santos a show. “I’ve known Rudy for 30 years, and I’ve known Anthony Weiner for 30 years,” says Catsimatidis. “We still don’t know who this guy is. We’ve known him for about five minutes.”

“He’s a weird case,” Weiner says when I ask him what Santos should, or can, do next. “It seems like there’s a short-term leaning into the mockery thing that he’s doing, which, based on the Cameo stuff, seems to be working for him, but I think the guy is going to prison, so it’s kind of ignoring the elephant in the room to talk about his future career when he could be going away for a while.” (Still, if anything, Martha Stewart became even more iconic after her stint behind bars.)

And while he might have some endorsement potential for, say, a red-state brand like MyPillow, he will have trouble becoming a high-end influencer. As talent manager Kendall Werts put it: “I don’t even think Dolce & Gabbana would touch him.” But there are many ways to make it on the internet these days. On December 13, when someone on X asked him, “what is it you do for a living these days I forget,” he replied, “Live off of the awesome monetization your engagements on my timeline generates me.😘😘😘”

I learned my lesson after I paid for a Cameo in a prankish attempt to get Santos to go on the record. He fulfilled the Cameo request: “Hey, Shawn McCreesh, or should I say ‘McCreepy.’ I can’t believe you came on to my Cameo to ask for tea, and reference to the crappy story you wrote for New York Magazine, when I clearly told you I was not interested. But anyway, there’s always a will to a way and I guess your will was to pay me to tell you this on Cameo: Byeeee, Shawn, it ain’t gunna happpppppen.”

I shared it on my Instagram. Everyone thought it was really funny.

More on george santos

See All
George Santos Knows He Deserves to Be a Star