Finding the right gift for even your closest of friends or loved ones can sometimes be a real slog. Gift certificates feel too impersonal, while greeting cards come off as too generic. Comedians – and twin brothers – Adam and Todd Stone, however, have come up with a novel idea to celebrate one’s nearest and dearest: by being as mean as they want to be.
To be fair, that’s a bit of an overstatement. But the brothers’ have created Laughcake, a new company that allows people to hire professional comedians to "roast" their friends. Users can indicate how harsh or benign they want the comedians to be - from gentle ribbing to raucous digging.
The Stone brothers’ comedy act, called "Stone and Stone," dates back to their days at Wesleyan University. Their burgeoning career has continued in New York, where the two have hosted a regular show at the People’s Improv Theater (PIT) for five years, and have been members of the Friars Club for just as long.
After performing on a "comedy night" show at an Upper East Side social club, a member approached the two and inquired if they would perform at a private dinner party she was hosting to celebrate her 40th wedding anniversary. She also asked if they would pepper their act with personal details about her and her husband's life. The Stones said yes and a crowd of 20 well-heeled older guests loved it. This gig led to several Park Avenue dinner party gigs, and also led Todd to think about ways to market their skill beyond the ultra-rich set in New York. “If people enjoy this and we get paid well, why couldn’t we do this for more people and do it online?”
And so Laughcake was born. The service itself is fairly simple. Customers wishing to purchase a video go to Laughcake.com, where they can select a specific performer from a menu of comedians; each comedian's profile includes a photo and brief biography. Each comedian also has at least one sample "Laughcake" video to view. Stone and Stone, of course, are also on this list.
Customers can then choose either a “slam/cheer,” a one-minute custom-made video for $29.99, or a “roast/toast,” a two-and-a-half-minute custom-made video, which gives them the chance to preview and request an edit of their video gift, for $89.99. (At either price, the customer gets to preview the video, but only on the “roast/toast” can they request an edit.) The customer provides personal details about the subject by completing an online form, and the chosen comedian uses this as material for the usually celebratory video.
“We usually work with whatever they give us,” Todd said. “Some people get really excited and provide paragraphs, and some include just a few sentences.” In those cases, the Stones say that they might follow up with the customer to request some more details to enhance the roast.
It is also in the hands of the customer to determine just how naughty or nice the video should be based on how they think the recipient will tolerate it. “They can tell us just how edgy they want us to get,” Todd added. The turnaround time for a Laughcake video, which is currently delivered via a link to a private YouTube video, or via DVD for an additional fee, is just a few days. Payment is made via PayPal. So far, most videos have been ordered for friend's birthdays and anniversaries, but have also included “get well” and “Happy Mothers’ Day” messages.
Laughcake is very respectful of the guidelines it receives, and works within the parameters set by the purchaser. “We once got a request from someone who indicated ‘roasty’ for his stepson’s twentieth birthday,” Todd said, “but asked that we not mention anything about drinking, since he had had a drinking problem. So we didn’t.” So far, the brothers say, “We’ve gotten great feedback.”
About 100 Laughcakes exist, and while Stone and Stone remain the central performers, the lineup of available Laughcake roasters includes the following five other professional acts at the moment: Angry Bob, Tyler Gildin, Sheba Mason, “Rhoda from Florida” (actually performed by Brent Katz), and Doug Smith. “We want to include more,” Adam said, with Todd adding that they “are working with comedians we trust and have worked with before. We’re curating the site right now, but maybe in the future it will grow so that anyone can join.” Adam and Todd also hope that, since the comedians are getting paid, they will have an incentive to promote Laughcake.com on their own.
In order to increase visibility, the Stones have launched a stand-up comedy tour, called “Laughcake LIVE,” that will feature comedians available for hire on Laughcake.com. The tour will commence with a performance at ImprovBoston on September 20th, coinciding with the Boston Comedy Festival. The tour, which is planned to continue through the fall and into 2013, will promote traveling performers as well as local comedians that customers can find and hire on the site as well.
More information about how to order a Laughcake as well as the “Laughcake LIVE” tour can be found at www.laughcake.com.