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Keyboard Cat is the nickname given to an orange tabby cat named Fatso, filmed in the mid-1980s by his owner, Charlie Schmidt. It has been used as an indicator of failure on forums and communities.
The original VHS footage of Fatso was recorded by performance artist Charlie Schmidt in 1984. He put the cat in a shirt belonging to his son Cody and manipulated his paws to make the cat appear to be playing the keyboard. On June 7th, 2007, Schmidt uploaded the video to his YouTube channel, originally titled “Cool Cat” where it sat in relative obscurity for another two years.
On February 2nd, 2009, YouTuber / blogger Brad O’Farrell posted a mashup video of a man falling down an escalator with Schmidt’s cat, entitled “Play him off, Keyboard Cat.” The idea of “playing someone off” came from the trope of “giving someone the hook” for a bad performance, a technique from Vaudeville shows. The original video has since been taken down from the original channel, but has been reuploaded by other users. According to The Guardian’s report, the original video was in fact produced decades ago and the cat died in 1987.
Following Brad O’Farrell’s original upload, many viewers created their own mashups, adding Fatso’s footage to the best of FAIL videos on YouTube and other video sharing sites. On April 6th, 2009, Schmidt created PlayHimOffKeyboardCat.com, a blog to host videos and images of the cat. On April 10th 2009, the video was featured on Buzzfeed and Urlesque, which was the first site to call it a meme. On April 18th, Keyboard Cat was defined on Urban Dictionary. On May 5th, 2009, Ashton Kutcher tweeted a link to a mashup, calling it his favorite video. At the time, he had over 1 million followers, bringing major attention to Fatso.
Throughout the month of May, the video was featured in a segment on CNN and various news sites, including the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, and MSNBC. Fatso reached an even larger audience when the “Keyboard Cat” song was featured on the May 18th, 2009 episode of the Daily Show. In November 2010, the Keyboard Cat video was recreated as a commercial for Wonderful Pistachios during the Major League Baseball World Series. In February 2011, Keyboard Cat was the subject of a Banksy-inspired spoof entitled “Exit Through the Pet Shop.” Made by Fatso’s owner, it showed the story of Bento, a distant relative of the original cat.
There are numerous parodies and re-enactment tributes as well, including one starring actor Ron Livingston.
Fanart & Merchandise
A wide range of fan art and merchandises have since emerged, including paintings, tee-shirts, and even a Halloween costume worn by Brad O’Farrell in 2009. A battery-operated toy doll resembling Fatso was introduced in October 2011.
Search for Keyboard Cat was meager in April 2009 but peaked in May 2009 when coverage of the video hit the mainstream media.
Los Angeles Times – Social Status: The guy who spread Keyboard Cat fever