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Clark: Comic finds new feline to tickle fancies, ivories

Charlie Schmidt and Keyboard Cat.
Charlie Schmidt and Keyboard Cat.

One of the planet’s most beloved figures is back in Spokane after a three-day visit to Hollywood where he earned $25,000 by appearing in his first major television commercial.

Meow.

This is not a story about the typical show business A-lister.

The star here is a cute and furry orange tabby known to millions upon millions of Internet junkies.

Keyboard Cat.

The famous feline will appear in an upcoming national network ad campaign for Wonderful Pistachios, joining such human luminaries as comedian Lewis Black, Snooki Polizzi, the reality show superskank, and others.

Oh, and the aforementioned kitty we’re talking about? He’s actually Keyboard Cat 2.0.

To recap a bit of history …

My pal Charlie Schmidt, a Spokane artist, created the original cat-playing-piano video waaay back in the 1980s.

Heck, 10 years have passed since Fatso, the video’s unorthodox keyboardist, went on to his much-deserved catnip reward.

The video only became a sensation about two years ago. This was due to a combination of YouTube exposure and being tagged onto countless other videos as a visual punch line.

Trendsetters like Ashton Kutcher and the rock band Green Day also helped turn Keyboard Cat into an iconic piece of pop culture.

Keyboard Cat has even made it into “Jeopardy” as a question, for crying out loud.

Charlie’s original video is currently approaching the 10 million play mark. It consistently ranks at the top (or near-top) of lists for all-time Internet videos.

Some have called Keyboard Cat “the Mickey Mouse of the Internet.”

Faced with such success and commercial possibilities, Charlie decided last March to find a Fatso lookalike. Just maybe they could conjure up another lightning bolt of cyber magic.

It makes total sense. America’s favorite dog Lassie was really one mutt of many, after all.

“I got to thinking maybe I could do this again,” said Charlie, who began to haunt the animal shelters in search of a purr-fect partner.

Charlie interviewed scores of cats, finally settling on a small orange tabby with a docile and gregarious attitude.

He picked him up. He cuddled the critter. Charlie softly massaged the front kitty paws.

This is a vital part of the audition. Because I hope I’m not the first to point out that cats DON’T PLAY THE PIANO!!

It is Charlie, off camera, who gently manipulates his little friend’s front legs.

A lot of cats, he said, will freak out if you do that.

This kitty, however, loved the attention. Or maybe it really was Fatso reincarnated. (Cats do supposedly have nine lives, you know.)

Either way, Charlie was sold.

He agreed to the adoption and christened the cat Bento for a couple of reasons.

First, the word means lunchbox in Japanese, which is cute and quirky.

Plus the name is in honor of my son, Ben, who manages Charlie’s Keyboard Cat career.

I know. It’s a crazy small world sometimes. But this has turned into a business. The cat also has an L.A.-based entertainment lawyer.

“I had a cat, a keyboard and a camera and an active imagination,” said Charlie, who came up with his first Keyboard Cat video during the Reagan presidency.

(Check out the Keyboard Cat fun at www.keyboardcat.net.)

Charlie is a comic genius who has connected twice on a global level.

The first came with his now-famous dancing nose act. Miming songs while manipulating his nose rhythmically against a sheet of glass has propelled Charlie to “The Tonight Show” twice and to venues from Istanbul to Montreal.

Then came the Keyboard Cat phenomenon.

The first video starring Bento is already nearing 2 million hits. Bento was also used in a Microsoft online campaign for the launch of Windows 7 as well as the commercial for Wonderful.

The original Keyboard Cat images have popped up in a myriad of things: a feature film, television shows like “American Dad” and even some ads for an Australian telecommunications firm.

Charlie said Bento enjoyed his trip to La La Land.

Out of his carrier cage, the cat was free to roam his hotel room and gaze out the window at the landmark Capitol Records building.

In the studio he got the job done without throwing a hissy fit so typical of most stars. He even patiently endured an interview by Perez Hilton, the celebrity scandal-blogger.

“Bento and I have become really close,” Charlie said. “Probably closer than I’ve ever been with any other cat.”

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at dougc@spokesman.com.


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