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Charlie Schmidt holds Keyboard Cat, the feature actor in his YouTube videos, on Wednesday in his Spokane studio. (Jesse Tinsley)
Charlie Schmidt holds Keyboard Cat, the feature actor in his YouTube videos, on Wednesday in his Spokane studio. (Jesse Tinsley)

Doug Clark: Keyboard Cat halftime star of pup show

I probably don’t have to remind you that Sunday might be the biggest sports day in Washington history.

Most of you have already made plans to gather in front of the tube with your friends and your Cheetos so you can watch Spokane’s Keyboard Cat provide the halftime entertainment for Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl X.

The Puppy Bowl, for you nonsports fans, will air locally on Comcast channels 43 and 667-HD. (Check your listings for times.)

Oh, yeah. The Seattle Seahawks are playing Sunday in some other football show, too.

But Super Bowls come and go, while this Puppy Bowl is one for the ages, Charlie Schmidt said.

“Every year you can watch big men running into each other,” he added. “But this is the first year that you can see a cat really getting down on the ol’ eighty-eights.”

Schmidt could be accused of being a bit biased, of course.

The artist and my longtime pal is the genius behind the famed feline who has starred in TV and online commercials and is adored by millions upon millions of fans.

So huge is Keyboard Cat that he is now a brand, with a line of plush toys, T-shirts and trinkets galore.

And as long as we’re airing our personal connections, please note that my son, Ben, is the agent who makes these Keyboard Cat deals happen.

“I can’t explain it. I can’t take credit for it. I can’t understand it,” Schmidt said of the Keyboard cataclysm.

“I’m just as blown away as anybody. But I accept it.”

The Keyboard Cat story has, by now, become the stuff of Internet legends.

But here’s the gist of it:

Back in the 1980s, Schmidt borrowed a video camera from a friend and decided to make some art.

The “Dancing Nose” was the first thing he came up with.

Schmidt held a clean sheet of glass up to the tip of his rather long and malleable beak. Then he moved the glass while lip-synching the theme to “The Love Boat” TV show.

“Loooove, exciting and newwww …”

Since the glass was invisible, the effect of Charlie’s beezer bouncing without aid to the beat is startling and hilarious.

Not to mention lucrative. This seemingly simple bit of comedy put Schmidt on the “Tonight Show” and on stages from Tokyo to Istanbul, and stuffed his bank account, too.

Next up, he videotaped his cat, Fatso, playing a portable keyboard.

Schmidt dressed the docile critter in a blue baby shirt.

He ran a wood rod up each sleeve and, from a position off-camera, manipulated the kitty paws over the keys to a simple tune he concocted.

“Doot-doot doot …”

“I really need weird stuff to relieve my boredom,” explained Schmidt. “And the only way to get it was to make it.”

Since there was no Internet at the time, it took Keyboard Cat awhile to make it big.

That happened in 2009 after an Internet user snatched it off YouTube and tagged it to a dumb video he posted.

Boom!

Everybody suddenly went Keyboard Cat crazy, from Ashton Kutcher to Green Day to the “Jeopardy!” show, to …

The Keyboard Cat meme had taken off, with commercial opportunities close behind.

Trouble was, Fatso the cat had been dead over a dozen years.

There was only one thing to do.

“Get another cat,” Ben advised Schmidt.

He did. After days of haunting the animal shelters, Schmidt found a suitable Keyboard Cat 2.0, which he named Bento in honor of my son.

“Not all cats will do this,” Charlie said of his keyboard training.

No kidding.

On Wednesday, I drove up to Schmidt’s studio on the South Hill. The entertainer of this year’s Puppy Bowl was sporting a brand new Seahawks shirt.

“Oh, he’s definitely supporting the Seahawks,” Schmidt said.

It’s an exciting life being Keyboard Cat.

The cat and his owner, for example, just returned from the Internet Cat Vid Fest in Los Angeles.

The event was not only sold out but it even drew those pesky shutterbugs that Schmidt calls “the paw-parazzi.”

Good one.

Prior to that, Schmidt and KC spent a couple of weeks filming snippets and bits for the upcoming Puppy Bowl.

This was hard work. Schmidt filmed his cat in various poses and costumes in front of a green screen. This is so the backgrounds can be added later by Animal Planet producers.

Keyboard at one point will sport a miniature copy of a porkpie hat that Bruno Mars sometimes wears.

Mars will be performing at the Super Bowl. So Keyboard Cat will be covering Mars’ hit “Locked Out of Heaven” in the singer’s honor.

And if you think that’s weird, commercials for the Puppy Bowl are promising “penguin cheerleaders.”

No doubt about it. Sunday is shaping up to be super.

“This shows that Spokane is a place where things are really happening,” added Schmidt. “So fasten your seat belts.”

Doug Clark can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or dougc@spokesman.com.


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