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Video: How Keyboard Cat Failed Its Way to Internet Fame

It is, without a doubt, one of the most pivotal thefts on the web.
February 20, 2013, 9:45pm

It is, without a doubt, one of the most pivotal thefts on the web. In 2009, Brad O'Farrell, a 22-year-old video-maker and content farmer for MyDamnChannel, was making the rounds on YouTube when he found an old VHS clip of a cat playing a keyboard. He attached the clip--made over a decade earlier by an itinerant artist named Charlie Schmidt and his cat Fatso--to the end of another video that showed a person attempting to roll down an escalator in a wheelchair, backwards, unsuccessfully.

It was a simple vaudevillian stroke, but it made lasting impressions. Once the video got picked up on YouTube's front page (O'Farrell's connections there didn't hurt), the hits began rolling in by the thousands. Ashton tweeted. The Daily Show referenced it. Banksy stole it. The marriage of FAIL video with keyboard cat video--encapsulated by the phrase "Play Him Off, Keyboard Cat," had spawned a meme that has spread in the form of an estimated 4,000 tragicomic bloopers, and that somehow, weirdly, never gets old. (The physicists of the Internet have not yet determined the place of cats in the standard model, but they are certainly deep in there, Higgs boson-style.) In this clip--taken from a new film by VICE, Lil Bub & Friendz -- O'Farrell describes how it all happened.

Schmidt, who in a gesture of the creative commons, has permitted the Internet to freely use his video, also appeared in our 2010 documentary, How I Got Famous on the Internetz, along with a motley crew of other Internet celebrities.