Deeds: Apocalypse meow: Internet Cat Video Festival invades Boise

Organizers say it’s not about viewing cat films, it’s about viewing them together.

mdeeds@idahostatesman.comJanuary 12, 2014 

If you go: 9 p.m. Jan. 17, Knitting Factory, 416 S. 9th St., Boise. $20. TicketWeb. Special guest: “Keyboard Cat” and owner Charlie Schmidt.

What the —?

When I first heard about the Internet Cat Video Festival rubbing on Boise’s leg, my initial reaction involved three-letter slang from the same online cultural universe, and it wasn’t OMG.

A touring, 75-minute reel of more than 90 videos to be shown on a big screen Friday at the Knitting Factory in Boise? A live guest appearance by “Keyboard Cat” and his owner?

Who could be the audience for this stuff? Scoffing, I envisioned the crowd aloud: Little old ladies. Giggling stoner dudes.

“Pathetic gay men!” chimed in a buddy, laughing while claiming his place in that demographic. The more I pondered it, the more diverse — and less pathetic — this theoretical cat-comedy crowd began to seem.

Little did I know. After 2 minutes of online research, I discovered that the original Internet Cat Video Festival, a free promotion held two summers ago in Minneapolis, drew 10,000 people to the lawn of the Walker Arts Center.

The New York Times dispatched a reporter. Media across the nation uncorked headlines such as “Apocalypse Meow.” (Yep, I stole that from Slate.)

The second festival was relocated to the Minnesota State Fair grandstand last summer, where people were charged for tickets.

“Over 11,500 paid over $20 to watch cat videos!” festival producer Scott Stulen bragged when I phoned him three days ago.

He guffawed as if in disbelief.

“Depeche Mode was the night before. We outsold them by 2,000 people.”

This statistic rendered me speechless.

Depeche Mode sold 9,500 tickets?

Then I snapped out of it and remembered why I’d phoned Stulen: To try to comprehend what makes people attend #catvidfest, which has visited places ranging from Chicago, Memphis and Portland to Vienna, Athens and Jerusalem.

What Stulen made me understand is that the festival isn’t about cats. OK, it’s totally about cats.

But it’s not about watching cat videos, he said — it’s about watching cat videos in a room with other people.

Cats barking like dogs. Cats pawing sleeping owners’ faces. Cats attacking beds. Cats flipping their wigs on catnip.

And kittens being cute, of course.

Some of the videos will be familiar. That original “Keyboard Cat” meme has logged tens of millions of YouTube views. Others are new. Consider this: When word of the first #cadvidfest went viral, 10,000 video submissions arrived in three weeks, says Stulen, a project director at Walker Arts Center: “It kind of was insane.”

But whether you’ve seen the videos before is irrelevant. The communal experience is the key, Stulen says.

“There’s something really special about watching cat videos in a social environment,” Stulen explains. “I think that’s something that’s kind of lost; we’re disconnected on our phones, and we’re all on our computer all the time, however we still crave real physical connections ... and that’s kind of what this is all about.”

Well, that and alcohol.

“It doesn’t hurt at all,” he admits with a chuckle.

But it isn’t necessary. The Internet Cat Video Festival has played laugh-filled venues ranging from libraries to museums. This “rock club” tour, hitting liquor-friendly spots such as the Knitting Factory, is new for the festival.

“I love how flexible it is,” Stulen says.

The most universally popular cat videos combine feline eccentricities with a human’s comedic sensibilities. The inaugural festival’s highlights included a video of two cats pawing at each other with a voiceover about playing “pattycake.” It’s racked up more than 18 million YouTube views. And it’s ridiculously funny every time.

Music set to cat videos is equally effective. Want tears-down-your-face hilarious? Google “cat jump fail with music” or “dramatic cat orchestral.” You’ll laugh so hard that you choke like you’ve got a hairball.

In a dog town like Boise, there is a certain smug glee to be derived from #catvidfest. Do you see any dog festivals out there?

But let’s not make this about dog versus cat.

In fact, let’s not make this about cat versus cat. In case you were wondering, festivalgoers should not bring their pets to the Knitting Factory.

“No!” Stulen says. “They shouldn’t. One, most venues won’t allow that. And two, most cats don’t want to be in that environment.”

Yeah, but don’t we need to keep generating more funny cat videos somehow?

TRUCKER TONIGHT IN ‘THE OTHER STUDIO’

Drive-By Truckers co-frontman Patterson Hood stopped by “The Other Studio” for a visit. We talked about our favorite albums of 2013 and spun some music.

You can hear the episode tonight. “The Other Studio ” airs at 9 p.m. Sundays on 94.9 FM The River.

IN SCENE JAN. 17

• Review: Rendezvous, a new Eagle restaurant, offers an Eastern European taste of winter.

• “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” brings the fifth film in the Tom Clancy-inspired series to movie theaters.

Michael Deeds’ column runs Fridays in Scene and Sundays in Life. He co-hosts “The Other Studio” at 9 p.m. Sundays on 94.9 FM The River and appears Thursdays on Channel 6 News. Twitter: @IDS_Deeds

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