The cat's meow
INTERNET SENSATION: Have you got a cat? Yes? And have you made a video of it yet? No? Well, what are you waiting for? Cats are the most popular item on the internet — some of them even have their own agents.
The internet’s most famous feline is probably Grumpy Cat. Grumpy (not her real name) has a permanent frown. When her owner’s brother posted a picture of her on Reddit, people responded with funny captions that represented what the cat might be thinking. For example, someone wrote: “There are two kinds of people in this world…and I don’t like them.”
Ben Lashes, 34, is now Grumpy Cat’s agent. Lashes has brokered book and movie deals as well as getting Grumpy to appear on an online game show. Nor is Grumpy his only client. Lashes also represents other cat sensations, approaching the animals’ owners and offering his services to turn the antics of cute kittens into money. He told The Wall Street Journal that he tries to think like Walt Disney, asking himself: “What would Walt Disney do if he created Mickey Mouse and it went viral on YouTube?”
Thanks to Lashes, Grumpy Cat has travelled from her home in Arizona to BookExpo America in New York, where she promoted Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book. She has also visited Austin, Texas, where she appeared at the South by Southwest tech convention. While in Austin, she took part in the online game show, Will Kitty Play With It?, sponsored by Friskies cat food.
"What would Walt Disney do if Mickey Mouse went viral?" Ben Lashes
Grumpy Cat’s owners have earned over $100,000 from Grumpy so far, not counting the film option from Broken Road Productions. Another of Ben Lashes’ clients, Keyboard Cat, has earned almost $300,000.
The original Keyboard Cat, whose real name was Fatso, is now dead. But back in the mid-80s, his owner, Charlie Schmidt, made a video of the cat — dressed in a blue t-shirt — seeming to play a song that Schmidt had written. Schmidt put the video on YouTube in 2010, when it went viral. Lashes advised him to adopt a new cat and make more videos, a move that was followed by licensing deals for Keyboard Cat products, including a toy.
“When it comes to cats, Ben knows who is going to be big,” says client Christopher Torres, creator of Nyan Cat, a digital kitty. Bryan Bundeson, who “discovered” Grumpy Cat, is pleased with the way Lashes has managed the cat’s career. “He is really good at helping us not get taken advantage of,” Bundeson comments.