What has 22 toes, no teeth, a deformed jaw, and millions of YouTube views? Lil Bub!
The big-eyed 22-month-old dwarf cat out of Bloomington, Indiana, rivals Grumpy Cat and many other contenders for Internet cat celebrity supremacy. Now, Lil Bub and her owner, Mike Bridavsky, have become the subject of a documentary premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival.
"My world has been turned on its head by the extent to which people are obsessed with this phenomenon," said Juliette Eisner, the film's co-producer and co-writer with Andy Capper. "We started at the Cat Video Film Festival at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We expected 100 or 200 people to show up, but there were over 10,000."
So why has cat culture exploded into Internet memes, with millions of people clicking on cat videos -- and how has Lil Bub crawled her way to the top of the heap?
The extent of the cat's celebrity puzzles even Eisner: "She's the cutest, strangest-looking animal -- she reeled me in. It's a punch-in-the-stomach reaction. People go nuts around Bub. People crowded her on the streets of Manhattan as if she were John Lennon. She has a lot of deformities: Her tongue is always hanging out because she doesn't have a jaw. She has huge eyes. And she moves with a military crawl because her limbs aren't full-sized -- she has kitten-sized limbs for a normal-sized cat body."
"She's the most amazing creature on the planet," said owner Bridavsky, a professional music producer. He refused to go so far as to call Bub the Kim Kardashian of the cat video universe. "I don't like comparing Bub to other celebrities," he told Yahoo! Movies.
One way that Bub stands out from the competition -- such as the curmudgeonly Grumpy Cat or Serious Cat -- is the optimism she inspires. "She's a beacon of hope for the fans. She proves that being different is good. She has a positive attitude and she inspires people. People are just crazy about her, and she makes them feel great."
The pair has toured animal shelters and adoption centers. Even before she was "superfamous," to quote Bridavsky, she was a local draw. "The first time we had a meet and greet at our local animal shelter," said Bridavsky, "she walked in the room and there were maybe just a hundred people in an hour. Then, in the back of the room, this woman came in and fell to her knees and was crying. I have seen at least 15 people crying in Bub's presence."
Does that make Lil Bub not just a video sensation, but also an Our Lady of Lourdes of the cat world, the equivalent of a weeping Virgin Mary statue or an image of Jesus on a piece of toast? Bridavsky definitely wouldn't agree: "I wouldn't call it religious. I would call it a spiritual experience. As my cat, she definitely has special powers. Everyone that meets her agrees. I was going out of town and I told my very close friends, 'I need you guys to spend as much time as possible with Bub -- and it will be good for you, too. Put her on your chest and lie down, and you will feel more rejuvenated than you ever felt.' It's weird. It's bizarre. Even my close friends thought I was crazy, but when I came home a week later, they were ecstatic."
Given the enormous success of cats like Lil Bub and Grumpy Cat and Keyboard Cat, and my personal favorite, Henri the French Existentialist Cat, a lot of people are rubbing their chins and looking at their own kitties. How tough is it to turn your purring pet into a golden litter scoop?
Bridavsky demurs: "You have to ask Bub -- and she probably can't tell you. It's all her doing. All I did was put a few photos online. I will continue doing it as long as it makes people happy and I don't have to work for it. If you're trying, it probably won't happen. The reason Bub got famous is that it's Bub. Just look at her face. I have four other cats and they're all amazing to me, but they're not celebrities or serve a greater purpose. Bub has this mission and that's why it's happening."