Millions of people worldwide have jumped onto the Internet cat video bandwagon, but very few can say they have sustained a living from it.
But SPU alumnus Will Braden, director of the YouTube cat video series Henri Le Chat Noir, can say just that.
“There was a stage for a while where I thought, ‘Oh this is really fun,’ where I wasn’t thinking at all about, ‘I can make a living doing this,’ ” Braden said. “Then, very quickly, in succession, I got a book deal, opened [an online store] and won the “Golden Kitty Award.” Then I started to realize, ‘Holy crap, this could actually be, at least for a short time, a living.’ ”
Braden, along with his mother, SPU geography professor Kathleen Braden, teamed up with the theater department to put on SPU’s first-ever Internet Cat Video Festival, held in Upper Gwinn Friday evening. About 40 attendees showed up ready for what the theater department website described as, “75 minutes of the best and funniest Internet cat videos, organized into categories for your amusement.”
Guffaws and “Awwws” echoed for the next 75 minutes in response to the collection of both cute and funny cat videos.
The compilation of videos drew from the original Internet Cat Video Festival, which took place at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 2012. The Walker Art Center received tens of thousands of cat video submissions in the weeks leading up to the event, which was originally prompted as a joke by a program associate. Over 10,000 people attended the actual event, far exceeding expectations.
“There was a stigma about cat videos. It was kind of nerdy, and just being a cat person was nerdy, and then all of a sudden, it just sort of became cool, and it became acceptable,” Braden said.
Braden’s second video, “Henri 2, Paw De Deux,” was featured at the Walker Art Center festival. It was voted best cat video, earning Braden the Golden Kitty Award and launching him into the world of cat fame.
Braden isn’t just a guy with an iPhone who achieved YouTube fame overnight. He is a filmmaker with a degree from the Seattle Film Institute. Braden created the first ever Henri Le Chat Noir video while a student at SFI in 2006.
“I literally put [the first video] online only because a few people in my film school class were like, ‘Oh, I want to share this with my mom.’ And so I was like, ‘All right, well I’ll put it on YouTube, and you can share it.’ I literally sent it to our email group of everybody in our class and that was it. And then from there, it just kind of organically ended up getting a few thousand views,” Braden said.
The first video earned a few hundred thousand views over six years. It eventually acquired a respectable fan base that then demanded a second video. Braden responded with “Henri 2, Paw De Deux” in 2012, coincidentally the same year as Walker Art Center’s Festival, and the rest is history.
Braden now maintains an official website, YouTube channel, Twitter account and online store. His 13 videos have earned a collective 7 million views and 50,000 subscribers.
He is currently working with the Walker Art Center on plans for an international tour with the Internet Cat Video Festival.
In the past, the Internet Cat Video Festival has teamed up with community partners such as Feline Rescue, Animal Human Society and the Wildcat Sanctuary. Braden intends to continue the trend of using the Internet Cat Video Festival as an opportunity to generate fundraising, as was the purpose of Friday night’s event. All of the proceeds from the event went to SPU’s theater department.
“This idea came from Will and Kathleen [Braden],” said Andrew Ryder, the chair of the theater department. “Will wanted to do something at SPU, and Kathleen said, ‘Well, I would like to support the theater department. Maybe we can make it a benefit for them.’ ”
Senior and cat-lover McRae Naayers enjoyed the unique opportunity to enjoy viral Internet videos with a larger audience.
“It’s awesome being able to watch it with a whole bunch of other people, so you can laugh at them and laugh at the video at the same time,” Naayers said.
“Will has this tagline I heard before the event: ‘It’s not about watching cat videos — it’s about watching them together,’ ” Ryder said. “In theater, we’re all about community, so just hearing people laugh was the most rewarding thing.”