If ever you’ve been a sceptic about the power of the online kitty, you need only look to Belgium’s response to their recent national emergency. The threat of terrorist attack had been raised to maximum; schools, universities and the metro were closed in the country’s capital city and people were told to stay indoors.
Yet resilient Belgians responded by taking to Twitter and flooding the hashtag #BrusselsLockdown with funny cat pictures. Intended to drown out operational details about police raids that could possibly have helped the terror suspects, the cats were also a perfect retort, meeting terror with humour – and cuteness.
It was proof again, if such was needed, that cats rule the internet. And so it is that I’m on Skype to talk to Indiana native Mike Bridavsky about his cat, Lil Bub – one of the world’s most famous felines – and her new album. (Yes, you read that right. The cat has an album. It’s called Science & Magic, and it’s really rather good.)
With her saucer eyes and sticky-out tongue, perma-kitten Lil Bub became an internet sensation after Mike uploaded her photo to reddit back in 2011. Today the ‘magical space cat’ has more than 2.3 million likes on Facebook, has interviewed Michelle Obama on her own internet TV show, has ‘written’ a book, starred in a film, and inspired legions of fans to donate lots of money to animal charities. As Mike says, she “brings people such happiness. Pure, simple, innocent happiness and joy on a daily basis.”
The runt of a feral litter, who would have died but for Mike’s intervention, Bub’s unusual looks are the result of a series of genetic abnormalities (a team of scientists are currently sequencing her genome to find out more). Hers is truly a story of triumph against the odds – though, as Mike reveals, she’s still facing challenges with her inspiring brand of drooly determination.
What was the experience like making the album?
It was great. This is the best kind of record to work on. It was written by my very good friend [and official bubbysitter] Matt Tobey. It was in the comfort of my own studio with my pet and my friend. It’s a really positive, fun project. It was all about getting cool sounds and getting Bub’s magic captured on a record. I think it turned out great.
What were the musical influences? I see that Bub’s album press release was written by Andrew WK…
As far as musical influences, for Matt, I’d say the Nintendo games. Bub has her own inspirations as a living creature on our planet and Andrew WK is certainly one of them. Andrew is a genuine fan and has genuine respect for Bub’s presence. He treats her like I do – not as an internet sensation or a meme, but as a true source of inspiration. A truly powerful creative creature.
I have to ask about Michelle Obama – it was an incredible coup to have her on the show. What was she like?
Well. Full disclosure – I never talked to her directly. That’s how these things work. Their team contacted me about participating in the Let’s Move campaign [which aims to combat childhood obesity and encourage a healthy lifestyle]. I pitched an idea that we would fly about and Bub and Michelle would do all this stuff together and it was going to be very funny.
Well, naturally, they nixed it. I wrote the episode, they pre-recorded the video and then we filmed Bub. Bub and Michelle were never in the same room at the same time. Sorry to spoil the magic!
That’s ok. One of the other big celebrities that I know you did meet was Robert De Niro. He’s been lucky enough to have a Bub cuddle…
That was at Tribeca film fest 2013. We were there for the premiere of Lil Bub and Friendz, the Vice documentary about the first three or four months of Bub’s fame. Robert had said in an interview that the highlight of the festival for him would be to meet Lil Bub. Everyone knows he’s a big cat fan. At the closing luncheon we had the chance to meet. We’re surrounded by the media and press and it’s very hectic.
He says, ‘Is it ok if I hold your cat?’ Now, I’m very protective over Bub. It doesn’t matter if it’s the President or Robert De Niro, I have to be like ‘I can only let you hold her if you let me show you how to hold her properly.’ She’s a very sensitive creature.
He paused for a second, and then said, ‘ok.’ So I held his hand the right way – and he had the softest hands I’ve ever touched, like, softer than my wife. You can tell from the photo, she really liked him.
It is interesting that it’s cats that rule the internet rather than dogs… Do you have a theory about why that is?
The thing with cats is that each cat has such a distinct, unique personality. And their personalities work so well with humour. Cats have a creative nature about them, their personalities are complex. Dogs are so painfully simple and predictable. Cats are the opposite. They’re completely unpredictable. That’s what you want in your star character, your main role. Then your comic relief, your simple characters are dogs.
How has Bub changed your life?
Completely. For one, she has taught me to care for someone more than I care for myself. Taking care of a special needs pet is a whole new world. It’s not for everybody. There’s a lot of heartbreak and a lot of challenges. I’m a nice generous person, I like to think, but I’ve never been drawn to any sort of charitable work.
Bub has showed me this side of me that really wants to make a difference. And spread awareness about the importance of adopting pets and of spaying and neutering the pets you have, about proper animal care. We started the first national fund for special needs pets. On a personal level, I do think her positivity has affected me. The way I approach life, the way I approach people.
Through Bub, I met my wife, I now have a child. And these are all things that I wasn’t sure would ever happen. I saved Bub’s life and I truly believe this is how she repays me. The same ways she wrote and produced the record, is the way that she introduced me to my wife. And it’s true, without Bub none of this stuff would be happening.
So how did Bub get you and your wife together?
It’s not like you might assume – like, she was a Bub fan and that’s how we met. I did meet some girls through that. I’m sure you did! But that was what was so special about this. We were in Minneapolis for the second annual cat film festival. Scott Stulen, who started the festival, his big thing was that he was going to bring Grumpy Cat and Lil Bub to meet for the first time. It was like Grumpy Cat and Lil Bub, who’s the top cat? Which to me was like, aw, who cares?
The answer is clearly Bub, though…
I think they’re two completely different phenomena. People like to put them in the same box and that’s ok. But they’re two completely different things. One’s a meme and one’s a superior space cat.
Any way, we were in the green room at the Walker Arts Centre. They set up a time for all of the people who work there to meet Bub and Grumpy Cat. One lady that came down, I felt a particular connection with her as soon as I saw her. She had no idea who these cats are. She just came up because her co-workers told her she had to go meet the famous cats. But we really hit it off.
Turned out it was her second day working at the Walker. She was the executive assistant to the curator – so a pretty high up position.
I got Scott to give her my email address. I thought, ‘I’m never going to hear from her, she’s the executive assistant at the Walker Arts Center. I’m a guy with a famous cat.’
Well she emailed me two hours later. She quit her job two months later and moved to Indiana with me. Then we got married.
How is Bub keeping at the moment?
Bub’s mobility has been increasing, but last week she actually fell and broke her elbow. I haven’t told anyone yet. It’s been a very, very, very hard week for us. She had surgery. We had some complications during surgery, but she made it.
We had the best surgeons in the state. They brought in extra help, they purchased special tools to work on her. It was the first surgery of its kind because of her bone condition.
But everything went well. She’s got part of her body shaved and she’s a little drowsy but she’s great. That’s the thing about her, she’s the most determined little creature in the world.
Please give Bub a little cuddle from us. We’ll be sending her healing thoughts…
I will. Thank you.
I’ve always been very transparent and forthcoming about BUB’s health and well-being. That’s really what this is all about: sharing her life and giving people a glimpse of the joys and the challenges of caring for a special needs pet as special as BUB. Last week BUB had an accident at home. She underwent a successful surgery, and I am thrilled to report that she is doing great, is as spry as ever, has the appetite of a lion, and seems to have no idea that anything even happened. She is the definition of strength and determination, and continues to amaze us with her fearlessness and positivity. To read the full story, please visit www.lilbub.com/news or the link in BUB’s bio. #GOODJOBBUB A photo posted by Lil BUB (@iamlilbub) on