As far as famous piano players go, there were classic composers like Chopin, flamboyant performers like Liberace, and then there was Bento, the keyboard-playing cat. Nobody can hold a candle to Bento’s performance because, frankly, there is not enough room for Liberace-style candelabra on an electronic keyboard. Bento was the second generation of Keyboard Cat carrying on the tradition.
Charlie Schmidt filmed the first Keyboard Cat, whose real name was “Fatso,” on April 4, 1984. However, it was not until Schmidt uploaded the video to YouTube on June 7, 2007, that the video became an Internet meme and then viral sensation. The original video received over 50 million views during the past ten years. Sadly, Fatso died in 1987 before he achieved Internet fame.
Schmidt was so sad about Fatso’s demise that in 2009 he found another cat named Bento who looked very much like Fatso. Bento was also patient enough to wear the t-shirt and fake cat paws that allowed Schmidt to manipulate them from under the keyboard to make it appear like the cat was actually playing the keyboard. The convincing illusion is hilarious. Bento lived to a ripe old age. He died on March 8, 2018, which meant he had a chance to know about his Internet fame, well, as far as a cat can understand.
Jimmy Kimmel went on his show to pay tribute to Keyboard Cat after he learned that Bento had passed.
Bento’s fame really got going around 2009, when a man named Brad O’Farrell got permission from Schmidt to use the Keyboard Cat footage to append it to blooper videos for his video channel. This funny ending to blooper videos became known as Play Him Off, Keyboard Cat. This was used in a way similar to how a hook was used to pull bad performers off the vaudeville stage a century ago.
O’Farrell convinced Schmidt to allow use by anyone of the Keyboard Cat meme, with or without permission. This spawned over 5,000 copycat variants on YouTube, making Keyboard Cat even more popular.
Other comedians besides Jimmy Kimmel who have an appreciation for Keyboard Cat include Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert spoke on the cat's death as well. Andy Samberg, in his opening speech for the 2009 MTV Movie Awards, warned those who droned on and on with their acceptance speech that they would be played of the stage by Keyboard Cat. Keyboard Cat also appeared in many advertisements, movies, television shows, and videos games.
Bento, the Keyboard Cat, will always be remembered and has become a permanent part of the Internet archives.
Carrying on the tradition now, there is another cat named Nora, born in 2004, who is still alive. She was so inspired by Bento’s videos that she can actually truly play piano and plays duets with human partners and even plays with a full orchestra. That’s the cat’s meow!