Buddy the Subway Rat says ‘cheese’ for the media.

by Joe Strike

Welcome to guest Joe Strike, journalist and author of Furry Nation, the furry fandom history book. (- Patch)

In New York City it’s hard to get peoples’ attention if you’re a struggling artist, or even if you’re not particularly struggling…unless you dress up as a rat and gambol around NYC subway platforms dragging a giant prop pizza slice, while making sure you’re videoed as much as possible for your social media platforms.

Jonothon Lyons

One of the more than two dozen articles, videos and other items a Google search for “subway rat” brought up described said rat as performance artist Jonothon (his spelling) Lyons, “an accomplished dancer, theater artist, and puppeteer whose previous credits include the Blue Man Group, Sleep No More, and the Metropolitan Opera’s 2019 staging of Madame Butterfly.”

In mid-November Lyons—a furry name to begin with—donned his “Buddy the Rat” outfit he’d created several years earlier: a sculpted rat head, a mousy grey suit and a six foot long pink tail. (A tail, according to CNN “attached to a belt worn under his clothes and threaded through a hole in his pants,” which any self-respecting partial-wearing fur can tell you is the way to go.) He then had himself video recorded in subway cars, on platforms and stairs with his pizza prop, recreating a five-year old viral video of an actual rat doing the same thing. (More on that later.) In one of his videos a man climbs over a stairway railing to avoid Buddy and his slice blocking the bottom steps.

Lyons put his dance background to good use, scurrying around in an all-fours crouch next to impossible for anyone less than limber. His Buddy head is pretty cool, with blinking eyes and fiber-optic whiskers that light up. (Are you listening, fursuit builders? It’s a clever touch that you might want to consider adding to your next bunny or mouse commission. In fact, according to a video interview he’s received orders for the tail from other incipient or actual furs who want to go ratty themselves…so you might have some competition in that department.)

According to a Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesperson (who for some reason spoke off the record) Lyons’ subway performance wasn’t authorized or approved by the system. However, the MTA’s Twitter account did respond to a posting of Buddy wearing an anti-Covid mask next to an MTA sign advising people to do the same with a “Thank you for wearing a mask,” to which Lyons responded “you’re welcome.”

Buddy the Rat wearing a mask

A cynical person might suspect a few well-placed calls to various media ensured Buddy’s publicity bonanza; there’s plenty of equally if not more bizarre events constantly taking place in my hometown that go unnoticed by more than its immediate witnesses, but let’s not go there for the moment. Instead, let’s take a look back at that real-life rat dragging around a real-life pizza slice…

…turns out the rat was real; the dragging part was the hoax.

According to a 2016 Washington Post article, the original rat ‘n pizza video was the work of another performance artist who goes by the name “Zardulu:”

“[A NYC blog] talked to one of her collaborators, who revealed that Zardulu had trained at least one rat to perform incredible feats — such as taking a “selfie” on a sleeping subway commuter’s cellphone, and dragging a slice of pizza down the stairs. (Yes, Zardulu has said that Pizza Rat was performed by a trained rat as well).” In an earlier animal-themed hoax that likewise went viral, she affixed a taxidermed raccoon to the back of an equally taxidermed alligator, creating the illusion of a reptile taking a mammal on a lazy float down the river.

A separate article about the disguise-wearing trickster shows her in a robe, head hidden a shaggy rasta wig crowned with a ram’s head. The article notes “[m]any of Zardulu’s absurd fake scenarios involve animals, and she is rumored to have a mischief of trained rats. (Yes, a group of rats is really called a mischief. Some things you can’t make up.)”

*      *      *

I tried to contact Lyons for this article, but Buddy’s alter-ego didn’t respond to several emailed interview requests after noticing the first one. Perhaps I shouldn’t have told him I was writing for a furry website and pretended Dogpatch simply covered unusual events; it wouldn’t be the first time an artist employing anthropomorphism in their work backed away when I mentioned our “F” word. They may not want to admit it, but apart from being a few rungs above us on the cultural ladder, we’re both exploring the same territory where the human and non-human animal worlds overlap… and merge.

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