Meet the man behind Buddy The Rat: Jonothon Lyons. Here is our exclusive interview:
Q (Sarah): Biggest question first : what is ‘Buddy the Rat’ ?
A (Jonothon): Buddy the Rat is a street performance character I first created in 2009. The costume is a large hand-sculpted papier-mache rat mask (which I designed and built) and a long fabric tail. I scurry around on all fours and the mask covers my entire head with the eyes facing forward so it really transforms the human shape. I perform in public spaces like parks, sidewalks, or the subway and interact with unsuspecting people.
Q: How did this concept begin?
A: My first professional job after college was with Imago Theatre in Portland, OR. They specialize in this style of mask performance and their shows feature lots of larger than life animal characters. They had basically every animal you can think of except a rat. Living in New York I thought about rats all the time, so the idea to make this character was a natural combination of my stage experience as a mask performer and my lived experience as a New Yorker.
Q: How often are you dressed in character and where do you venture to? Do people recognize you on the street?
A: On average I’m out performing 3-4 times per week but for May this year I attempted to go out every single day. That lasted until the 23rd, when I was accidentally kicked in the face by a co-performer and had to get stitches so I took a week off. The best places to perform are relatively crowded public areas, Washington Square Park in the West Village is perfect and I had a great time recently in the Columbus Circle subway station. People are starting to recognize me more and more if I’m in the costume and carrying the mask. Certainly in New York but I’ve also been recognized while hiking in Phoenix, AZ and in downtown LA. It’s exciting that the character is reaching so many people.
Q: What are some of your favorite performances you have with people out on the street?
A: The best thing that can happen is if I capture the attention of a small crowd of strangers in the middle of their day. There will be some people who are simply curious, some who find it funny, and some who are a little scared. If I can figure out who’s a little scared and then jump in their direction and get a good scream or make them run a bit, that usually gets a big laugh from the rest of the crowd (and the person who was frightened) and makes for a good show.
Q: How did you get linked up with Goorin Bros?
A: Goorin Bros has been working with an amazing TikTok photographer called Mr. NYC Subway since last year. In November @MrNYCSubway reached out to me to see if I’d be interested in appearing in one of his content posts featuring a Goorin Bros hat. Since I have the mask rigged to be able to wear hats it seems like a great fit. We shot the piece and it ended up getting over 2 million views in a day and something like 20 thousand comments so we were all really excited.
Q: I know we have a collaborative project about to launch with you – how did that come into play? Any sneak peak details you can share?
A: After the success of the November post we knew people thought it was cool to see Buddy the Rat and Goorin Bros together so we started thinking of other ways to collaborate. Goorin Bros happens to have this awesome line of trucker caps with animal patches on them partnered with clever names (The Farm) and the idea of a “Buddy” rat hat just seemed too perfect not to explore. We had a few design meetings, the designers were very gracious to allow me to have some creative input and the whole project came together seamlessly.
Q: You have such a huge following on social media!– anything fun in the works we can look forward to next?
A: Thanks so much! I’ve been gobsmacked by the rate of growth across all my profiles, it’s really humbling how many people are finding some joy in what I’m doing with this character! The one big thing coming up is that you can look out for me on an episode of America’s Got Talent on NBC in June!
Follow Buddy The Rat on social media / Stay tuned for our Buddy The Rat X Goorin collab - coming very soon!
Brooklyn locals : Buddy The Rat event at our Williamsburg shop FRI 6.4.21 AT 4PM - CHECK IT OUT!