YouTube Star Zach King on Making Viral Videos, Helping Cats in Need

The secret to a viral video? Cats with light sabers.
By: Nicole Pajer

There are currently millions of cats sitting in shelters across the country waiting for a loving home, and Zach King has made it his mission to inspire people to adopt one of them.

The YouTube star, who is known for his quirky digital videos like “Jedi Kittens,” recently teamed up with Fresh Step to create a video that advocates for cat adoption. King is joined on screen by his cat BFF and Instagram star Prince Michael, whose owner Aaron Benitez founded the rescue organization Aaron’s Animals. The video features King babysitting a very bored Prince Michael and eventually winning him over with a little feline-friendly magic.

Paw Culture caught up with King to discuss his affinity for cats, friendship with Prince Michael and how cat owners can make videos of their own felines in action.

PawCulture: How did you get involved with making this video?

Zach King: I had a friend who worked with Fresh Step and they knew I had worked with cats and that I love animals. Aarons Animals and I also work in the same studio. Once they told us the mission of what they’re trying to do, promote cat adoption, we realized it could be a cool collaboration.

PC: How did Prince Michael do on set?

ZK: Michael is actually a great actor. Out of all of the animals that we work with, he’s fairly chill. He will just sit there and then we use a little computer manipulation to adjust his face in post production. Naturally, cats have that thing where they will roll over and look cute on camera, so that [also] works well for them.

PC: How did you become such an advocate for cat rescue?

ZK: I used to have several cats that I had adopted from shelters back when I was in college. I found out that when [certain shelters] get full, they actually euthanize the cats, so I would take in one or two cats at a time and try to find them a permanent home. I hate the idea that animals have to be put down because of it being too full in the shelters.

Zach King with a kitten

I don’t currently have a cat but I am convincing my wife, who is a serious dog lover, to let me get a cat. We just had a baby so she’s like, “Okay. Give it a couple of months. Let’s settle into baby life and then we’ll see.” Maybe for Christmas. Fingers crossed!

I am also an advocate for adopting older cats. The kittens are always the cute ones that people go after when they go to the shelters, but it’s the older cats that don’t have an easy time finding a home. When I get my next cat, I would like to get [an older one] because those cats don’t have much of a chance in the shelter system.

PC: You have used cats in your YouTube videos before. How did that all come about?

ZK: One of my first viral videos was a video called “Jedi Kittens” [a video of two cats play fighting with light sabers]. I woke up one morning and the video had gone viral and I realized that the internet just loves cats. Over the years, I’ve done a couple of cat videos with Prince Michael. Aaron also has friends who have cats, so they’ll come over and do an appearance in a video for us too.

PC: How did your friendship with Prince Michael come about?

ZK: Aaron had adopted him in New York several years back. When he moved to LA and we lived together, I got to hang out with Prince Michael. He would be sitting on my desk during the day while we worked. Slowly he started appearing in different videos for my audience. Now the fans know Prince Michael. One of the number one comments we get is “we want more Prince Michael.”

I haven’t had my own cat in five years but Prince Michael is totally my pseudo cat. If I’m at the office late, he’ll be chilling with me. Our studio is like 15,000 square feet and the other night, I misplaced him. He was walking around somewhere and I had to find him before our 6 a.m. shoot. We have like eight shelves of props in the back of our warehouse and he was hiding behind those. Michael is always playing and hiding. He’s really good at hide-and-seek. We actually put this tile on him at the studio. It uses a Bluetooth so you can ping it and it makes a sound so we are like, “he’s somewhere over here!” I like to say I am Michael’s second handler, his manager maybe.

Zach King with Prince Michael

PC: Why do you think people love cat videos so much? What is it about them?

ZK: Every single cat is so different. You know when you are watching cat compilations? The different [cats in each clip] have different personalities coming through and I love that. Their energy is very contagious and inspiring.

Aaron and I will sit on a Friday night for an hour and watch different cat compilations to get ideas. Some of our favorite videos to watch lately have been when people test how cats react to different items, especially cucumbers. I think the cat thinks it’s a snake or something. I love the ones where the cat is surprised by something.

PC: What are your tips on how someone can make a good video of their cat?

ZK: Try to bring out your cat’s personality. Show what is unique about him. Whether it’s his face or his eyes or his expression or reaction to something, focus on that one aspect of the cat and that makes him niche. I look at cats like Grumpy Cat or cats that have been popular. They always have these different features about them that you can recognize right off the bat. Focus on your cat’s uniqueness and it’s story.

Images via: Mat Sayles, AP