Was Pizza Rat A Hoax?

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Jan 8, 2016 in Rat News | Subscribe

The famous Selfie Rat.

Are the Internet’s most cherished viral rat videos the work of a mysterious woman who trains rats to do her bidding for an elaborate series of YouTube stunts? Possibly. Meet Eric Yearwood, an actor and member of the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) improv theater. He says he was paid $200 to star in the “Selfie Rat” rat video, which was probably the least convincing of the 2015 viral rat videos, but it still got plenty of press.

In the Selfie Rat video, a man sleeping on a Brooklyn subway platform is awakened by a rat crawling on his lap. After he scrambles to his feet, he realizes that the rat pressed a button on his smartphone and took a selfie. A witness named Don Richards said he was visiting NYC from Connecticut when he saw the rat crawling on the subway sleeper and filmed it.

Richards later shared the video with a local Fox affiliate, and the rest is completely insignificant history.

OR IS IT? Yes, it really is. Nevertheless, Yearwood says he was in fact the sleepy man visited by the rat in the video, and it was all staged, including “Don Richards,” who was in on it. A woman who goes by the name Zardulu had reached out to Yearwood last year.

“She said she was a NYC-based performance artist and wanted help with a project and was going to pay me a little bit of money,” Yearwood recalls. “You get weird casting calls and stuff all the time, so I didn’t really think too much of it, and when she described the project to me, it seemed pretty weird. Especially the part where there wasn’t going to be any sort of revelation at the end of it. I would not be able to take credit for it and neither would she.”

One of Zardulu’s rat training manuals.

Another UCB actor who says he’s helped Zardulu plan similar stunts tells us he was required to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement. Via email, he says Zardulu “makes these fake scenarios, releases them as real through news, social media and whatever else. Many have been HUGE stories. Weirdest part is that she never comes forward or capitalizes on them whatsoever.”

Why not take credit for the stunts? Our source says Zardulu told him, “Revealing one of my pieces would be like waking the world from a dream. I can not imagine a more terrible thing to do.”

Another actor, who asked not to be named for fear of losing work, says that after visiting Zardulu’s studio, they saw costumes that led them to believe she was responsible for recent sightings of the “Bishopville Lizard Man”:

Yes, even the Lizard Man is fake. But what about Pizza Rat? Our UCB source who signed the NDA claims, “It’s the same rat in all the rat videos. I’d bet my life on it. She told me a year ago about the rat training, just not the specific performance art pieces.” Yearwood, however, declined to speculate about other rat videos.

Jason Munshi-South, an Associate Professor of Biology at Fordham University, tells us pet rats and lab rats “can certainly be trained to do simple tricks or repetitive tasks. They respond to the same types of basic training as many other mammals.” But Munshi-South says it “would probably be difficult to get the rat or rats to respond in the same way when placed in a noisy, stimulating environment like a subway station.”

Asked about the sensational video showing a rat dragging a slice of pizza down a set of subway stairs, Munshi-South says the rat “seemed to exhibit typical wild rat behaviors that I’ve seen in the city. They do drag food into the burrows, and if are somewhat acclimated to people they will forage out in the open sometimes… It wouldn’t be that hard to ‘bait’ wild rats with pizza or other foods and get them used to eating it.”

One of Zardulu’s rats during training.

The Pizza Rat video was filmed by one Matt Little, who, like Yearwood, is a member of UCB. Perhaps that’s just a coincidence! Little emphatically denies that the video was staged, and says he doesn’t know Yearwood.

“My friend Pat and I saw a rat dragging pizza down the subway stairs at 3 a.m.,” Little tells us. “If this woman [Zardulu] was involved, she’d have to have been one of the homeless people in the subway.”

Little signed a contract with a licensing agent after the video went viral, and says that he’s made “somewhere between zero and 8 billion dollars” off the licensing rights.

“I am not a good enough liar to perpetrate any kind of hoax like this and keep it up,” Little insists.

Little’s friend, Pat Baer, tells us, “I have no info on that rat before or after our encounter. If someone trained that rat to drag pizza down the subway stairs, that’s quite a strange accomplishment. But not one I can comment on. As far as I know, Matt and I were just in the right place at the right time.”

Like Little and Yearwood, Baer is also a member of UCB.

It’s unclear how deep this rat rabbit hole goes. Reached by phone yesterday, the man who sent us a “Cannibal Rat” video last weekend insisted he knows nothing about Zardulu and stands by what he saw. But he declined to comment for attribution.

Like many of us, Professor Munshi-South thought the Selfie Rat video looked “a little bit strange. The rat would be just as or more startled by the human waking up and shaking it off, but that rat seems to just calmly drop off the man and stay in the vicinity. That said, that rat could have been sick, injured, stunned, etc.” Still, pet rats “would be comfortable climbing around on people,” the professor adds.

The anonymous actor says they’re “shocked by the vast nature of these things Zardulu is releasing into the media” without taking credit. Is Selfie Rat just the tip of a rotting, viral iceberg made of elaborate hoaxes? What is real?

Reached by email, Zardulu did not deny involvement in the Pizza Rat or Selfie Rat videos, but refused to discuss her work: “I’m not interested in an interview and I’m not interested in the story.”

Zardulu continued, “I anticipated a betrayal, as I was threatened with such, but not from anyone with this email. I think there are better stories to tell. Why wake the world from a beautiful dream when the waking world is all so drab?”

Update: After reading this article, Zardulu reached out to say this: “Lizard man in South Carolina? Lol. I work only in the NY area. I don’t even own a car. That, I will tell you, is patently false.”

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