Most of the best memes or online videos require no barrier to entry — you see the funny thing, recognize it as such, and don’t need any additional subtext. Tuesday brought one of the finer recent instances of this genre, when Rod Ponton, a county attorney in Texas’ Presidio County, appeared in his Zoom courtroom hearing through a cat filter. Whether he’s to be known as Cat Lawyer or Lawyer Cat, Ponton became a viral sensation on sight.
It opens right with Judge Roy Ferguson briefing Ponton on the cat situation. “Mr. Ponton, I believe you have a filter turned on in the video settings,” he said. In the video that’s been viewed nearly 29 million times at the time of writing, Ponton audibly frets as his assistant tries to remove the cat from his face, but resolves to keep things moving. “I'm prepared to go forward with it. I'm here live, I'm not a cat,” Ponton said to the room.
Ponton spoke with the New York Times about his viral moment, and seemed keen on providing the public service. “If I can make the country chuckle for a moment in these difficult times they’re going through, I’m happy to let them do that at my expense,” he said.
Cat Lawyer struck that wholesome middle ground of several generations of internet video balled into one: cat videos of the early web, boomers struggling with technology, and specific types of guy that have risen to memedom in recent years (Cat Lawyer, Bean Dad, Brooklyn Dad_Defiant — I’m sorry if you know who these people are.) Cat Lawyer was a culmination of things, but also could have only arisen under these exact pandemic circumstances.
Luckily, Ponton isn’t on Twitter himself, which led to his surprise when his cat footage began to widely make the rounds. This also means we aren’t due for the scrounging of old tweets that plagued Bean Dad — and, to an extent, Ken Jennings — after his viral story turned south. (Ponton did defend Henry Lee Lucas, the convicted serial killer in court who was the subject of the Netflix docuseries The Confession Killer, which you might say is not okay. But he’s fairly steadfast in that decision.) For now, let's just enjoy Cat Lawyer on his own frightened, feline terms.