I Interviewed "The Pet Rater" and I Wasn't Surprised at All

Submitted into Contest #141 in response to: Write about someone who critiques things for a living, or acts like they do.... view prompt

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Funny

[The following is a transcript of a portion of episode 487 of Vertigone’s Who The What?! Podcast. For the full feature, go to vertigone.com/WTWpod or wherever you get your podcasts]

When I sat down with YouTube sensation Barney, from petrater.com, I wasn’t sure what to expect. His aloof persona, as seen in his hundreds of videos, whose view counts are nearly all above 25 million, has remained surprisingly consistent in the years he’s been making content. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to tell his early videos apart from his recent work. While that lack of growth may seem detrimental at first, it gives Barney’s videos a timeless quality, one that invites new viewers to join the party, while keeping his diehard fans coming back for his so-called internet comfort food. Chances are high that you’ve heard of him already (you’re probably subscribed!), but if you haven’t, let me break down what makes Barney such a sensation.

Barney is known for his “brutal hot takes” on people’s pets. On a scale of One Star to Five Stars (Five being the best, of course), Barney almost universally doles out One Star. The sometimes insulting, but never crass or vulgar, commentary he eschews is usually based on superficial qualities and stereotypes associated with the different breeds he sees, yet it’s always founded in realistic concerns pet owners would find relatable. It’s sometimes cruel, but it’s also got an oddly objective quality that mystifies nearly as much as it entertains. And, not to be rude, but Barney’s personality hides a surprising insight; he clearly has a working knowledge of what it means to own a variety of pets.

Despite the harsh criticism, or perhaps because of it, the submissions for ratings keep coming in, and Barney is more than happy to oblige. The result? petrater.com’s YouTube channel has over 30 million subscribers, and the count grows every day.

It was with this notoriety in mind that I reached out to Barney for an interview, fully expecting him not to respond. Somehow, our email made it through, and, more miraculously, he agreed to talk. I was giddy – it’s not every day you interview somebody whose fanbase could populate New York City four times over. Would he be brash like in his videos, or would we get a Barney that was more down to earth? It didn’t take long to find out.

We met over video chat, and I wasn’t surprised to find him in his trademark yellow shirt and soiled, brandless gray baseball cap, sitting in front of the plain white wall that’s served as the background for his videos from day one. Whatever question I had before, now I knew: I was interviewing the real Barney, and I was almost certainly in for one of the most unusual chats of my career. We exchanged some pleasantries and dove right in…

First, I appreciate you joining me today, Barney. You have a lot of fans, and I’m sure they’re eager to learn about you and your process. So, let’s start there. You make at least three new videos every week and you review somewhere around forty or fifty pets throughout. How much work does it take for you to have that level of productivity?

Barney: Work? You kiddin’ me? [Laughs] I get thousands of requests for reviews every day. The audience does all the work for me. What do I gotta do? It’s like two sentences per pet. I just sit in front of my webcam and riff, that’s it. Only thing I gotta do is get the pictures to show up in the video. That ain’t work. Yet, somehow, it has made me rich.

Thousands of requests every day?

Barney: Yeah. There’s an email in the description of every video. My inbox always has, like, 8000 unopened ones.

How do you decide which ones to review?

Barney: I don’t. I just pick a bunch at random, more than I’m gonna use in the video. If they’re all unremarkable, I’ll just go with the first ten or somethin’. The only time I really choose is if there’s one that’s, like, really bad, ya know? I’ll bump one to fit a really bad one.

So, you choose for negativity.

Barney: Have you seen my videos? [Chuckles]

We have! Actually, we’ve done some analysis. You’ve reviewed over 50,000 pets across all your videos. Just over 90% get One Star reviews, 8% get Two Star reviews, just under 2% get Three Stars, and only one has gotten Five Stars. That was a big deal. Tell us about that.

Barney: The Five Star?

Yeah.

Barney: That was a dead goldfish. The owners didn’t wanna flush it, so they put it in a plastic bag and froze it, then they sent me the picture as a joke. Sounds dark, but if you think about it, it’s the best kind o’ pet. If you turn it upside-down, BOOM!, you got your goldfish, upright and always swimmin’. Then, what else? You don’t gotta feed it, you don’t gotta clean up after it. It’s just there. It’s beautiful. [He makes a chef’s kiss] Five stars.

Some people might say that defeats the purpose of having a pet.

Barney: Yeah, well, those people are missing the point. I don’t review pets for love. People can love anything. I mean, we’re talking about a society that used to sell rocks, for crying out loud. Tell people to love something, they’ll love it. I review pets for practicality. What do they bring to the table? Usually, nothing, that’s what. That’s how come almost all of ‘em get the One Star rating. They don’t give nothin’. They just take.

Do you have pets?

Barney: I got pets, yeah. Three cats and a dog.

How would you rate them?

Barney: Uhhh…geez. The dog? One Star. Brings nothing to the table. The cats? Two stars each. Most cats are two stars. They pretty much take care o’ themselves, but you still gotta feed ‘em and scoop their litter. Plus, they wreck the furniture. If the boys ain’t neutered they spray and stink up the house, too. But they’re usually less destructive than dogs, so, yeah. That’s how come they get the better rating.

Sounds like you prefer pets that are low maintenance.

Barney: I mean, mostly. It don’t gotta be, though. Sometimes we get these farm dogs, collies. They do work. Cows, goats, chickens, sometimes horses, you get stuff outta them. They’re a lot o’ work to take care of, but at least you get something out of it. Those’re all Two Stars. Unless the collie is just some dumb dog somebody got for no reason. That’s One Star.

What about the Three Star pets? You don’t give those out very often. They’re almost like a gold standard to your viewers.

Barney: Three Star animals gotta do somethin’ special. These ones got what I call a return on investment – the competition animals or the social media super stars. They gotta have some kind o’ following or win multiple competitions, otherwise, you can’t rule it out as a fluke. A one-hit wonder pet is nice, but that’s just Two Stars on account o’ they got lucky.

Why don’t you give out Four Stars?

Barney: I ain’t never seen no Four Star animals.

What would that look like?

Barney: I don’t know. I ain’t ever seen one before.

What do you imagine one to look like?

Barney: A Four Star pet? I don’t know. Right out the gate, they can’t be ugly. They gotta be universally considered to be a good-lookin’ animal. They probably gotta have that competitive edge like the Three Star pets, and then they gotta do more, like sniff out your cancer or whatever. Maybe talkin’ like some kinda Lassy or somethin’, or Mr. Ed. Those animals can make money for you. They can pay for their own care and maybe make you money in the process.

But if they make you money, why wouldn’t you consider that a Five Star animal?

Barney: Because they ain’t gonna feed themselves or clean up their own messes. They’re still animals.

Of course! We should’ve thought of that...Before we let you go, would you be willing to rate our pets for us?

Barney: Totally. I kinda figured you might ask.

Perfect. We’ll take this time to let listeners know that you’ve never seen these animals before and that these reviews are totally off-the-cuff. Are you ready?

Barney: Show me the animals.

Great. This one is our editor Matt’s malamute.

Barney: A malamute is a big dog. They shed like crazy if you live anywhere warmer than the North Pole, so get ready for you and your guests to be breathin’ doghair. Plus, since they’re so big, if they ain’t well trained and they jump, they’ll take out your grandma and break her hip – and THEN they’ll choke her out with their fur. I might give it another star for the funny-sounding name, but I hate pickin’ up fur! One Star.

This is our photographer Emily’s cat, Mindy. She’s a domestic shorthair.

Barney: All right. The short hair is good. It means she don’t get knaps. She don’t look like she’s got nothin’ out o’ whack, so that’s good, too. What I don’t know is how needy she is. Normally, I get a little bio about the pets in the emails. I’m gonna just assume she’s overly needy because I am a cautious individual. That means she probably wrecks the house when Emily is out, and that ain’t good! One Star.

One of our other photographers, Gary, wanted you to rate his orange tabby, Ginger.

Barney: Uh-huh. Well, as an orange tabby, Ginger is also shorthaired. Most of the orange tabby’s I’ve known have been close to feral. They’re bullies, and they destroy your house while they look you in the eye! Most of ‘em are boys, but Ginger is a girl’s name. That might be a point in Ginger’s favor, but, again, I don’t know the cat, so I’m gonna have to say One Star.

Here’s our writer Diana’s African Gray parrot, Tinky.

Barney: Yeck. A parrot? Who do you think you are, Diana! They have the intelligence of a four-year-old or somethin’. Who wants to take care of a toddler for, like, a hundred years? Plus, if they get mad, they pluck out their feathers, and a naked bird is an ugly bird, and an ugly bird ain’t worth nobody’s time. One Star.

All right, last one. This is my beagle, Benji, and my Turkish van, Moana.

Barney: I see what you’re trying to do, and it ain’t gonna work. Your cat is on your dog’s back while your dog is up and walking around. You thought it was cute, so you snapped a picture. Cute don’t mean nothin’ to me! Even if they did that all the time, which I bet they don’t, it don’t make up for the fact that you ripped your names straight from the Disney vault. Benji is a beagle, and beagles howl constantly. They’re supposed to be hunting dogs, but most o’ the people I know got beagles live in the city and don’t hunt. I’m gonna bet you don’t, neither. I’d give you points for not naming him Snoopy, but howling is annoying, and I will not let that go. Now, Turkish vans are longhairs, which means Moana’s fur is gonna be everywhere, and it’s white, so you can’t where nothin’ dark. If you don’t brush her, she can get knaps in her fur. Then you gotta take her to the vet’s or a groomer and pay for a lion cut, which looks stupid. One Star and One Star. And before you ask, two One Stars, don’t make for one Two Star. They’re both bad! End of story.

One hundred percent One Stars!

Barney: Maybe you shoulda shown me some better animals. Then you might’ve gotten better ratings.

I guess so! Well, Barney, this has been enlightening. Thank you very much for joining us today. Before you go, can you just give us your usual salutation? I think people would like to hear it.

Barney: Sure thing. Hi, my name is Barney. This is petrater.com. Today I’m gonna be reviewing your pets, but don’t get your hopes up, they’re probably all bad!

Amazing. I just got chills.

Barney: Yeah, me, too. [Chuckles]

Thank you again, Barney. We love your videos. Keep up the good work!

Barney: Thank you for havin’ me. Like and subscribe; ring the bell or whatever. And like and subscribe to these guys, too. They got a good setup and good people, so, like, you should do that.

Thanks for the plug.

Barney: We gotta take care of each other!

Absolutely.

*Barney from petrater.com can be found reviewing pets on his YouTube channel petrater.com. Viewers can submit pictures and bios of their pets for Barney to rate at petrater@mbc.com. His videos premier on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3:00 PM EST.

*Joani Higgs is an award-winning writer and editor for Vertigone Magazine. She hosts the Vertigone podcast Who The What?! which airs every Wednesday at noon EST. See her profile and stories and all episodes of Who The What?! on vertigone.com.

April 11, 2022 14:50

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8 comments

Michael McKean
00:46 Apr 21, 2022

I was assigned this story through the Critique Circle email. Personally, I think critiques should only be given by contest winners. But I want to get feedback on my story so I can improve, and this is the hoop I have to jump through to do that. So I'll give it a try. What I liked about the story: The dialogue was very well-written and engaging. I'm not sure if Barney is a real person or not, but his character was extremely well-developed. I could see him saying those witty words in my head as if he were right here beside me. I found it impo...

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Andrew Audibert
20:21 Apr 21, 2022

Hi, Michael. Thank you for the feedback. I perfectly understand where you're coming from. I think the intention was to create something that was a quick, fun read. If there was a "purpose" to the broader piece, maybe you can argue that it's meant as a satire aimed at 1) the ludicrous number of podcasts there are nowadays and 2) the amount of attention we give to things like "the pet rater" that would have been scoffed at years ago. I appreciate how a more traditional narrative (or a more concerted effort to evoke a more narrative structure) ...

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Jeannette Miller
15:55 Apr 16, 2022

I like the set up for this, the premise is solid, and the dialogue is super funny. It definitely reads like a transcript (which you stated in the beginning) which keeps it from being more of a story. It's super clever and well written but it gives me nothing to connect to, if that makes sense. You're fantastic with dialogue and pacing. I look forward to reading more of your stories :)

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Andrew Audibert
16:08 Apr 16, 2022

Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it. When you say, "nothing to connect to," do you mean some kind of narrative hook? Thank you for the feedback!

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Jeannette Miller
16:21 Apr 16, 2022

Yeah, sorry, I should've been more clear. Both characters are well written but we don't get to know either of them very well in this format. A narrative angle would give the reader a chance to get inside the pet rater's head a little bit or even the interviewer, depending on who's perspective you thought was more interesting. Give something to relate to, empathize with, or despise :) I forgot to tell you! "it’s nearly impossible to tell his early videos apart from his recent work" is GOLD. I almost choked, haha.

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Andrew Audibert
16:41 Apr 16, 2022

I totally get what you're saying. And thanks again, Jeanette! I'm glad to know you found it entertaining. It's difficult to get a sense of whether something is honestly funny or if I'm just in my own head (my wife is great for letting me know when that happens!)

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Jeannette Miller
16:53 Apr 16, 2022

I feel you. I think the plays I write are hilarious but I never really know until I hear people laugh. Of course, it helps to have a good director who gets it.

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Andrew Audibert
16:54 Apr 16, 2022

Definitely. Here's to making ourselves laugh!

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