These days, it’s only a short walk to work for Jonothon Lyons as an off-broadway performer with a very New York alter ego: Buddy the Rat. Lyons, who’s also a puppeteer, has been working on this silent character for years.  

"As a New Yorker, I was used to seeing the rats all the time, and I just had the idea that I wanted to make one," said Lyons.

But people hate rats, right?

"They do say they hate rats, but if you look up Rats of Instagram or #rats, there's a lot of people with pet rats, and they’re really adorable.”

With time on his hands in the pandemic, Lyons decided to unleash his inner rat on New York.

What You Need To Know

  • Off-Broadway performer Jonothon Lyons has been working on a rat character for years. It has finally put him center stage during the pandemic

  • First, Lyons perfomed as Buddy the Rat online, but he was so popular that Lyons began taking his act to the NYC streets

  • Lyons posts his rat exploits on social media, including his version of pizza rat, another NYC viral sensation of a real rat dragging a slice of pizza down the subway stairs
  • Fans like Marc Frias follow Lyons online and are shocked and excited to catch him in person

"I don't feel limited, even though theaters aren't open yet, because I know that I have the street available anytime I want to go perform," he told us.

His character certainly is a draw. Early in the pandemic, Lyons performed his rat routine online, but it was so popular he brought Buddy to his natural habitat.  

"It is to make people happy. It just didn't occur to me quite how important that is right now how, how sad so many people are being stuck at home, and to come across my videos and laugh for a second. That's been really the most meaningful thing," said Lyons. 

Photo courtesy of Jonothon Lyons.

And as we were following Lyons, a passerby suddenly started screaming and running towards us. 

"I wanted to catch this guy for so long. Oh my god, I had a run and stop doing what I was doing at work," said Marc Frias.

We asked why was he so excited. 

"Because this is literally New York City streets, there's rats everywhere. I've been catching him all over like social media, and now here you are. I was like saying to myself, ‘I needed him to be somewhere by my job,’ and I gotcha,” Frias exclaimed, actually jumping up and down.

Lyons understands the excitement. 

"They’ve been watching the social media for so long that it's really cool to have like an in person interaction," he said. 

Lyons suits up as Buddy in his Brooklyn apartment and then heads out with props like a giant slice of pizza — a nod to another viral sensation, pizza rat.

And yes, this being New York, Buddy often encounters real rats, but they are not as  cute, or able to draw a crowd.