For many New Yorkers, the city’s subway system comes with a host of frustrations, transgressions against transit etiquette often chief among them. Posters are plastered in cars as reminders of common courtesy: Give up your seat to a pregnant woman, don’t man-spread, take that ten-pound pack off your back. But in addressing bad train behavior, there is no mention of the worst offender — the subway pervert. Every woman in New York dreads the experience or has a story like this:
“I was on the F train when I felt a man groping me,” says Liz Batista, eighteen, from the Bronx. “I said, ‘Excuse me, do I know you?’ But what else could I do? I wish more people would see it’s a big problem.”
That’s precisely what Bay Ridge natives Brian Bonz and Mike Rizzo confront in their latest video. The comedy duo known as Bobo Touch are fast becoming known for their silly, intentionally offbeat rap videos, presented as PSAs for New York life. Past videos on their website offering “tips for the counterculture” confront people who block train car doors or text while walking. But they say this latest campaign is one of their more serious efforts.
“There’s an increase of people filming incidents of sexual harassment on the subway,” says Bonz, 29. “The way we address that in our video is in-your-face, but it’s an accurate reflection of the lewd and vulgar acts women deal with every day.”
This summer, NYPD transit chief Joseph Fox announced a surge in sex crimes in the subways, with 343 offenses reported in the first half of 2015 — a 7.5 percent increase from the same time last year. But it didn’t take statistics for Bonz and Rizzo to see sexual harassers on trains as their next target.
“We draw from real-life situations faced by people around us,” says Rizzo, 30. “What we do is satire or parody, but we are serious about the subject matter and genuinely saying that subway creeps need to be called out.”
Growing up in New York, Bonz and Rizzo — who were childhood friends — shared a love for making art that captured the grittiness of the city. As teenagers in the Nineties, they bonded by making videos (which they edited on a VCR) and riding the subway into Manhattan to go record-shopping on St. Marks Place. As with many natives of the five boroughs, Bonz and Rizzo were forced to watch as their city was remade in the image of the developers and moneyed transplants who have scrubbed it of much of its character.
“Back then, there were punks in the street, but now there’s just a Chipotle,” adds Bonz. “Early New York shown in Spike Lee movies, or with Scorsese — we grew up with characters like that, and that’s definitely been a big inspiration for us.”
“We’re called hipsters, but we’re from here,” says Rizzo. “It gets irritating, especially since we rail against those newcomers that carry a sense of entitlement.”
The duo balance Bobo Touch projects between day jobs. Rizzo edits television commercials and Bonz works for a social platform geared toward music creators. By merging their visual and musical skills, what began as a fun experiment has turned into a collaborative after-work endeavor, now involving family and friends.
And it was through a mutual friend that Bonz and Rizzo met the star of their “Subway Creep” video. It features Jessenia Vice, a New Jersey model and actress made famous when crowned by Kim Kardashian as her lookalike on The Tyra Banks Show. Her decision to team up with Bobo Touch was born out of her own frustration dealing with harassment on mass transit.
“I’ve gone through some of the extreme harassment shown in the video,” says Vice. “It even happened during our video shoot — a guy felt he had the right to be inappropriate without caring that a camera was there!”
Bonz and Rizzo say they’re planning to shoot a Christmas video, and they are discussing plans to take a swipe at neighborhoods beyond the usual post-gentrification suspects like Williamsburg and Bushwick.
“No one is safe,” Bonz says with a laugh. “Kew Gardens is next.”