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C.J.: VHS is not yet dead for the Found Footage Festival Tour dudes

October 10, 2018

Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett are coming back to town with their annual “Found Footage Festival Tour.”

The New York City comics are Wisconsin natives who also consider themselves Minnesotans because they lived in the Twin Cities after college. The festival, which started in 2004, will be at the Heights Theater at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1.

“We love it there,” Prueher said. “They have a Heights organist play. Sets the atmosphere. And then we go desecrate this beautiful old cinema with our dusty old VHS clips.”

“This has been our full-time job for about 12 years,” said Prueher. “We do about 130 shows a year all across the world — Australia, Scotland for a month.”

They also have a new internet show, “The VCR Party,” viewable at YouTube.com/foundfootagefest. “We do these annual shows, but in between we are finding a lot of great stuff. Not all of it makes the cut for our live shows, so we started doing an internet show where we broadcast from our office.”

Prueher credits Minneapolis as the place “we honed our VHS collecting and started showing it off to friends. The collection really grew there because Joe had a job at the film equipment rental place and also duplicated videos. He had a customer [who] needed 100 copies of a VHS tape. If the footage was good, Joe would make an extra copy for us.”

Wait, wait, wait. How was that legal? Prueher laughed: “I don’t know if it was legal but, uh, it was for private viewing. That’s how we justified it.”

None of their “Found Footage Festival” or “VCR Party” material comes from the internet: “It all comes from VHS tapes we have found in hand.”

Highlights of the 2018 festival include a “montage of unwittingly hysterical exercise videos, starring Angela Lansbury, adult film star Traci Lords, and a bearded hippie named Zar,” plus safety videos from a local insurance agency that are unintentionally funny and gruesome.

These guys are pranksters, as you can see by reading Prueher’s answers below or googling: “Inside The Dumbest First Amendment Battle Of 2017.”

Q: Tell me more about the insurance videos?

A: There’s a whole series of safety videos by a Twin Cities insurance company. They would make people watch these videos in order to be insured by them. Mandatory videos. There are basically a series of on-the-job accident re-enactments and they are so over-the-top gruesome and unintentionally funny. A rubber hand going into a table saw. It’s this perennial hit for us.

Q: What’s the atmosphere at this office from which you are doing your internet show?

A: It’s strewn with almost 10,000 VHS tapes. It’s informal. We’ve found stuff that week and every Tuesday at 9 p.m. we have people sit in. Special guests. We had David Cross (“Arrested Development,”) and Jon Glaser (from “Parks and Rec”) watch the videos with us and give people a window into our process.

Q: You have 10,000 tapes at the office? How many do you have at home?

A: Probably a couple hundred. Our video collection was divided between my apartment, Joe’s apartment and a storage locker in Queens. Last year we found affordable office space. We put up a bunch of shelves; we have 14-foot ceilings and a ladder to get to the stuff on the top shelf. They are categorized now. We have a whole section called “Fashion” but within that we have a section called “Scarves” — 12 different videos about how to tie scarves. It gets very specific. We not only have a “Ventriloquism” section, we have a “Religious Ventriloquism” section. Clowns get their own section.

Q: Did you pranksters learn anything about misrepresenting yourselves on morning TV shows as a result of the legal tussle FastCompany.com wrote about under the headline: “Inside The Dumbest First Amendment Battle Of 2017?”

A: No, not at all. That emboldened us. It was a real triumph for us. They ended up settling the lawsuit. We’ll be showing some of that (deposition) footage in Minneapolis and telling the story of that.

C.J. can be reached at cj@startribune.com and seen on FOX 9’s “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.

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