We talked to Nick Prueher about his Found Footage Festival tour, stopping at Underground Arts (1200 Callowhill Street) this Sunday, November 10, 8pm.
This event is a perfect chance for fans of TV Party and everyone else to see even more of the gold that can be found from the cable access of yester-year.
WitOut: How long have you guys been doing comedy?
Nick Prueher: Joe [Pickett] and I have known each other since 6th grade and have been doing various stupid comedy projects since then. We started a humor newspaper in middle school that we revived as roommates in college years later. Joe and I both wrote for The Onion back in Madison, Wisconsin right out of high school, which was a great experience. Joe is still a contributing writer for them. I did a lot of improv comedy after college and then moved to New York to work for the Late Show with David Letterman and–years later–The Colbert Report. We’ve been lucky enough to be involved in the comedy world in some capacity or another pretty much since puberty. The Found Footage Festival is the perfect vehicle for our brand of humor, I think.
WitOut: Where did the idea for this website come from?
Prueher: I don’t know if I should admit this, but our website for the Found Footage Festival is really an afterthought. The live show is really the heart of the Found Footage Festival and we think watching funny videos on a big screen in a room full of people is far superior to watching them on a little 2-inch window on your laptop.
The idea for the festival was really borne out of boredom. Joe and I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and were always looking for ways to entertain ourselves. In 1991 I was a freshman in high school and was working at a McDonald’s when I found a training video for janitors in the break room. I popped it in the VCR to see what it was all about and could not believe how ridiculous it was. Stilted acting, corny dialogue, and a convoluted plot involving a mysterious thing called “McC,” which the custodian might one day see if he cleaned things extra well. I thought this couldn’t stay in the break room. Joe needs to see this; the world needs to see this. So I stashed it in my backpack and immediately invited friends over for a screening. It became the thing we’d do on Friday night–sit around and watch this remarkably bad training video and make jokes along with it. Then we thought, if there are videos this wonderful right under our noses, imagine what else is out there. And that began our quest to search out of the way places like break rooms, garage sales and thrift stores to find more unintentionally hilarious footage.
WitOut: When was it founded?
Prueher: In 2004, we were trying to raise money for feature-length documentary we directed (“Dirty Country”) and we figured the only asset we had was our crazy VHS collection, which at that point was over 1000 tapes. We decided to take this thing we did in our living rooms for friends and try it out in the back of bar in Manhattan and, to our surprise, people actually showed up. This was pre-YouTube, so I think people were hungry for this type of material and ready to look back at the VHS era and laugh. As a result of that show, we started getting offers to bring it elsewhere around the country. Now we play over 130 shows a year in all 50 states and across Europe and Scandinavia. It’s surreal.
WitOut: What made you decide to tour?
Prueher: Digging through thrift stores and finding VHS gems is great, but the real fun for us is sharing them with people. That’s when all the drudgery of finding, watching and editing pays off. It’s like doing a show-and-tell every night for a new group of people. What’s even better is that now we meet people at shows who have found tapes and donate them to the cause. Our collection keeps growing and we’re currently sorting through all of them for next year’s show.
WitOut: What makes “Public Access Explosion” different from the other shows?
Prueher: This tour is really special to us because a lot of our earliest finds were public access shows. We’d stay up late at night and watch the local cable access channel in Wisconsin with a blank tape loaded in the VCR, ready to hit record if something funny happened. For our money, nothing on TV is more entertaining than public access TV, because it is truly unfiltered. In a world where anyone with a Mac book is savvy enough to make slick-looking movies, it’s really refreshing to see amateurs trying things out on the airwaves. Public access also attracts a lot of unusual characters who want to have their voices heard, which can lead to some interesting content.
WitOut: Any special guests lined up?
Prueher: Yes! We’ve been fans of Jeff Krulik for many years now, especially the 1987 masterpiece he made with John Heyn, “Heavy Metal Parking Lot.” We screened “Parking Lot” for its 20th anniversary before every show on our 2010 tour so we got to know Jeff pretty well, and one thing we were fascinated by were his stories of working at a cable access channel in Maryland in the 80s. He borrowed video equipment from the station to go to a Judas Priest concert and tape the people partying in the parking lot, which captured this wonderful slice of life immortalized in “Heavy Metal Parking Lot.” But Jeff also had the foresight to hang onto a lot of the footage from the public access shows airing in Maryland at the time, and he’ll be sharing a lot of amazing stuff at this special show in Philadelphia.
WitOut: Any favorite outfits from “Heavy Metal Parking Lot?”
Prueher: Great question. I have many favorites, but I’m going to go with the obvious zebra-print jumpsuit.
If you look up Stephen Litten in the dictionary, you’ll find… Stephen Litten.”