These guys find comedy gold in the garbage

We spoke to one of the dumpster divers from the Found Footage Festival ahead of their stop in Montreal.

Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett

For the past 10 years, the Found Footage Festival has been offering a very unique viewing experience. Curators Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett spend their days digging through heaps of old VHS tapes — found in thrift stores, garage sales, dumpsters and warehouses — trying to find comedy gold to share with the world. Forgotten tutorials and home movies are given new life with this one-of-a-kind tour through Prueher and Pickett’s collection.

The annual touring festival will be making a stop at Théâtre Ste-Catherine on Monday, so we had a chat with Prueher about the festival’s history and what we can expect from this year’s show.

posterKayla Marie Hillier: For people who aren’t familiar with the festival, what’s it all about?
Nick Prueher: My buddy Joe [Pickett] and I have known each other since sixth grade, and for almost as long we’ve been collecting old, weird VHS tapes that we’d find at thrift stores and garage sales. Things like exercise videos and training videos and home movies — just weird stuff, not movies. We’d pick out the funny parts and then take people on a guided tour of our video collection, with every show. So, the new show that’s coming to Montreal is all weird VHS tapes that we’ve found over the last year on the road.

KMH: How long have you guys been doing this?
NP: Ten years. It’s actually our 10-year anniversary on April 15th. That’s when we had our very first live show.

KMH: When you find footage, how do you know when you’ve got a clip that’s fest-worthy?
NP: It’s all stuff that’s unintentionally funny. We’re attracted to someone earnestly trying to do something. Whether that’s trying to teach you to play bass guitar or training you how to flip burgers — whatever they’re trying to do, they have to fail at it in some entertaining way. Another thing that we’ve found, it’s not a requirement per se, but a lot of our videos involve people with a ton of ambition, but questionable talent — but they don’t care, they just plow through and commit something to videotape.

f1KMH: Do you ever get contacted by people involved in some of the clips that you have in the fest?
NP: Yeah that happens all the time, but more often we’re contacting them. We try to find out the backstory. That’s one of the things that we offer as hosts of the show: we delve deeper into these videos than any normal person would. We do our research.

In fact, for this new show, we found a video labeled “Sell, sell, sell,” and it turned out to be an excerpt from an early home shopping channel based out of Wisconsin, from 1987, hosted by these two guys called Jon and Johnny. All home shopping hosts are obnoxious, but nobody tops these guys. They’re so hyperactive that they’re fumbling over their words, dropping things, saying stuff that doesn’t make any sense. So we did our homework and found these guys that we were really enamoured with — one lives in Seattle and is a car salesman and the other is still in home shopping in Tampa, Florida. So we thought as kind of a pie in the sky dream, we’d try to reunite these two for the first time since 1987. They haven’t seen each other, talked to each other, anything. So we did. We flew the guy from Seattle all the way to Florida and we documented this historic reunion and we play the reunion after we play the clip in the show. We really like doing the “where are they now?” thing, involving them in bits and things like that.

f2KMH: Do you have a favourite clip from the ones you’ve found over the years?
NP: Well it changes from year to year, but I think my current favourite is in this new show — we haven’t really shown this anywhere, Montreal will be among the first places to see it. It’s from 1997, by this production company called Simitar and their thing is that whatever fad was coming out, they would latch onto it and quickly produce a video to get in on the market before anyone realized that this fad would be over. So, you’ve got some about Pogs, Y2K, the Internet in 1997 — well, the Internet was out, but it really became popular in 1997 — so they were trying to cash in on people getting to know the Internet. So this video is called How to Have Cyber Sex on the Internet. It’s a weird video because it’s too sexy to be an informational video, but it’s not sexy enough to get off to. So what’s the point? It’s like they couldn’t make up their minds. So you just have this very strange video with really horrible editing, so we play that video and comment on it in the show. And I really like when we play that one.

KMH: Can people send in videos as well?
NP: Well, we’ll be in Montreal in the local thrift stores looking for stuff, but yeah, we’re only there one day a year. So if anybody’s found something there in Montreal, we encourage them to send it to us. Or even better, bring it to the show! We love hearing stories of people’s finds and being able to share them with people next year on tour. ■

The Found Footage Festival comes to Théâtre Ste-Catherine (264 Ste-Catherine E.) on Monday, March 24, 9:30 p.m., $12

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