News Column

Found Footage Festival finds comedy in old videotapes

November 7, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 07--He found the first one in 1991 when he was in the ninth grade working at McDonald's. It was a training video for janitors, a VCR tape that was gathering dust in the break room.

Nick Prueher swiped it and took it home to show his buddy Joe Pickett. Then they invited friends over to watch it, adding their own running comedic commentary, a la "Mystery Science Theater 3000."

"It was so dumb, so ridiculous," Prueher remembers about the video. "They tried to have a cute plot to it. It was the trainee's first day on the job, and he couldn't wait to clean the bathroom."

After all their friends had seen the tape and grown bored with it, Prueher and Pickett started thinking there had to be more VHS gold to be mined out there.

"So we started looking at St. Vincent de Paul, Salvation Armys, Goodwills, seeing what they had in their VHS sections," he says. "Whenever something new would come up we'd have more friends over to watch."

Still collecting tapes 15 years later, the buddies created a show out of all that vintage comedy -- clips from sexual harassment training tapes, old family movies, student films, music and exercise videos, public-access TV shows and the like -- and took it on the road in 2004.

They call it the Found Footage Festival, a show just quirky enough that both Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon have had them on their shows to talk about it.

They bring the festival to the Alamo Drafthouse, 1400 Main St., at 10:30 p.m. Friday. (Tickets are $10 at Drafthouse.com.)

"I guess the way we describe it, it's a guided tour of our video collection," says Prueher, who worked for "The Late Show With David Letterman" before quitting to travel with the festival full time.

"We have over 5,000 videos. This will be the seventh edition of the show."

The last VHS tapes were produced in 2008, but the guys have found a wealth of material from what they call the golden age of VHS: the '80s and '90s.

Oh the hair!

Oh those clothes!

One of their most popular finds are outtakes from Winnebago promotional videos featuring Jack "The Angriest Man in the World" Rebney, a profanity-spewing salesman who became the subject of the 2010 documentary "Winnebago Man."

Their "Best of the Midwest" lineup showcases videos they've scrounged up from garage sales, thrift stores and dumpsters in Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

"We like Salvation Armys because they don't filter out the videos that much," he says. "Goodwill? If there's a home movie or training video that isn't a copy of 'Jerry Maguire' that they think won't sell, they won't put it on the shelf. It's mostly movies like 'Clueless' or Barney tapes."

One highlight of the Midwest show: a home video they found in Michigan called "Memorial Day 2000."

"It turned out to be a recording of basically these drunkards. They're all like 22 or something, they all go out into this big muddy field and celebrate Memorial Day by getting drunk," he says. "It turns into kind of 'Lord of the Flies' ... complete debauchery for three days on videotape."

They have a special treat for their Missouri audience, too: rarely seen footage from pranks they pulled on morning TV news shows in St. Joseph and Joplin in 2011.

They only recently admitted that they were behind the stunts.

"Like a lot of our ideas," Prueher says, "it came out of boredom. Occasionally we will do these morning news shows to promote the show. And we couldn't believe how easy it was to get on these shows. So we thought it'd be funny if we tried to get a fictional person booked, just to see if we could do it."

They got a friend to pose as Kenny "K-Strass" Strasser, a yo-yo master in green polyester shorts and blue suspenders who teaches kids about the environment.

"Then whatever city we were going to be in, we said that was his hometown -- Joplin, St. Joseph," he says.

But K-Strass couldn't work a yo-yo, as TV audiences quickly saw when unsuspecting, earnest show hosts interviewed the inept faker. YouTube hilarity ensued.

"We got away with seven news segments before one of the stations posted it online and it became a viral video and we started getting cancellations," Prueher says.

The K-Strass fiasco on Joplin TV was a particular hit, scoring 2 million YouTube hits in one week. "No one ever found out it was us, but then a news station in Wisconsin did an investigative report," Prueher says.

The guys do about 120 shows a year, last year hitting all 50 states.

In Anchorage, Alaska, they discovered a mother lode of material, "an untapped resource for VHS tapes," he says. "People still have VCRs there, so tapes are still ending up in thrift stores."

Sometimes, the past catches up with them, as it did at a show a few years ago in Minneapolis.

At that event they showed a montage of safety training videos, "each one more hilarious than the one that came before it," Prueher says.

After the show an old guy with gray hair walked up to them.

That guy in the training video who fell off the ladder? That guy who got his hand caught in the table saw?

"It was me," the man said.

To reach Lisa Gutierrez, call 816-234-4987 or send email to lgutierrez@kcstar.com.

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(c)2013 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

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