Found Footage Festival 

Home video hilarity from the golden age of VHS


Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett have spent the past decade making audiences laugh with weird and wonderful clips from the golden age of VHS.

"Like a lot of good ideas, it sprang from boredom," Prueher says. "Joe and I have known each other since the sixth grade. We grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, and there wasn't a lot going on. We kind of had to make our own fun."

Their idea of fun was trawling thrift stores for weird and obscure VHS tapes from the 1980s and 1990s. "We'd find stuff like Mr. T's Be Somebody, a kids video Mr. T put out in the '80s. We started buying these to see what was on them, and we ended up having viewing parties at my parents' house before any of us had driver's licenses, and we would make running commentaries of jokes."

click to enlarge Facercise
  • Facercise

Most of their collection, which now numbers more than 6,000 tapes, came from the home video explosion of the 1980s. Since they were marketed to video rental stores, movies on tape were expensive, with a single title sometimes costing more than $100. But in 1982, Jane Fonda's Workout was released for the affordable price of $24. It sold more than 17 million copies and inspired an army of imitators. "This was the first time you could buy a VHS camcorder and shoot something without having to get it developed or spool it up," says Prueher. "All the sudden, with the technology in the hands of the people, and this idea that you could be the next Jane Fonda's Workout, there was a gold rush. You had a lot of amateurs hopping on board with this new technology that they didn't really know how to use. So there's a sort of wide-eyed innocence about that era that is endearing, but really hilarious."

Prueher and Pickett founded the Found Footage Festival in 2005. "Ten years ago, we thought maybe people beyond our immediate circle of friends would find this funny, too. So we just kind of took a leap and put on a show in the back of a bar in Manhattan," Prueher says. "We edited together some of our favorite moments and gave people a sort of guided tour through our collection. You know how they say things come back into style 20 years after the fact? Maybe VHS was like that. There was enough distance for people to look back at these old exercise videos and training videos and little nuggets that fell through the cracks and laugh."

click to enlarge John & Johnny
  • John & Johnny

2005 was also the year YouTube launched. "It's really retrained people's minds, in a way," he says. "Early on, when we were doing our live shows, we had to explain why you'd want to come see a video that isn't done very well. But now, we just have to say, 'You know those bad exercise videos you see on YouTube?' And people get that you can extract funny parts from something that was much longer."

Over the years, the Found Footage Festival has become an international success. "I couldn't believe I was in Paris showing a video I found while I was taking the trash out at my apartment!" Prueher laughs.

Memphis is one of their favorite stops on the tour because they always seem to find new material here. "The very first DVD we included in the show was from Memphis," Prueher says. "We found it at the AmVets store on Elvis Presley Boulevard. It's supposed to be the world's largest thrift store. We make sure to book shows in Memphis specifically to come back to it."

click to enlarge Totally Tulip
  • Totally Tulip

This year, Memphis video collector Ilene Markell will join the crew onstage for one segment. "We have created the greatest public access montage ever. It's 4 1/2 minutes of incredible footage she had." Prueher says.

Prueher says the key to the show's success is getting the tone just right: "If it was just dismissive or snarky, it would get old really fast. We obsess over these videos. Sure, we're making fun of them, but it comes from a loving place. We look at it as a celebration of this weird part of our history. We're continually amazed that people love it."



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