After a Found Footage Festival show last year in Vancouver, a guy came up to hosts Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett with some videos. This is not an unusual occurrence on their comedy tour; shows are composed of the wackiest clips culled from thousands of VHS tapes, which are then mocked by the well-seasoned funny men (they've written for The Colbert Report and The Onion, among other jobs), and there's only so many times you can go to Goodwills across the country before you start seeing the same stuff over and over again. Fortunately, the more the pair performs, which they've been doing since 2004, the more tapes they acquire from fans.
This particular Canadian audience member had heard about a government office in British Columbia that was getting rid of the VHS tapes from its educational library, and he just couldn't let them go to waste. The guy dug through the office's dumpsters and found a dozen tapes with potential, but since he didn't have a VCR himself, he passed them along to Prueher and Pickett. One of them, simply titled Handmade Love, caught Prueher's eye.
When he watched it, Prueher discovered it was a training video released by an educational company. Its goal: Teaching developmentally disabled young men how to masturbate.
"If there was any sort of production value at all to this, it would have been fine. It's a well-intentioned video," Prueher says. "But they didn't even use a tripod or a microphone. It looked like a terrorist video ... The host looks like a serial killer and has a blank stare and he's like 'I'm going to take off my pants now. If this makes you uncomfortable at any point, just stop the tape.'"
The host then graphically goes through the self-love process for his pupils — none of whom are in the video — and provides useful tips (lock your door, never do it in public, etc.). "Just when you think you've found it all, there's this crazy, specific video," Preuher says. He did a little bit of research and discovered that not only is the Handmade Love's production company still in business, but it also makes a sister video called Finger Tips. Obviously, Prueher ordered it. Clips from both are played during the latest Found Footage show.
People may remember Found Footage from 2010's Charleston Comedy Festival, but the 2012 show is brand new — part of a 50-state tour of the U.S. — and features clips you're not going to see anywhere else. By which we mean YouTube.
"This show is probably the most chock-full of weirdos that we've ever had," Prueher says. "We just found a lot of strange, maybe a little unsettling footage this last year, so it's probably the weirdest show we've ever done. And that's saying a lot, actually."
This time, they also got ambitious about tracking down the people in the videos. Prueher and Pickett even went so far as to hire a private detective to find one video subject: Frank Pacholski, the mastermind behind a Los Angeles public access show in 1999 that lasted only a couple of episodes, simply titled Dancing with Frank Pacholski. "He's this middle-aged, balding, overweight man wearing nothing but an American flag Speedo and he's dancing to Mozart concertos," Prueher says. "That's weird enough, but the brilliant part is the audience for this is a semi-circle of about 10 elderly people that clearly don't want to be there. They're not interested in what he's doing, but he's somehow wrangled them to sit in the public access studio and watch him prance around."
The guys flew out to L.A. to meet Pacholski, who was apparently even weirder in person. The new Found Footage show features an exclusive interview with the interpretive dancer.
Prueher and Pickett are on tour nine months out of the year. Every time they stop in a city, Charleston included, they root around local thrift stores and garage sales for material. When they return home, after at least one full VHS-free week, they start prepping material for the next show. That means watching about a thousand videos, which takes about three or four months. They go into it with a yellow legal pad, some pens, and a lot of snacks. They just take notes and make jokes, and the best make it into the new performance. Prueher says they have a stockpile of about 1,200 tapes, so while the last VHS tapes were produced in 2008, Prueher and Pickett have enough to keep them going for some time to come.
"Just when you think you've seen it all, you find some other incredible piece of footage you had no idea existed," Prueher says.
From FFF co-founder Nick Prueher
1. Don't do it. "Unless you want to torture yourself mentally and live in poverty, I would say avoid it at all costs," Prueher says. But if you're as masochistic as he and partner Joe Pickett are, then proceed.
2. Look for interesting video covers. According to Prueher, anything that's eye-grabbing (or that even looks disturbing) could be a good sign — and sometimes, the covers are funnier than the actual footage. Don't pass up anything hand-labeled, since you never know what you're going to get.
3. Buy old VHS camcorders. They're typically pretty cheap, and often their former owners have left a tape inside.
4. Put in the hard work of actually watching everything your acquire. "That's really the toughest slog," Prueher says. "And also try not to fast forward, because you might miss the best part."
5. Sometimes, the funniest part of the video doesn't present itself until after you've watched the whole thing. For example, it wasn't until they got through the entire hour of Magical Rainbow Sponge, a crafting how-to video, that the guys realized how funny the host was. "She's really almost orgasmic about making these little designs," Prueher says, and they cut together two minutes of her excited yelps in a piece that opens the show.
6. Remember there's safety in numbers. "Watching these videos by yourself can drive you batty," Prueher says. "It's like the buddy system when you're swimming: Always have a buddy there to get your through it."
Dancing with Frank Pacholski
From the Found Footage Festival