As the old adage goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. This is especially true for Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett, who have taken old, forgotten candid videos of the past and strung them together into a 90-minute comedy extravaganza.
The show, called the Found Footage Festival, stops in Sacramento on March 6 at 8 p.m. at the Guild Theater. Tickets are $10.
The festival all started when Prueher worked at McDonald’s and watched an ancient training video that he found hilariously funny.
“It was insultingly dumb, it was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen,” Prueher said. “We would just screen it for friends and entertain them. Then we started thinking there would be more like that, so we started looking in garage sales and over 20 years we found a lot of goofy videos that weren’t meant to be seen by the general public – but that’s why it’s so fun.”
Pickett and Prueher, who both worked for satirist magazine The Onion, found an expressive and highly entertaining way to pack up humor on a never-ending road trip.
Every year, the team spends up to nine months searching for new footage to keep the festival fresh and original. At every stop along the way, they visit local garage sales and thrift stores to try and find hidden gold.
“There are only two main criteria for a clip to qualify – it has to be found physically, whether it be at a thrift store or garage sale, and we absolutely don’t take anything off the Internet,” Pickett said. “Also, it has to be unintentionally funny. Stuff that wasn’t meant for a mass audience.”
Once the tour is finished, they spend their summer locked away sifting through their newly collected material, finding the nuggets, and editing them into a new show.
“Every summer we pool together all our videos and have a big viewing party,” Pickett said. “Most of the time it’s ridiculously boring, but that’s how we find the bulk of our gems. It’s a needle and a haystack to find good ones. But it’s easier to do if you have other people in the room.”
The simplicity of this process is also the source of its brilliance. Pickett and Prueher have perfected digital technology to reintroduce modern audiences to unscripted historical moments.
“[The popularity of the show] continues to surprise us, we always thought this was something Joe and our friends liked, but wouldn’t have a mass appeal,” Prueher said.
But what exactly is so entertaining about these video clips? It’s not exactly state-of-the-art, nor is it dripping with sardonic humor, so why do audiences come flocking?
“A lot of this footage is uncomfortably familiar to people, like a training video at a crummy first job, or exercise video,” Prueher said. “You couldn’t make fun of it at the time, but now at a distance you can.”
The show is an interwoven mix of footage and comedy. The two hosts introduce each clip, then come back to “discuss” some of the interesting qualities. It’s this part of the show which is what really turns these guys on.
“It’s just fun to share a video collection. It’s like doing a show-and-tell for strangers,” Prueher said. “It just goes back to that basic appeal of the McDonald’s video: I couldn’t wait to show it to people. So that’s still fun for us, it’s the same appeal of show-and-tell at grade school.”
Even though this is a purely comedy based show, Prueher admits that the audience can take away a lot more than that.
“Watching this stuff you’re not supposed to be watching is subversive, because it says a lot more about us as people than the films of the ’50s and ’60s, this is more true to what we really were,” Prueher said.
Literally taking their show on the road means finding venues that are adaptable for a live film festival, something the Guild Theater does considerably well in Sacramento. Robert McKeown runs Guild Theater and manages Movies on a Big Screen, which hosts an ongoing slew of independent films and documentaries.
“The setup is completely different from what we normally do, but it’s worth it,” McKeown said. “[It’s tricky] because it is live comedy with the found footage, and it’s all digitally projected. Which means they’re up in front, so we have to run a long cable, we have to do sound checks which we don’t normally have to do.”
For the first time ever, the festival will feature the documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot, filmed in 1986, in honor of its 25th anniversary.
“It’s an amazing time capsule of that time and place. It just became legendary,” Prueher said. “Nobody had a good copy so we tracked down the guys who made it and they gave us basically the original tape. They thought it would be a good idea if we showed it to people as an opening act.”
As that as the opener, the two Mr. P’s ensure that the show will only continue to get better.
“Some clips are more subtle than others, and some are more explosive laughter,” Prueher said. “We start out in a bang and hit you over the head with it, but we look for balance. We end it with “Coming Attractions,” a bang of quick fire clips from two dozen videos.”
BRITTANY PEARLMAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org