‘Found’ creators share stories behind tapes

Proving that one man’s trash can indeed be another’s treasure, New Yorkers Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett have built a touring show around their old VHS tape finds.

The Found Footage Festival turns 10 this year, and Prueher (“The Colbert Report”) and Pickett (“The Onion”) are bringing the show back to Baton Rouge on Wednesday and New Orleans on Thursday. Part video footage and part comedic commentary, the hosts also offer where-are-they-now updates on some of those located from these cinematic gems. In addition to appearances on “Jimmy Kimmel Live, “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and National Public Radio, they’ve played the HBO Comedy Festival in Las Vegas and the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal. Canada is where The Advocate caught up with Prueher, who answered 10 questions about the Found Footage Festival.

Q: Since you’re returning to Baton Rouge, I’m guessing your last stop here was a success. What can you tell me about the show?

A: We had a great time in Baton Rouge last year. The guys at Mud & Water actually hand-made a movie screen for us out of 2-by-4s and it looked great, plus the crowd was really enthusiastic. What I remember most is that afterward I was talking to a random guy at the bar who was very friendly and probably on his fifth whiskey. He kept talking about another bar he had to be at and I offered him a ride there but he said he’d walk. So off he went into the freezing cold, underdressed. The bartender later told me the man was Jeff Dowd, the inspiration for “The Dude” (a character in the feature film, “The Big Lebowski”).

Q: How did this (old VHS tapes) evolve into a show?

A: It started off as something we’d do to entertain ourselves in our small hometown in Wisconsin. We’d find old VHS tapes at thrift stores and then invite people over to my parents’ house to watch them on a Friday night, offering a running commentary of jokes throughout. Eventually, we found enough great footage to take it out of a living room and put in the back of a bar in New York. That was April of 2004 so this year is our 10th anniversary. The show has evolved over the years but it’s essentially still the same idea of giving a guided tour of our video collection, only now it’s at music clubs and movie theaters instead of my parents’ living room.

Q: Where do you find most of the VHS tapes, and are they getting harder to find since they’ve been somewhat obsolete for a while now?

A: We find most our tapes at Goodwills and Salvation Armys and there is still plenty of material out there right now. It seems like the last holdouts with VCRs — daycares and nursing homes — finally upgraded to DVD, so all the VHS tapes in existence are probably on thrift store shelves right now. On the other hand, we’ve heard from Salvation Army employees that some aren’t even accepting VHS donations anymore because nobody buys them. That scared us to death. That’s why we continue to tour all over the country and even overseas to rescue all the VHS tapes we can before they end up in landfills.

Q: Do you have a weirdest and/or funniest VHS tape?

A: Home movies are always the weirdest to us because you have to wonder why they ended up at Goodwill in the first place. Last year we found one in North Carolina of this man, William, who found an unusual stick in the woods near his house and decided to document it on his camcorder. William is convinced that this stick is a prehistoric club that belongs in a museum and this footage is trying to convince the world of that fact. We found over four hours of this footage and he’s talking for so long about “The Club” that you actually start to believe him. A much shorter version of the video is featured in the show we’re bringing to Baton Rouge.

Q: What percentage of the show is the videos and what percentage is live comedy?

A: The format of the show is the (co-host) Joe (Pickett) and I come out and explain where and how we found each video, putting them in the proper context, and then we point things out as the videos are playing. After each clip we come out again and recap what we just saw, often giving where-are-they-now updates on the folks in the video. There’s over an hour of hilarious found video in the show.

Q: How long have you and Joe (Pickett) known each other?

A: Joe and I met in 6th grade and quickly bonded over our love for things that were so bad they were good. There was a syndicated sitcom about a little girl robot called “Small Wonder” that we talked about a lot in school and I think Joe came over to my house one day and we watched an episode together, making jokes the whole time. Our relationship has changed very little since then.

Q: For people who’ve never been to one of your shows, what can they expect?

A: They can expect to see odd and hilarious footage that can’t be seen anywhere else. I think that’s pretty rare these days when pretty much anything you want to do or see is available at your fingertips on your phone. These are training videos, medical videos, exercise tapes and home movies that weren’t meant to be shown in public, and that’s why it’s so much fun to watch them in public.

Q: How long did you work on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” and what did your job involve?

A: I worked on the “Late Show” for 4½ years as the head researcher. Part of my job was to research the guests on the show and track down old embarrassing footage of them to play during their interviews. I can’t think of any better training for what I’m doing now with the Found Footage Festival.

Q: How exactly did you pull off the “Chef Keith” prank (in which Prueher posed as an incompetent chef and managed to get on five morning news shows in the Midwest, to hilarious result)?

A: Joe and I were back in Wisconsin over the holidays doing shows and we got bored, so we decided to try to get booked on TV morning shows in the area as a fake guy and essentially act like an idiot on TV. Since it was right after Thanksgiving, we figured it would be a slam dunk to book a chef who had just written a book about what to do with your holiday leftovers. That’s how Chef Keith came to be, and I drew the short straw for being on-air. We sent out 10 press releases and got seven replies back saying they’d love to have Chef Keith on the show!

Q: Do you have to get clearance to show any of these tapes, and have you ever gotten any backlash from anyone featured in a tape?

A: Since we’re showing small excerpts from much longer videos and putting them in the comedic context of a live show, we don’t have to get written permission to show them. But as part of our research we often track down the people in the videos and fly to wherever they are and interview them. What we’ve found without fail is that these VHS stars are flattered by the attention. They recognize that the show is not mean-spirited and that we genuinely love their videos and therefore they’re able to have fun with it as well.