In thrift stores across America, VHS tapes are sitting on shelves collecting dust, destined for the landfill. These home videos, training tapes, exercise programs and other unintentionally hilarious clips may have gone unwatched and forgotten, if not for the efforts of Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, who work tirelessly to curate unusual and humorous films from found-footage clips, bringing the best on tour with the pair’s signature comedic commentary. The tour stops in both Boulder and Fort Collins this weekend.
The festival began when the two were teenagers and in search of something that would entertain themselves and their friends. The group made wisecracks after finding a McDonald’s training video in 1991 and the enthusiasm of the fast-food employee cleaning the bathroom. Then in 2004, as the two were attempting to raise money for a documentary in New York, the idea of bringing back the show for a live audience was born.
“We had this huge collection of VHS, and we’re like, ‘you know what we should do? Let’s edit together our best parts and then put it into a show and see if people pay admission for it,” Pickett said. “We did that in the East Village in Manhattan, and surprisingly people showed up. Somebody wrote about it for the Village Voice then someone at Film Threat wrote about it, and then the rest is history.”
The show is now in its ninth iteration, and the duo is bringing the festival to the Front Range this weekend as part of its nationwide tour. Even now that the festival is in its 16th year, it is still somewhat surprising to the pair that it has taken off as much as it has. The shared love of comedy and cringe keeps the audiences coming.
“It’s been shocking that this inside joke that we thought only me and Joe found funny has resonated with so many people,” Prueher said. “We’re continually surprised that we find new material every year and bring it out on the road. People come up and really appreciate it. It’s like everybody’s part of this secret club of watching these videotapes, you know, relics from our past.”
As digital media has become mainstream, many thrift stores have stopped accepting VHS tapes. But that hasn’t stopped Prueher and Pickett. Their audience has started sending in old videos they’ve found while cleaning out their houses, at estate sales and at public library giveaways, helping them to fill their office full of more than 10,000 tapes.
“We go through as many tapes as we can together, and the rule is that it has to make both of us laugh and it has to be unintentionally funny — so whatever it’s trying to do, it has to fail in some entertaining way,” Prueher said. “The main rule for us is that it has to be physically found on VHS, we don’t take any clips from the internet, we feel like that’s cheating. These are all videos that we found ourselves or that were sent in to use by viewers, so there’s something very tangible about that. And sometimes the story of how and where you found a tape is just as interesting as what’s on the footage.”
These rules have lead to such gems as “The First Annual Martin Carlton Stunt Special,” which features a teenager attempting to jump from one tree to another and failing spectacularly, “How to Sing Like the King,” a step-by-step guide to becoming the best Elvis impersonator you can be, and “Pudgey Wudgey,” a series of recordings of a man’s large orange cat appearing on various Pittsburgh news programs wearing very fashionable outfits.
No matter the content, it is interspersed with commentary from the two comedians to help give context and air the questions most if not all of the viewers have about the absurdity onscreen.
“A lot of people my age and older have VHS skeletons in our closet,” Pickett said. “Whether it’s a home movie or a bad video that you acted in, or whatever it is, I think that speaks to people and people can relate to that. And then we also have younger people who watch it and are just fascinated by the naiveness of how nobody was self-aware back then. Because of the internet and YouTube and so much video, everybody’s self-aware, everybody knows exactly what they’re doing, but back then people were naive, and really just put it out there.”
For a taste of the show and to join the secret video club, visit the pair’s Youtube channel to see their latest endeavor, “VCR Party Live,” which will screen in Denver Saturday. Or check out the Volume 9 touring show in Boulder and Fort Collins this weekend.
If you go:
What: Found Footage Festival Volume 9
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday in Boulder; 7:30 p.m. Sunday in Fort Collins
Where: Muenzinger Auditorium, 1905 Colorado Ave., Boulder; The Lyric, 1209 N. College Ave., Fort Collins
More info: foundfootagefest.com