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If you’ve surfed YouTube, like, ever, the chances are good you’ve watched a video featured in the Found Footage Festival. Over the past 10 years, the show’s founders and curators Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher have exhibited such viral video classics as Winnebago Man, the infamous McDonald’s training video, and Rent-A-Friend, culled almost entirely from videos found in thrift stores, garage sales, and as of late, fan submissions.
Most recently, the comedians conspired to prank news outlets across the country stations with fake celebrities like K-Strass, disastrous yo-yo master, and Chef Keith, the leftover guru who famously coerced small-town news anchors into chowing down on mashed potato ice-cream cones and permanent marker-stained sandwiches.
Now, the duo is back with a nationwide tour and a brand-new video lineup. Tomorrow, to celebrate a decade of screening oddball tapes, they’ll take the stage at the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse. We caught up with them to preview the new show.
You’ve been touring for years. Is it hard to be on the road so much?
JP: We’ve been doing this aggressive touring for about six years. We’ve been touring for about 10 years, but for the last six, we’ve kind of made it a full-time job. The days are spent going to thrift stores and stuff.
Have you found any videos that were so bad you didn’t show them?
NP: Well, we clearly don’t have any standards. I think we’ve shown every conceivable body part…that you can see.
JP: We’re especially excited about this show because we’re featuring two body parts that we’ve never shown in previous Found Footage Festivals.
NP: We’re just running out of body parts to show, to be honest.
JP: They’re not the popular body parts, either, they’re more of the deep-cut body parts.
NP: The main thing that keeps us from showing things is if it’s not funny. You know, if it becomes too disturbing that it’s not funny anymore. That’s really the line that we try to walk. There’s been debate. There’s one video that we have in our collection that has never made it in the show. It’s a video that was sent to the guitar player Steve Vai by a fan. It’s a woman looking directly into the camera and saying, “I love you Steve, happy birthday, I know how you can make all these crazy sounds with your guitar, well, look what I can do.” And then she proceeds to make crazy sounds… I think the most polite way to say it is with an orifice other than her mouth. The woman clearly has a dead-eyed stare. She has a few screws loose. And for us, that straddled the line.
JP: We also won’t show anything off the Internet or anything that’s trying to be funny. Well, I guess we will play things that are trying to be funny, but things that are just unintentionally unfunny.
I know you sometimes find amateur tapes or home movies. Have you run across anything creepy, like a recorded criminal act?
JP: I wish.
NP: Although one time, in Milwaukee, Ore. we found I think a half-dozen tapes that were labeled “courtroom evidence.” We bought a couple of them, and I don’t think it was anything interesting.
In the past decade, I’ve seen a lot more interest in old bizarre footage. Do you think your show has anything to do with that?
NP: I think it would be giving us too much credit to say that we influenced it. But certainly we were there in the beginning. We started this show pre-YouTube. We used to have to go a long way to explain why people would want to watch bad videos. Now it’s just a shorthand [explanation]. They get it. Somebody’s been forwarded a weird ‘80s exercise video before, and so they kind of get the genre that we’ve been working in. Some of the videos that were in our first touring show, like the Jack Rebney Winnebago video, became some of the first viral videos. Maybe we were curating funny content at the beginning of people’s appreciation for the VHS era. Maybe we just got it first.
Why do you think it got so popular?
NP: Even if you haven’t seen these specific videos, you’ve had to watch a crummy training video at your first job, or you’ve seen an exercise video that your mom used to watch every morning before school. There’s something uncomfortably familiar about a lot of these tapes. I think there’s something cathartic about it, and it’s definitely nostalgic.
JP: And it’s cool for us when people tell us about their videos. It happens more and more now. In this new show, we have three or four videos that people have given to us after shows. Some really good ones, too, that we would have never found on our own.
But you guys aren’t the only group that does this. One group that comes to mind is Everything Is Terrible. What’s their deal?
JP: We actually did a versus show against them at the Howard Theatre for the Bentzen Ball last year.
NP: We’ve always been butting heads with them over the years. I think for a while there was genuine bad blood between us, or at least we thought there was. But then we meet them, and they’re exactly like us. Cool dudes. We liked them a lot. We did that versus show, and I should also point out that we absolutely destroyed them. We beat them 12-1 in our arbitrary scoring system.
Speaking of copycats, does anyone pass off your finds as theirs?
JP: There was a VH1 show that came out called, like, Web Junk 2.0. They clearly bought our DVD and then ripped them and then played them on their show. I remember that bothered me, but now it’s like, I don’t know, we stole all this stuff. I guess we can’t be mad that we stole it first.
Once you run out of VHS tapes to exhibit, will you move to another medium, like DVD?
JP: Well, I’m not proud to say this, but we have dabbled in DVD, actually. We tried to be VHS purists for the first six years of touring, but we’d find awesome-looking DVDs, and we had to include them. It’s hard to say no.
NP: I’m curious about about other formats, like CD-ROMs, some of those Sega CD video games that had real footage in them, thumb drives.
JP: Again, we aren’t proud, we’re not bragging about this.
Fair enough, you are the Found Footage Festival, not the Found VHS Festival.
NP: I think it counts as long as it’s physical media. The one thing that we haven’t dabbled in, and I don’t think we ever will, is things that are online, because those have already been discovered in a way. And they’re available to anybody who can type something into a search engine, really. That kind of takes the art out of it. There’s just something more charming about doing something physically and getting your hands dirty.
Catch the Found Footage Festival at Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse on Friday, Oct. 3. Doors open at 6:15 p.m., and tickets cost $15.