‘Found Footage Festival’ Brings Hilariously Strange Videos to Champaign Audience


A VHS tape titled "Rent-A-Friend" is featured in the 'Found Footage Festival' show coming to Champaign Jan. 24, 2018.

Found Footage Festival

The 'Found Footage Festival' showcases the best and funniest discarded videos, found in thrift stores and dumpsters around the country. The 80-minute comedy tour through strange footage is stopping at the Art Theater in Champaign Thursday night at 8 p.m. 

Illinois Public Media spoke with Nick Prueher, a comedian who co-founded the show with his childhood friend Joe Pickett, to learn more about  the origins of the 'Found Footage Festival' and what audiences can expect this year. 

How did the show get its start?

My buddy Joe and I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and there just wasn't a lot to do. As teenagers we spent a lot of time in thrift stores and we would look around for things to entertain ourselves, and videotape started showing up in the early 90s. We thought, ‘there has got to be something good on these.’ We just started buying anything that looked interesting. So you know, a Mr. T educational video or the promotional tape you could order from Hair Club for Men. We'd watch all those and find parts that made us laugh, you know unintentionally funny parts, and then we'd have screening parties for our friends. We just kept doing that as a hobby and it became more and more of a passion and the collection of our found videos just grew. We had like 1,500 in around 2004, and we were like what if we took this thing we did in an apartment and our parents’ houses and put it into a theater somewhere. I wonder if anybody would show up? So we've been touring it ever since. With new videos every year and we take it on the road.

You've been doing this show since 2004. Is there anything new this year or that you're particularly excited about?

One of the things that we've started doing very early on in touring was, whatever city we were in, we'd go to their local morning news show and come on and play video clips and try to get people to get excited about the show that night. Just as quickly as we started doing that, we realized we hated doing that. The news anchors would forget we were coming, they'd get the name of the show wrong. To entertain ourselves and to kind of see if they're paying attention, truly, we started sending out press releases for people, like fake people, like ridiculous characters we made up. We started going on as those people. Last year we went on as a strong man duo and we went on and did very unimpressive feats of strength like breaking twigs in half and stomping on Easter baskets. So this year there are highlights that have never seen the light of day from the news appearances we did. But also, one of the stations in Wisconsin sued us and we spent the better part of last year trying to dig out from that extensive lawsuit. But at the end of it all we kind of came out on top. It was still expensive but the consolation prize is we got to keep all of the footage of us being deposed. We're basically going to be making fun of ourselves and showing off some of that footage.

You’ve been finding footage for more than 10 years now. Have you noticed any trends?

Early on we would start to get things like exercise videos and children's videos. Those are like the first things that end up at Salvation Army and Goodwill. As the years have gone on, entire collections have gone up as DVD became the format. So we find stuff that shouldn't be at thrift stores like home movies, training videos other stuff that just doesn't really fit into any category. We have a video from Chicago called “Rent-A-Friend.” I mean the actual concept of this was that if you were lonely and you had a VCR, you could put this this tape in and the guy on screen, a very nice man named Sam, would sort of keep you company for that 45 minutes

How long does it take to find all of this footage? And what’s the criteria for making it into the show?

Number one, it has to be physically found in hand, usually by us. But sometimes people come up to us or share their finds. Last time we were in Champaign we had somebody with a big box full of tapes that they dropped off. The other thing is it has to be unintentionally funny. Whatever it was trying to do, it has to sort of fail out in some kind of entertaining way. The process itself is kind of long. I mean we spend about a year touring with a show and on the road we're at thrift stores during the day trying to find new material. And it takes us several months to go through it all and then hopefully at the end of that you have enough material for the next year’s show. The white smoke comes out of the Vatican, well our office in Brooklyn, and we know that a new show has been announced.

Story source: WILL