Found Footage Festival Takes Comedy Fans Down a Grainy Memory Lane at Grog Shop

(Left to Right) Found Footage Festival’s Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett talk about yet another hilarious VHS find.

Fri 5/12 @ 7PM

Taking the old adage that one man’s trash is another’s treasure to a new high (or low), the Found Footage Festival travels the country showing off America’s sometimes grainy, always dated and embarrassing past.

During the ’90s when everyone was DVD this and CD-ROM that, Wisconsin natives Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher were busy digging around thrift stores looking for disregarded VHS tapes.

“At one point I found a McDonald’s training video and a Mr. T educational video,” Prueher said. “So Friday nights, we’d have friends over and make jokes about the videos. We’d try to figure out what these people were doing now. That was our entertainment.

“We just kept up that hobby throughout different cities and careers. Eventually we had enough videos in our collection to take this out of our living room and put it into a theater somewhere. We did that in 2004 in New York City and people started showing up. The only real change from what we did in our living room is that instead of having to fast forward to our favorite parts on a video, now we actually edit them together. But it’s still the same feel.”

If you’re thinking this sounds like a slightly different version of Mystery Science Theater 3000, you’re not wrong. In fact, after college, Prueher worked as a production assistant on the Comedy Central program. Eventually he landed in New York City where he worked for Late Show with David Letterman and The Colbert Report.

In recent years, the Found Footage Festival has taken off selling out shows across the nation, as well as being featured on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel Live! and National Public Radio. In addition to appearing on the new TruTV series Late Night Snack and in documentary Winnebago Man, Prueher and Pickett released the book VHS: Absurd, Odd and Ridiculous Relics from the Videotape Era.

Found Footage Festival returns to Cleveland for a Fri 5/12 gig at the Grog Shop in Coventry Village. The current show features a collection of satanic panic videos from the ’80s, outtakes and on-air bloopers from North Dakota local news, a “Welcome Home Desert Storm” parade featuring Roseanne Barr and Gerardo and from selections from David Letterman’s VHS collection, which was donated to the Found Footage Festival when the talk show host retired.

“There’s something I think magical that happens when you gather a bunch of people in a dark room and you’re all there to watch these videos and have fun with it,” Prueher said. “I think if nothing else, our show is a time machine back to what we think is the ideal to share funny videos of people.”

Looking ahead, the biggest concern for the Found Footage Festival is finding new material. Not only are VHS tapes starting to deteriorate, but thrift stores stopped carrying the antiquated items due to lack of sales. But don’t worry, Prueher said the group’s storage locker boasts more than 6,000 videos that have yet to be watched.

So what exactly makes a video Found Footage Festival-appropriate? Prueher said there’s a science behind their laughter.

“I think for us it has to be unintentionally funny,” Prueher said. “What we love is seeing the pathos of somebody who is really ambitious with something, even if it was a terrible idea. That’s sort of hard to put your finger on, but you know it when you see it. It’s somebody very earnestly trying to do something and it’s not going to go like they thought it was going to go in some colossal way.

“I think if there’s a through line of all of our stuff, that’s it — a lot of ambition, questionable talent.”

Tickets to Found Footage Festival are $12.

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