Ten Years of Funny Finds

Found Footage Festival celebrates a decade of long-lost VHS gold

Eric Christenson

Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher show off their zany VHS treasures.
Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher show off their zany VHS treasures.

Former local dudes Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher have been collecting weird and hilarious VHS tapes for more than 20 years, and for the last 10, they’ve traveled around the world showing their edited collection in theater shows as the Found Footage Festival.

Currently celebrating their 10th anniversary, we caught up with them before they make their pseudo-yearly return to Eau Claire Saturday to talk about some of their best finds, how the show has evolved, and Country Jam.

V1: Ten years ... Wow!

Nick Prueher: I don’t know whether doing this for 10 years is incredible or incredibly sad, but at this point we don’t know how to do anything else. It’s not lost on us how lucky we are to sustain a career out of something we were doing for fun in our dorm room in Bridgman Hall. Now we play over 120 shows a year all across the country and recently got back from tours in Sweden and the U.K. It’s very strange. By the way, for anyone attending the show in Eau Claire, the traditional 10-year anniversary gift is aluminum and we’re registered at Crate & Barrel.

V1: Has your process changed in finding tapes, etc.? How?

Joe Pickett: The bulk of our collection still comes from thrift stores. People are still dropping off tapes and DVDs in droves, but I think the thrift stores are having trouble selling them, so we’re bracing ourselves for a VHS drought in the next few years. For this show we’ve received a lot of great submissions. A collector in Memphis, Tenn., gave us a big box of public access videos from NYC and Los Angeles, which was great because public access videos are difficult to find these days. All the stations are drying up due to funding problems, so getting this box of public access gems was a huge score.

The Ballad of John & Johnny: An Early Classic

“‘John & Johnny’ was one of our first classics. Our pal Jamey Brownell was working at Menards and found a box of VHS tapes in a closet in one of the warehouses. The tape was labeled ‘Sell Sell Sell’ and it contained a 30-minute excerpt of a home shopping show called “America’s Value Network.” Apparently Menards used to have a studio where they would tape the show every night for three years or so. This particular AVN show was called “The Fashion And Fragrance Revue” and was hosted by these two hyperactive guys named John and Johnny who were clearly making up everything as they went along. Jamey knew we collected weird videos, so he generously gave it to us. I remember the first night watching it. We invited a few friends over and spent the entire night obsessively analyzing and deconstructing it until we had tears in our eyes. A few years later, when we decided to tour our VHS collection around, J&J became one of the standouts. So, for the 10 year anniversary, we decided to track down John & Johnny and reunite them for the first time in over 25 years. We documented their reunion and show it in the new show. The results are just as magical as they sound.” – Joe Pickett

V1: How has the show evolved?

NP: For us, the most fun part of what we do is sharing our VHS finds with people in a movie theater. Something magical happens when you take these forgotten videos that were never intended to be shown in public and show them in public, on a big screen, in a dark room full of people who are there to laugh. I would say the one way it’s evolved over the years is that Joe and I go to greater lengths to track down the people in the videos and interview them to ask them, “What the hell was happening?” We’ve hired private detectives to find people the last few years, which is something we wouldn’t have done in the first few years of the show.

V1: What’s been the most rewarding?

JP: Traveling around the world and meeting awesome, funny people is probably the most rewarding part of the job. But we’ve had lots of cool things happen along the way too. Last year in Seattle, a guy contacted us and asked if he could propose to his girlfriend on stage after we played their favorite video. It’s crazy when the show becomes more than just us showing stupid videos and making smart-ass remarks over them.

V1: What’s next then? 10 more years? Trying different things?

NP: Joe and I continue to do film projects and comedy writing gigs outside of the Found Footage Festival, but this is our main passion and our life’s work. We are working on a TV show based on the festival, which I think is a great way to showcase our videos to a wide audience without being on the road so much. We’d love to publish another coffee table book of our favorite VHS covers, too, but quite honestly, as long as we’re able to do show of our videos to people in some form or another, I’ll consider that a great success. My only other ambition is to play Country Jam.

We’re excited to play EC. We both went to school at the UW, so we consider this our homecoming show. We always have great shows here and love the people and the bars and seeing the campus again. But, to be honest, we probably love the Savers on Mall Drive more than any of those things.

Catch the Found Footage Festival’s homecoming show at 9:15 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 9 at the Downtown Cinema, 315 S. Barstow St.