Found Footage Festival comes to Greensboro, battles ‘bizarre’ lawsuit
Told that comedians Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett are being sued in federal court, I assumed it was over their Found Footage Festival coming to Greensboro this Saturday. Although that popular touring show seems protected by the Fair Use doctrine of Copyright Law, it’s a truism that, in America, anybody can sue anybody for anything at any time. So I wrongly assumed that someone had finally objected to their use of ancient VHS tapes recovered from garage sales, thrift stores and dumpsters.
But no, the suit has nothing to do with Prueher and Pickett wringing laughs from old training videos, local T.V. segments and regional commercials. In emails about their Dec. 16 show at Geeksboro Coffee and Beverage Co., Prueher explained they’re being sued over an unrelated prank. They had appeared on a local Wisconsin T.V. newscast as a fictional “strong man duo” called Chop and Steel, performing “feats of strength” like breaking sticks and crushing wicker baskets. The station thought the joke funny, but its owners did not.
“A big media company in Atlanta is embarrassed that we got on one of their shows,” Prueher wrote, calling the company’s claims of fraud “outrageous and bizarre.”
He explained that the station had them stick around after their segment to shoot a promo and that the on-air talent was laughing about it the next day. “We did no damage and meant no harm by this prank,” which he described as intended to highlight the absurdity of local morning news. “If they’re embarrassed by our appearance, they should have asked some basic questions before booking a demonstrably stupid strongman act.” He praised his and Pickett’s legal team, but wrote that expenses “are draining us dry.” Fans interested in protecting free speech can contribute to their defense fund at www.gofundme.com/chopandsteele.
Prueher promised that those attending their Geeksboro show could expect a rollicking good time, not a lecture or plea for help. He wrote that he and his partner are particularly proud of the relics from the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s included on this tour. At the height of that mass hysteria, self-promoting and often absurdly blatant charlatans regularly appeared on local and even national news shows, falsely claiming to be former cultists and seeking lecture fees for tips on combating the imaginary menace.
Their show also includes selections from the private VHS collection David Letterman donated to the Found Footage Festival when he retired last year, on-air bloopers from a decade of North Dakota local news, and a “Welcome Home, Desert Storm” parade featuring Roseanne Barr and “Rico Suave” rapper-turned-pastor Gerardo.
Prueher and Pickett, whose credits include The Onion and The Colbert Report, first met in the sixth grade. They bonded over Small Wonder, the 1985-89 syndicated comedy about a scientist who passes a robot off as his 10-year-old daughter. “Everyone in our class seemed to be watching the show on the level,” Prueher wrote, “but Joe and I couldn’t believe how wonderfully terrible it was. We did not excel in school, but had a very advanced sense of irony.”
They began collecting found videotapes in 1991, after stumbling across a training video entitled “Inside and Outside Custodial Duties” at a Wisconsin McDonald’s. Since then, they claim to have compiled the world’s largest collection of “strange, outrageous and profoundly stupid videos.”
In 2004, their Found Footage Festival debuted in New York. They’ve subsequently sold out hundreds of live shows, appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Bonnaroo and the Just For Laughs Festival, and have been featured on NPR, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel Live!
I asked Prueher if they have any Holy Grail of so-far-unfound footage. He replied they’ve been long seeking “The Super Broker Shuffle,” in which a group of middle managers “rap” about stocking grape juice and dog food, and which can be seen on YouTube. “We don’t take any videos from the internet,” he wrote, “but this music video starring grocery store buyers is so tantalizing that I’d do almost anything for a VHS copy!” He described it as being “like the Super Bowl Shuffle, but without any of the charisma of the 1985 Chicago Bears,” and begged anyone with VHS footage of it to get in touch.
Prueher and Pickett will bring their 2017 Found Footage Festival to Geeksboro Coffee and Beverage Company at 2134 Lawndale Drive in Greensboro on Dec.16 at 9:30 p.m. Tickets to are $10 ($12 day of show) and are available at www.foundfootagefest.com.
Ian McDowell is the author of two published novels, numerous anthologized short stories, and a whole lot of nonfiction and journalism, some of which he’s proud of and none of which he’s ashamed of.