Talking Obscurity with the Found Footage Festival

The Found Footage Festival is coming to the Art Theater this Thursday, and that means some wacky, vintage VHS tapes that lived in obscurity for some time are getting their time on a big screen. Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett have worked on popular comedy writing teams like the Colbert Report and the Onion, but now they spend their time finding odd tapes to share and explore with live audiences. Ahead of what is sure to be a funny evening of found footage, VCC's Communications Manager Taylor Bauer got some info on the beginnnings of the festival, as well as what audiences can expect if they have never heard of this hilarious show. 


Taylor: Where did the idea to collect obscure VHS tapes come from?

Nick Prueher (Co-founder and host, Found Footage Festival): Boredom. Joe and I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and kind of had to make our own fun. In the early 90s, we started finding VHS tapes at thrift stores - a Mr. T educational video, a promotional video for Hair Club for Men, a McDonald's training video - and we started showing our favorite finds to friends. That's essentially what we're doing now, except we've moved out of my parents' basement.

T: Have there been any videos scavenged from Central IL, preferably in Champaign County if any, that you’ve come across and used or collected?
NP: We find a lot of stuff in Illinois, actually. Your thrift stores are outstanding. Probably my favorite tape is one called "Rent-A-Friend," a high concept video that was made for lonely people with VCRs. This guy, Sam, looks directly at the camera and acts as your virtual friend for about 45 minutes. Five minutes in, he's run out of small talk and starts getting into some pretty weird personal details. We've since met the guy from the video and he lives in a nice house in Chicago and is a great, weird guy. We've become real friends with Rent-A-Friend.
T: Have you come across anything that’s been surprisingly heartfelt or emotional?
NP: Sure, I think a lot of our videos reveal some real pathos behind them. You're getting a pretty unvarnished look at someone's vision, warts and all, and that's what makes it interesting. Of course, for our show it has to be funny, too. That's our main criterion.
T: This is obviously a very unique show you do live and on your website. Was it hard to carve this spot out for yourselves in the parody/comedy scene?
NP: We are comedy writers by trade - Joe worked at The Onion and I've worked at Letterman and Colbert - but sharing our video collection has been a lifelong passion. So there was no master plan to carve out a niche in the comedy scene--this is just something we've always loved doing and, when we started the show in 2004, we found that other people shared our love of unintentionally funny VHS footage. That's been the real revelation in doing this.
T: Have either of you been to Champaign-Urbana before? Any ties to IL?
NP: I think this will be our fourth time playing the Art Theater and we always love it. At first we were surprised that we sold out a show in Champaign but now we come to expect the same group of like-minded weirdos to show up and bring their friends. It's great! Plus, they've got a liquor license, which helps a great deal with a show like ours.
T: What’s a highlight of the Midwest when you tour around this area of the country?
NP: We grew up just south of Madison so we get to visit our old haunts - usually thrift stores - and see friends and family. Last time I was in Champaign, I drove past a big Kraft Mac & Cheese noodle and pulled over to take a picture of it. Security quickly came out and shooed me away, so I have a photo of a guard's hand waving me away from a giant elbow macaroni, which is almost better.
T: Do you enjoy traveling with the show? What difficulties come with putting this into a live performance?
NP: The traveling part is usually a drag so we try and make it fun by stopping at thrift stores and truck stops along the way, looking for artifacts that capture our interest. Honestly, as much as we complain about long drives and fleabag motels, the fun of sharing our VHS collection with people makes up for all the headaches. Then we go back to our Motel 6 and watch infomercials until we fall asleep. It's a glamorous lifestyle.
T: Lastly, what can residents and visitors expect from the show on January 24 at the Art Theater?
NP: We've put together our greatest VHS finds from 25 years of collecting, along with new updates on the people we've tracked down from these tapes. It's all stuff you can't see on the internet or anywhere else and we take you on a guided tour through this weird world of found videos. You'll see footage of a rabbit playing the piano, and if that doesn't sell tickets I don't know what will. Did I mention the Art Theater has a liquor license?
Tickets for the show can be found here.

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