Somewhere in my parents’ basement, there’s a home video of my sister blowing out candles on her 12th birthday cake. But if you pay closer attention, you can also spot a child waving at the camera in the background before taking off all of her clothes and running away.
Unfortunately, this child was me.
However humiliating and poorly shot, the video is undeniably hilarious — and that’s exactly the type of humor that Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett, curators of the Found Footage Festival, capitalize on.
The Found Footage Festival is a project that compiles the most outrageously bad footage from old tapes to create a new, intentionally amusing show that pokes fun at ’90s and ’80s videotape culture, like cheesy children’s cartoons and workout tapes.
The project began almost two decades ago, when Prueher was working at a McDonald’s and stumbled upon an outdated employee training video. Bored, he popped the video in and watched it, soon realizing that the video was what he now refers to as “one of the most ridiculous things I’ve seen” and “insultingly dumb.”
Prueher brought the video home and showed it to his friends, who shared a good laugh at its expense. Showcasing silly snippets from found videotapes quickly became a tradition in Prueher’s circle of friends.
But while it was popular among Prueher’s buddies, he didn’t consider expanding it into an actual project until a friend suggested the idea five years ago. Even then, Prueher didn’t expect the degree of success that his festival has earned.
“We were kind of skeptical,” Prueher said in an interview with the Wheel
. “We just kind of thought it was more of an inside joke that only our friends would appreciate, and to our surprise, we get pretty good write-ups and local press, and the place sold out — there’s a line down the street to come see this show and we were amazed.”
The first show toured in 2004 and was compiled from the first 15 years of Prueher’s collection. However, finding the perfectly bad video is an exhaustive process — according to Prueher, for every 100 hours of footage that they painstakingly sort through, only 60 minutes will actually be used.
Prueher says that while they mainly search Salvation Army thrift stores and garage sales for funny footage, inspiration can turn up anywhere, including garbage cans.
“As far as footage goes, man, we love coming to the South,” Prueher said. “So much religious public access TV, gospel video and children’s religious videos with puppets. We come back with boxes of footage.”
Prueher describes the show as a guided tour through his hilariously bad videotape collection. He and Pickett also offer dry-witted commentary throughout the showing.
But while the project definitely has sarcastic tones, Prueher says that their intentions are not mean-spirited. In fact, Prueher and Pickett often meticulously track down the people who starred in the original tape and invite them to participate in the show.
“I think people see it’s more of a celebration than a mean-spirited thing; I think they get that and they appreciate that. That having been said, sure — we’re making fun of these videos,” Prueher said.
Prueher speculates that the reason his project has enjoyed so much success may be because people can truly relate to the footage.
“I think somehow, accidentally even, it really struck a chord with people — this disposable VHS culture from the ’80s and ’90s. I think it’s sort of uncomfortably familiar to people,” he says. “You know, it’s cathartic for people to be able to laugh this stuff they couldn’t when they were growing up.”
After the success of his first tour, Prueher soon realized how much the project could expand.
“We thought, ‘Well, we kind of found all the dumb videos,’ and then we realized, ‘No, we haven’t even scratched the surface,” Prueher said.
In that case, I don’t think I’ll be submitting my risqué home video from my elementary years — but fans can rest assured that there will always be plenty of material to ensure continued success for this creative comedy project.
— Contact Catherine Cai