The “found” in Found Footage Festival, a touring show coming Tuesday to Sacramento’s Witch Room, tells only part of the story.
For 10 years, Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher have procured awkward family and instructional videos, on VHS, from thrift stores and garage sales. They cull these nuggets into a program for which they serve as hosts and “Mystery Science Theater 3000”-style color commentators.
But Pickett and Prueher, both 38 and childhood pals from Wisconsin who now live in New York City, also have for the past three years generated their own gag reels – with the aid of unsuspecting local morning-show hosts.
The pair have pranked several Midwestern morning shows by having Prueher appear as Chef Keith, a supposed leftovers specialist (example: mashed potatoes scooped into ice-cream cones, with a corn “topping”). Prueher also has duped producers under the guise of Kenny Strasser, a yo-yo expert who shows up without essential tools of his trade, like the yo-yo’s string.
The trick is making the ruses just plausible enough to seem legitimate to producers.
“All these morning news shows are run by kids right out of college,” Pickett said. These show bookers are naive, hungry for content and also “a little more forgiving, and understand (that) mistakes will happen” on live television, Pickett said. For example, they will not scrap a segment just because a yo-yo expert forgot his string or a chef makes odd comments.
While Prueher sells his lie on live TV, Pickett watches from a nearby motel room, recording the segment for the Found Footage Festival.
“Usually there are tears in my eyes the whole time, because I am laughing and cringing,” Pickett said.
Prueher, reached via email, said no one has suspected the prank while on set. But after one segment went viral on YouTube, the news station objected.
“Personally, I think it is a victimless crime,” Prueher said of the pranks. “They got some very entertaining television out of it, and we got something to screen at our shows.”
Plus, Pickett pointed out, “We generate Web traffic for them they would not otherwise have.”
YouTube has helped popularize Found Footage videos, most of which fall under fair-use laws, Pickett said, because the festival uses the clips in a new and satirical context.
Some clips included in the Found Footage Festival come from freelance contributors. But Pickett and Prueher still discover most of the program’s content by combing through VHS tapes at thrift stores.
At least that’s what Pickett claims. As if a reporter should believe a word these pranksters say.
But Pickett vowed that he was telling The Bee the truth.
“We’re good dudes,” he said.
Pickett, who also writes headlines for The Onion (“Area Woman …” ), and Prueher, a former researcher for “The Late Show With David Letterman,” will hit Sacramento thrift stores before the Witch Room show, Pickett said.
That well has not run dry despite the death of VHS about a decade ago. Some people are just taking longer to clean out their closets and donate tapes, Pickett said. Prueher and Pickett also have stockpiled about 5,000 tapes.
During a previous visit to Sacramento with Found Footage, they found a video at Thrift Town titled “The Holiday Workout.” It’s now part of the touring program.
“It’s a Christmas-themed exercise video, which seemed like a really limited window in which to use it,” Prueher said.
Experience has taught Prueher and Pickett to be smart shoppers. They know, for example, to look for VHS tapes from a Minneapolis company that hopped on every fad, from break dancing to rollerblading.
That company produced the exquisite centerpiece of the current Found Footage live program: the 1997 instructional video “How To Have Cybersex on the Internet.”
“It is from when the Internet was just becoming a thing,” Pickett said of the video, which has collected nearly 2 million hits on YouTube. The strange hybrid video is “too sexy to be informational, but too informational” to be porn, Pickett said.
Blame dial-up technology. About 45 seconds of “How To Have Cybersex,” Pickett said, consists of “a topless woman telling you about her modem problems.”
Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.