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Preview: 2014 Found Footage Festival

Will Coviello delves into the hilarious world of old VHS tapes curated into a night of comedy



Comedy writers and VHS video connoisseurs Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett have dabbled with online video, and they've struck viral gold twice. Most recently, a compilation video of Prueher posing as a professional chef on TV morning news programs was splashed across the Internet.

  On five morning news shows right after Halloween and Christmas 2013, Prueher arrived with food (all from KFC) to teach hosts and viewers how to make the most of their holiday leftovers. He suggested scooping mashed potatoes into an ice cream cone and pouring gravy on top like chocolate sauce. He also repeatedly attempted and failed to puree cubed ham, fried chicken, green beans, corn and gravy to create "turbo gravy." The blender often got stuck, and his attempts to drain the chunky contents into an empty plastic milk jug never worked. He also never showed up with a copy of the book he was supposedly promoting. But the news programs never sniffed out the prank, and four of the five hosts gladly sampled the food. One also supplied "human beatbox" beats when Prueher said he wanted to rap about his cooking.

  Dreaming up the details of such stunts, including lists of awkward phrases and topics that the prankster tries to get on the air, are what the two do while driving across the country on their primary focus, the Found Footage Festival, which returns to New Orleans this week. They also try to get morning shows to preview the festival.

  "It's a lot easier to get on the air with cooking," Prueher said via phone while driving to New Orleans. "We sent out 10 press releases and got seven yeses. That's a lot more than for the festival."

  Prueher and Pickett screen footage of the cooking prank plus montages of other video gems Thursday at One Eyed Jacks. It's one of several comedy shows this week at One Eyed Jacks and the Saenger Theatre. The New Movement presents Moshe Kasher and Natasha Leggero, both regulars on Chelsea Lately, at One Eyed Jacks Tuesday. On Friday, the Saenger hosts family-friendly, upbeat comedian Gabriel Iglesias, aka Fluffy.

  While Prueher and Pickett enjoy hosting their screenings, touring is necessary to support the mission, both monetarily and to find new material. Last year, they visited all 50 states and Canada, and combed the thrift stores and yard sales — the main way they find new video.

  "It's getting tougher," Pruher says. "A lot of thrift stores no longer accept VHS tapes."

  Some of their fans also help out. People have come to the shows with boxes full of tapes, including everything from homemade videos to workplace instruction videos. When Prueher and Pickett get back to New York, they begin the long process of culling funny moments from the hundreds of hours of video.

  "That's long-dark-night-of-the-soul kind of stuff," Prueher says. "But when you find something, it's worth it."

  Some of the video is best enjoyed in montage. A regular festival installment is the exercise video montage — volume seven has two. The first features a mashup of low-budget videos, including the somewhat self-explanatory "Sexual Fitness" and "Butt Camp," as well as a holiday-themed tape set to Christmas carols with a decorated tree on the set, and "Chop Builder," a guitar-playing workout. The second montage exclusively features genre standout Tony Little and his many haircuts and tight workout ensembles.

  They also like to splice together scenes from bad music videos. This installment juxtaposes a song about the dangers of child abductors, depicted hovering over children on playgrounds, with a gleefully risque soul tune called "Candypants" ("I want to make slam dunks in your swimming trunks").

  Not all videos rely on cheap production values or amateurism. Volume seven includes brilliant outtakes from a TV news team's off-air moments. They include a news anchor's tantrums over petty things as well as extremely banal chatter about movies to rent.

  Volume six included scenes of Petpourri, a cable access show in which a pet enthusiast talks and takes phone calls while a host of small animals (birds, puppies, ferrets, lizards, etc.) piled together on a tabletop generate chaos. Petpourri is back in volume seven, and aggressive monkeys have been added to the zoo.

  Many of the videos rely on low-budget aesthetics for unintentional humor. One company specialized in informative videos, and its "How to Have Cybersex on the Internet" video is not at all sexy, but it is hilarious, particularly as a horribly slow online chat is interrupted because one participant has dial-up Internet service.

  Prueher and Pickett began compiling videos long before YouTube launched. At first they were afraid online videos would make it harder for them. They don't use videos (other than their own projects) that have appeared online. But YouTube also has made it easier for them to explain what they do.

  "Everybody gets 'so bad it's good' now," Prueher says. "They appreciate the role of the curator."

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