(Editor's note: The Found Footage Festival show scheduled for Feb. 3 at Cincinnati's Memorial Hall has been postponed due to weather.)
These days, when you stumble across the perfect meme or hilarious clips, it’s no big deal to share them. A few taps on your phone will send things flying through texts or social media sites.
But a couple of decades ago, things weren’t quite so easy. To see the weirdest, funniest, most talked-about videos, people actually had to — gasp! — find the one local human who had the goods, go to their house and watch the hilarity together on an old-school VHS tape.
It’s a quaint notion in the Internet age — one that the Found Footage Festival wants to bring back.
The Found Footage Festival tours the world with truckloads of videocassettes from the 1980s and 1990s that have been scavenged from thrift shops, warehouses and like-minded fans of oddities. Hosts Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett — friends since age 10 and both comedy writers — compile the best, weirdest, most outlandish clips from their massive stash and re-create the friendly living-room vibe in all types of venues, offering Mystery Science Theatre 3000-style commentary about the home movies, beefcake cooking tips and fast-food training videos that the audience watches together.
Prueher tells CityBeat that it all started in their local resale shops with finding some answering machine tapes and a few videocassettes featuring Mr. T offering life lessons.
“We would have friends over in our parents’ basements in high school and have viewing parties, and Joe and I would develop a running commentary of jokes and observations,” Prueher says, adding that the practice continued even after college while they had “regular jobs.”
The pair eventually developed the idea into a stage show in 2004, and the festival has shown no signs of slowing down since — except for during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prueher and Pickett canceled several dozen tour dates in 2021 due to rising COVID numbers throughout the country, but now that more people are vaccinated and venues have put safety protocols in place, the duo are eager to get back on the road and show off their most recent finds, including some that come from fans.
“People know us as the repository for these special-interest VHS tapes, so every week in the mail, we get three or four giant boxes of tapes from people all over the world that said, ‘I can’t do anything with these, but I know they’ll be in good hands with you,’” Prueher says.
The Found Footage Festival will bring along some Ohio-centric laughs when it stops at Cincinnati’s Memorial Hall on Thursday, Feb. 3, including a special segment that will make its debut in the Queen City. “The First Annual Martin Carlton Stunt Special” is a home movie from the ’80s that actor and comedian David Cross gave to Prueher and Pickett after receiving it chain-mail style.
“It was sort of a tape-traded video,” Prueher says. “Before the Internet, one weirdo would make a dub and give it to another weirdo. Bobcat Goldthwait got it originally and then it made its way to Bob Odenkirk, Penn Jillette, David Cross, and then eventually into our hands.”
In the original video, which was filmed in a backyard near Cleveland, a boy named Martin attempts to jump from one tree to another. “It does not go well,” Prueher hints.
The tape became legendary in trader circles, so in December, Prueher and Pickett tracked down Martin — now a man — and convinced him to perform a second installment of the “Martin Carlton Stunt Special” in the backyard where the original was filmed. He says the festival will debut that mini-documentary during the Cincinnati show.
“He walked us through the whole thing. He gave us the rundown of what happened, what he was thinking,” Prueher says. “It had been 34 years, (so) we figured it was high time for the second-annual (video). He was a great sport.”
The Found Footage Festival also will share an event that Ohio would rather forget: Balloonfest ’86, which saw millions of balloons released in Cleveland. Meant to be a fundraiser and publicity stunt, the event actually ended up being a disaster for the city and for Lake Erie. Prueher says the festival will showcase local footage documenting the environmental and civic debacle that became the subject of multiple lawsuits.
“It’s the most Cleveland video you could possibly have,” Prueher says.
Prueher says he and Pickett will mine for gold in Cincinnati’s resale shops while they’re in town for the show, hoping to hit upon even more nuggets that perfectly capture the absurdity of their vintage years. The hunt is not something that Prueher thinks will end anytime soon, despite having thousands of unwatched videos at the Found Footage Festival office and storage unit in Brooklyn.
“We always think after we put together a show and take it on the road, ‘Well, we've found all the dumb videos. That’s it. Time to move on.’ But then we’re like, ‘Oh, god, no, there’s so much more,’” Prueher says. “You find one thing after watching a week of unredeemable crap, one thing that you just cannot wait to show somebody. And that’s why we keep doing it.”
The Found Footage Festival will be held at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 3, at Memorial Hall (1225 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine). Attendees must show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within the previous 72 hours. More info: foundfootagefest.com.