When my friend asked me to attend the Found Footage Festival with her at SteelStacks, I can’t say that I knew what to expect. The only background knowledge I had was that the festival consisted of a series of recovered VHS tapes, and I wondered if it would be a similar experience to watching an episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos. I couldn’t have been more utterly and completely wrong—but in the best way possible.
The Festival was founded by Joe Pickett (The Onion) and Nick Prueher (Late Show with David Letterman) in 2004, after the pair spent more than a decade building a collection of VHS tapes from thrift stores across the country. They presented us with their Cherished Gems Show and included their own hilarious commentary as we watched a compilation of some of their greatest finds. I’ve never laughed so hard yet been so unsettled at the same time.
Here are the highlights from each section of the show:
ND News Team
The first section consisted of a montage of bloopers from a news team in Fargo, North Dakota, that were put together by one of the station’s news editors. In all honesty, this news team seemed like caricatures of real people. From the long, awkward silences, failing green screens, and nose-pickers caught red handed, it was hard to believe that the station even functioned.
Picture all those awful yet wonderful 80s workout video clips you’ve seen, and you can imagine this section of the show. There were an abundance of neon leotards, legwarmers, and questionably sexual exercises that made you wonder what people were thinking when they willingly recorded those things. A personal favorite of mine was the “Exercise to Blessercize” video that consists of bible verses being recited while leotard-clad Christains engage in “cardiovascular fitness unto the Lord.”
Harvey Sid Fisher
Just watch the interpretative dances to Harvey Sid Fisher’s Astrology Songs and you’ll understand why he had his own section.
We’ve probably all encountered the alternative world that is public access television during our late-night channel surfing. As Joe and Nick pointed out, the beauty of public access is that literally anyone can put on their own show. One of the highlights was the series “Mikenastics,” featuring a guy named Mike who turned his whole house into a gymnastics playground.
Dancing with Frank
Dubbed “the Greatest Video of All Time” by Joe and Nick, “Dancing with Frank Pacholski” is probably the most disturbing thing I’ve ever witnessed. I’d include a link to the video, but I don’t think anyone needs to see a grown, balding man aggressively dancing in nothing but a speedo while unexplainably surrounded by senior citizens. Yeah, there was a reason he was banned from the Los Angeles public access station for life. If you choose to look this up, proceed with caution.
Learn all you need to know about “whelping”—the process of birthing puppies—from this video. Or learn more than you ever wanted to; I certainly did. Warning: it doesn’t shy away from live footage of the process.
The outdated safety videos from Federated Mutual Insurance were the proclaimed start of the Found Footage Festival. Somehow, each one got more horrendously graphic than the last. With some of these fake injuries, it’s hard to not wonder if anyone actually did get hurt in the making of these videos.
Kenny and Keith
Joe and Nick wanted to test how ridiculously easy it was to get booked on morning news shows, so they created Kenny and Keith. Kenny, a self-proclaimed yo-yo master, was really their friend Mark who couldn’t even make a yo-yo come back up. Nick took on the roll of Keith, a chef with “winning” recipes from Thanksgiving leftovers—he threw everything from dinner to dessert in a blender and tried to get news anchors to drink the vile concoction on live television.
You can check out pictures of some of the horrendously designed and weirdly specific VHS covers that Joe and Nick have come across during the years here.
I can’t think of a better way to describe this section than as what you’d imagine when you hear the phrase “just dudes being bros.” A lot of knife throwing, watermelon smashing, and all around aggression—everything “traditionally manly.”
I REALLY thought this video was a parody, but Joe and Nick assured everyone in the audience that yes, it was real. If you’re capable of not dying from second-hand embarrassment, watch this video of a guy named Sam who decided he would make a video that lonely people could use to feel like they had a friend in their living room.
The. Magical. Rainbow. Sponge. Prepare to laugh so hard you cry.
An awful and somehow boring instructional video on how to have “cybersex”—I won’t give it much more detail. (FULL disclosure for inappropriate content, should you choose to look up the video).
Chop & Steele
The final installment of the festival, Pet Pourri was a pet advice show on public access television. The host would take a bunch of animals from the pet store down to the television station and answer viewer calls about pet care. Sounds simple, right? It probably would’ve been if he hadn’t chosen animals who have no business being around each other. Watch as the animal kingdom literally fights before your eyes, and multiple animals fall off the table and onto the floor.
Do yourself a favor and check out the Found Footage Festival the next time their tour comes near you—no amount of America’s Funniest Home Videos episodes can prepare you for it. You’re not in the world of cute little kids making funny “oopsies” anymore.
*Feature image courtesy of Found Footage Festival public Facebook page*