Ferrets. A singing geriatric in an eye patch. Disturbingly upbeat wound care.
These are just some of the most recent topics Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett have pulled from the seemingly bottomless well of VHS weirdness. They join over a decade's worth of oddities the pair has amassed for their popular Found Footage Festival, which returns home Wednesday, Dec. 19 with its sixth volume of scary-funny, so-bad-they're-good clips at Turner Hall Ballroom.
The festival traces its roots back to a McDonald's break room, in which Prueher found the janitor training video that would launch his and Pickett's now-worldwide success.
"I couldn't believe my eyes it was so ridiculous. My jaw hit the floor; it was just so insultingly dumb," said Prueher. "I was like, 'The world needs to see this video. This cannot stay in the break room.'"
Prueher "liberated" the video, and shortly thereafter he and Pickett joined forces to hunt down similar film "treasures." The duo has since expanded from a single show in New York to doing about 100 shows a year around the country and in Europe. This year's tour boasts 150 stops in every state in the U.S.
In that time, they've developed not only an impressive arsenal of ridiculous footage, but a solid system for building on their video catalog.
"Because of storage space and because we kind of know what we're looking for, we've got a little bit better batting average now," said Prueher. "We used to pick up unlabeled ones, but we just decided they're not worth our time. Most of them are blank, or like "Seinfeld" reruns and stuff. We might be missing out on a few there, but I think our eye has gotten more discerning over the years."
The term "discerning" might look out of place given the sideshow of film it describes, but Prueher and Pickett work tirelessly to present only the best and most ridiculous gems they come across.
"We basically tour for a year, and we collect videos while we're on the road. At the end of each leg of the tour we have boxes and boxes of new material," said Prueher. "So, we take three to six months off and watch as much as we can from what we've collected. Hopefully at the end of that we'll have enough material for the next year's show, and then we'll tour with that."
The finds are as diverse as the thrift stores and garage sales they come from, and this year's tour runs the gamut.
"The guy who sang the song 'Jingle Bell Rock,' he put out a video with him singing his old classics, but he's just lip-syncing to them. He sounds like a teenager, but he's 85 years old and he's wearing a Santa hat and an eye patch. I don't know if it's his signature or he's just an eccentric old man or what," laughed Prueher. "We have a ferret care video we found from 1996 that's good enough on its own."
Even Milwaukee's been finding fame (or infamy) in the lineup, thanks to the shudder-inducing "Wound Rounds Live."
"A friend of a friend of ours who was an editor worked on this show – it's still on the air – and it's hosted by the top wound doctor in the country, who's based in Milwaukee," explained Prueher. "I think the idea behind the show was, 'Wound care is such a serious topic – let's try to have a little fun with it!' For example, to decide what topic they're going to talk on next they spin the Wheel of Wounds, and where ever it lands they talk about it. It's just the strangest show.
"Of all the videos in this particular show, that one from Milwaukee is the one that gets the most audible gasps of anything. It gets some pretty great reactions."
After years of this stuff, though, it takes a lot more than diabetic foot ulcers to creep out Prueher and Pickett. That honor is reserved for a special few trainwrecks.
"None of the tapes we've found have cursed us yet, so that's good, but there are things we won't be able to un-see," joked Prueher.
"We found some guy's home movie where he's wearing a dress, looking right into the camera with this kind of creepy stare and dancing to 'The Phantom of the Opera' soundtrack. There's a video we put in this show – we just show the cover of it – called 'Kenny and Corky singing "Nuttin' for Christmas,"' and it's these two puppets called Kenny and Corky, but it's this crappy drawing of those puppets on the cover. That one, I swear to God, gives me nightmares. I wake up and see it. It's terrifying."
Hazards of the job aside, Prueher and Pickett intend to scour the earth for new and ridiculous recorded footage for years to come.
"For us, the fun part is the thrill of the hunt, being able to dig around in thrift stores and have a story about how you found something – kind of like panning for gold," said Prueher. "As long as people with bad ideas have access to some kind of video equipment, we're in no danger of going out of business."
Contrary to her natural state of being, Renee Lorenz is a total optimist when it comes to Milwaukee. Since beginning her career with OnMilwaukee.com, her occasional forays into the awesomeness that is the Brew City have turned into an overwhelming desire to discover anything and everything that's new, fun or just ... "different."
Expect her random musings to cover both the new and "new-to-her" aspects of Miltown goings-on, in addition to periodically straying completely off-topic, which usually manifests itself in the form of an obscure movie reference.