When comedy writers Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett launched the Found Footage Festival out of a Manhattan bar in 2004, it was a means of showcasing the odd assortment of found VHS tapes they'd collected from dumpsters, warehouses and thrift stores over the years. The festival, which is comprised of awkward public access shows, 1980s infomercials and low-budget instructional videos, now claims a cult following, a line of DVDs and merchandise and an annual cross-country tour that stops in Los Angeles this week.
In between archiving long-lost footage from local T.V. networks, professional pranksters Prueher and Pickett drummed up publicity for the festival by pulling a few television stunts of their own. In 2010, they arranged for their friend Mark Proksch to appear on several Midwestern news shows as Kenny "K-Strass" Strasser, a bumbling yo-yo enthusiast with a troubled past. The prank was so successful that it led to Proksch's getting cast as Nate, Dwight Schrute's handyman, on The Office.
Late last year, Prueher appeared on morning news shows as the fictional Chef Keith Guerke, who demonstrated how to absurdly re-use holiday leftovers while namedropping G.G. Allin and Judas Priest, alluded to suicide, flipped tables over and asked morning anchors to beatbox for him.
"We were back in Wisconsin and didn't have a lot to do over the holidays. We thought it'd be funny to get on some news shows and say stupid things," Prueher says by phone. "The other thing is we've developed a keen eye for what makes an awkward moment on television."
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For this year's 10th anniversary of the Found Footage Festival, the Wisconsin natives are paying homage to the unintentional pioneers of awkward television clips - the real life versions of over-the-top characters like Strasser and Guerke - by tracking down the people who appear in some of their most celebrated video clips. One such clip is John & Johnny, a 1987 segment in which pitchmen Johnny Rhodes and John Cremeans employ increasingly obnoxious tactics to sell dresses and jewelry during a Wisconsin-based shopping program called America's Value Network.