If there was anything the VHS boom of the '80s taught us, it's that nobody underestimated the necessity of time-filling, supposedly-disposable and cheaply-made diversions for the VCR-owning masses. Whether through hastily-assembled celebrity vanity projects, public access rantings, stiffly-acted corporate training videos or handheld footage of that wicked awesome weekend back in '92 where everyone got totally blitzed, the omnipresence of videotape exponentially increased the posterity of whatever completely ridiculous nonsense might have passed for entertainment and edification at some point or another.
There's been a major YouTube-fueled boom in goofing on long-lost, unintentionally hilarious and/or horrifying audiovisual detritus. Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett, the two tape-hoarding masterminds behind the five-years-running Found Footage Festival, rank among the most accomplished, with some of their most notorious finds -- like the temperamental Winnebago salesman Jack Rebney -- becoming the stuff of legend, and comedy stalwarts like David Cross chipping in to contribute their own found footage to the Fest (like this popular montage of late '80s video dating bachelors). Not content to stick with just putting streams of their choicest finds online, Nick and Joe have made a riotous roadshow of their choicest thrift-store/yard sale/dumpster acquisitions, combining clips, commentary, skits and the occasional surprise guest star. Their current tour puts them in Minneapolis for two just-announced shows at the Heights Theatre on December 10th, and like many of their previous installations, there's a few notable links to the Twin Cities. I interviewed both Nick and Joe on seperate occasions to get an idea of just how some of this stuff comes to see the light of day.
NICK: Well, we both lived in the Twin Cities from 1999... Joe lived there for five years, I lived there for one year. And Joe worked at a video duplication company in Minneapolis for that whole time, so somehow this promotional reel for Knight Crawler -- it had the band introducing themselves, and it had a couple music videos on it with some live concert footage and stuff -- that ended up at the video duplication company, so he just made an extra copy for us when that came through his hands. The guys are just so melodramatic with their music videos, everything's very literal, and it's pretty awesome.
CP: Yeah, they still play around town. They have gigs around Minneapolis.
NICK: Yeah, I heard they were still playing. Joe was at a Twins game a few years ago and saw the lead singer Rick Gingerelli on the Jumbotron. It was like, "wait a minute, it's Knight Crawler!" Two of the dudes from Knight Crawler were on the Jumbotron for some reason. So yeah, I'm glad to see they're still out there playing. I think if, like, Whitesnake's in town they'll open for 'em, that kind of thing. Honestly, when we found that music video it seemed to us like that was probably from, like, 1987, '88 -- then when we saw it was like '98, ten years later, we were shocked. It had that sensibility of hair metal from the late '80s.
CP: Have you ever found any similar clips from the Twin Cities music scene that might've hinted at something that wasn't being noticed in the wake of the Replacements or Prince, some of the stuff that might've been bubbling up in the underground?
NICK: If we had, that'd be kind of cool, and then we probably wouldn't be interested in it. (laughs) If it actually has some merit or some underground value, I don't know if it'd make the cut. We have some bad independent films from Minnesota, we've got a lot of corporate training videos and industrial films, but as far as music goes, I feel like it was just Knight Crawler.
CP: Have you found anything particularly interesting on Public Access in the Twin Cities, maybe something that could compare to [Chicago dance party show] Chic-a-Go-Go or [NYC amateur talent showcase] Stairway to Stardom as far as odd musical entertainment?
NICK: We found a public access TV show there -- I guess it's not music-related, but it was this guy named Mike doing gymnastics around his living room, this show called "Mikenastics" which I think is still on the air, he does a new one every six months or so. And it's sort of this beefy guy, I dunno where he's from, White Bear Lake or something. He's over 50, balding, and talks about gymnastics being something you can start as an adult. So it's this guy who's maybe not in the best shape, doing stuff on a pommel horse he has set up in his kitchen. He's put rubber matting down in his living room and he's doing somersaults. It's fascinating, you can't take your eyes off of it. So we collected a bunch of episodes from there and cut together some highlights from it and put in our last show. And then when we were at the Heights last year, the guy actually came out. We had him come up on stage and he tore his shirt off -- he actually entered from the back of the house wearing stilts. It was a magical moment for us.
CP: I know you do occasionally get the subjects of some of your videos showing up at the live shows.
NICK: Oh yeah, it's one of the huge highlights -- we've scrutinized these videos, we've found them and we've watched 'em over and over again, we've analyzed every gesture and line of dialogue. And when we meet the people, to us, they're like huge celebrities. We don't really care about meeting Johnny Depp or Julia Roberts or whoever. The star of Mikenastics is as good as it gets for us.
CP: Have you tried contacting Knight Crawler to see if they'd like to play a short set after the show, or do you think they might be a bit self-conscious of their inclusion in this?
NICK: Some people, you can tell they wouldn't be good sports, and the fact that they're still playing makes me think that they might not have a sense of humor about the fact that we're ironically appreciating them. I mean, certainly it's not mean-spirited, we're celebrating this goofy footage. But I don't know if they'll have enough distance from it to really be part of the fun. But maybe -- we have them cut together in something we call the Rockin' Montage, which has got instructional videos on how to play heavy metal guitar and music videos and stuff like that. Maybe it'd be fun to get ahold of them, so maybe we'll do that before we head to the Twin Cities.
A short while later, I heard back from Joe, who had some additional background on another piece of Minnesota music history -- this one, coincidentally enough, with a Twins connection of its own:
JOE: There was one video, we don't actually feature in the new show, but we featured it in the first show, called the Berenguer Boogie. It was from 1987, right after the Twins won the World Series, and the people of Minnesota went temporarily insane. They made this video, kind of on the heels of the Super Bowl Shuffle, and what we found is that there are so many Super Bowl Shuffle wannabes out there. And the Twins were no exception. Berenguer... good baseball player, not a very good showman. They put together this song and dance, and at the end of the video they have this documentary, just a short making-of, and it feels like you're watching 'Spinal Tap'. They spent $30,000 on this video and it just feels like they're making it up as they go along. I think the idea was to have Juan Berenguer singing a rap kinda song, but then he couldn't really speak English very well so he just chimes in every so often, and they mostly have him just kinda dance around the ladies on the soundstage.
CP: And weren't some of those insurance videos that you regularly feature produced in Minnesota? The ones where all these people get grievously injured?
JOE: Yes! "Life is for Living", "It Only Takes a Second", "Stop and Think" -- those are all produced in the Twin Cities. Actually, the first volume of our show is almost exclusively Midwestern. We're from Wisconsin originally so a lot of our videos came from there, and then I moved to the Twin Cities and a big chunk of videos came from there, too. I'd heard a rumor that Suncoast had this awful video featuring Wayne and Garth from "Wayne's World" giving you tips on how do better customer service or something like that. It was two impersonators, actually. And I wanted to have it, so I went to the Suncoast in Coon Rapids and filled out an application, turned it in, got called in for an interview, and then I got hired -- and I worked a four-hour shift and managed to sneak into the break room at some point and loaded up my bag filled with all the training videos. Then I left, and I came back the next day after I had copied them all, and said "hey, I can't work here anymore, the commute's too big for me, and here are your training videos." I think they were kinda confused by why I had the videos. The bad news is that after all that work, there was no Wayne and Garth video -- but the good news is that there were Siskel and Ebert impersonators teaching you about customer service.
The Found Footage Festival returns to Minneapolis' Heights Theatre on December 10th, with shows at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. You can buy your tickets through Brown Paper Tickets. More info and clips of weird found videos can be found at the Found Footage Festival website.