Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett are comedy magicians.

They turn movie trash into comedy gold.

Founders of the Found Footage Festival, a traveling exhibition of hard-to-believe VHS detritus culled from thrift shops and yard sales across America, Prueher and Pickett (comedy veterans with credits including “Late Night with David Letterman,” “The Colbert Report” and, are bringing their movie mockery skills to Space Gallery at 7:30 p.m. Monday ($9; $7 for Space members). I spoke with Prueher via telephone from his NYC apartment which, he assures me, is “like a house of cards, only with terrible, terrible tapes.” 

Is there an essential quality to a truly classic found tape?

I was working at a McDonald’s and there was this dusty training tape for custodians called “Inside and Outside Custodial Duties” which I popped in out of boredom and couldn’t believe how insultingly stupid it was. I showed it to Joe, and we just became obsessed with it, developing a running soundtrack of jokes for it, which is essentially what we’re doing now, except not in our parents’ basements. What made it special, I think, was that it made the cardinal mistake of trying to be entertaining and educational.

Things like YouTube have made really embarrassing video footage commonplace. What makes found VHS so special?

Personally, that’s what we grew up with — the bad tracking, misguided ideas of production standards, in all its analog glory. We have the same level of connoisseurship for VHS that vinyl collectors have — it’s just more special than using a webcam. 

Are some tapes too sad to make fun of?

Luckily, we have very few scruples, but occasionally, you feel like it’s more disturbing than funny. One example is a famous fan video for Steve Vai — the girl is talking to him directly about lengths she’ll go to please him. It’s goofy, but also disturbing. But this is not to say we shy away from full-frontal nudity. Not at all. 

What’s the best celebrity video you’ve ever seen?

Hands down it’s “Carnival in Rio.” Arnold Schwarzenegger, pre-politics, hired by some producer to go to Carnival. It’s pretty clear they just hired a few escorts to accompany him as he gropes and sexually harasses every woman he meets. It’s like a creepy first date. 

If an alien were to form an opinion of America based on the tapes in your collection, what would he/she/it think of us?

It’s sort of a warts-and-all approach to history. We don’t sugarcoat the ugliness; if you don’t include the mistakes, you get a very incomplete picture of our society. Because they’re amateur, or noble failures, to me that’s a lot more interesting. People are restoring “Citizen Kane,” but no one’s doing the same for the Zsa Zsa Gabor exercise tape. Unvarnished truth — sometimes it’s not pretty.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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