Here at Paste, we love the Found Footage Festival. For more than a decade, these two guys, Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher have been doing god’s work, preserving the strange arcana of the VHS era and traveling around the country to exhibit their most disturbing and hilarious finds. Without them, an entire generation of bizarre self-help and exercise videos would have been lost to the sands of time. In fact, we love the Found Footage Festival so much that there’s going to be a feature with Pickett and Prueher in the upcoming fall issue of Paste Quarterly #3. But before then, we send out this cry for aid: The Found Footage Festival needs your help.
As discussed in our recent interview, Pickett and Prueher are currently being sued by a small-town Midwestern TV station. The station is one of many that the duo have pranked in recent years, which has become a staple of Found Footage Festival shows. In short, these pranks are simply intended to leverage criticism against these news organizations for one key failing: They don’t do their research. In the pranks, the two have appeared on morning news shows in the guise of outlandish characters, such as Prueher’s “Chef Keith,” who demonstrates “nutritious ways of using leftovers” by blending them into a brown sludge known as “Turbo Gravy.” Then there’s Chop & Steele, the fictitious strongman duo who perform unimpressive feats of strength such as breaking twigs and crushing wicker baskets flat, while sharing uncomfortable information about their chemical steroid dependence. Observe:
Painfully awkward, undeniably hilarious. The point the duo is making could scarcely be more simple: If any of these stations had bothered to do the barest, most basic research before booking them on their shows, it would have been immediately obvious that this was a prank. They’re not making it difficult for these TV stations to figure out the joke—they want them to figure out the joke. Consider how you would feel if your own local news team couldn’t be bothered to Google a guest before booking them for the show—are those the kinds of lazy, trusting souls you want to be getting your news from? You’d be crazy to think this was an acceptable level of due diligence from people who are supposed to be broadcast journalists. It points out a glaring flaw of the very “morning show” concept, because they’re so desperate for some kind of lighthearted act to fill a few dead minutes at 6:30 a.m. that they’ll give a space to literally any performer, no matter how banal. In a lot of ways, it actually mirrors the strange public access TV shows so beloved by the Found Footage Festival.
Most TV stations, if they’re not too dense to figure out the prank, simply laugh it off and go back to business, but that’s not what has happened this time. A Wisconsin station is suing Pickett and Prueher, claiming that their actions somehow constitute fraud, despite the fact that the joke didn’t hurt anyone or give them any kind of profit. They’re also claiming that the duo’s use of the footage in the Found Footage Festival tour isn’t covered by the First Amendment, despite the fact that it would seem to fall clearly under fair use. And so, “Chop & Steele” will see their day in court, but first they’ve established a legal defense fund via GoFundMe. You can see that campaign and make a donation here—I’ve already done so myself.
What it comes down to, most likely, is embarrassment. Is “we’re embarrassed that we didn’t bother to google you before booking your fake act” grounds for a lawsuit? Is “wasting the time of a TV station” against the law?
If you think that sounds like BS, check out the Chop & Steele legal defense fund. And of course, #GiveThanksForStrengths.