The first concert Nick Prueher ever attended was They Might Be Giants at the Barrymore Theatre in 1990, so the theater holds a special nostalgia for the Stoughton native, who brings his Found Footage Festival to the theater Friday.
Prueher, 42, a former “Late Show with David Letterman” and “The Colbert Report” staff member, was surprised to hear that They Might Be Giants continues to play the theater almost 30 years later. (The band was there Tuesday).
The Found Footage Festival, which Prueher co-founded and co-hosts with his childhood friend, Joe Pickett, a longtime contributor to The Onion, features the best of the pair’s VHS finds. They salvage videos from thrift stores, garage sales and fans of the show across the country.
Prueher, talking by phone from his New York City home the day before going out on tour, said he and Pickett recently got an office in Brooklyn, where they keep their collection of 10,000 videotapes. They also started doing a weekly Internet show live from their office.
Putting together an annual Found Footage show and bringing it to 130 theaters a year has become their full-time job.
During the performance, the men show and emcee 15 to 18 video clips that last about three minutes each. Some clips are made up of multiple video snippets, and, in all, parts of 70 or more different videos make it into each show, Prueher said.
The current “Cherished Gems” show is made up of greatest hits, including outtakes from an industrial Winnebago video featuring the world’s angriest RV salesman; a 1987 video called “Rent-A-Friend,” aimed at lonely people with VCRs; and an exercise video montage featuring Angela Lansbury, former adult film star Traci Lords, and a bearded hippie named Zar.
The men typically come home every year for Thanksgiving, but this year’s “homecoming” show is earlier in the month.
They spent August in the UK playing Scotland’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the second time. It was a full month performing eight shows a week. “It’s almost like doing a Broadway run,” Prueher said.
“It’s exhausting and you don’t see the sun because you’re in Scotland. So the bad part is you’re looking at people having barbecues in Madison and stuff, and we’re like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s drizzling and raining for the 28th straight day here in Scotland.”
Prueher described the Edinburgh festival “like a summer camp for weirdos ... performers from all over the world doing goofy comedy shows and other theater performances.”
It was a wacky comedy spoof that got Prueher and Pickett sued in federal court last year by the parent company of an Eau Claire television station. The men, who both attended UW-Eau Claire, appeared on a WEAU morning show as the fake strongman duo Chop & Steele, and performed silly bits that the lawsuit contended misled viewers.
The Atlanta-based company dropped the suit after about a year, but Prueher and Pickett had to hire an attorney and eventually set up a GoFundMe page to avoid bankruptcy, Prueher said.
They got grilled by aggressive lawyers during two weeks of depositions and had to turn over 10 years of emails, text messages and other correspondence. “The silver lining was that people on ‘The View’ were talking about it,” Prueher said.
One of the ridiculous claims they made in their press release to get their phony strongmen on TV was that they had won “America’s Got Talent,” which Prueher said was easy enough for the station to fact-check. Ironically, after the lawsuit got media attention, “America’s Got Talent” invited them to perform their strongmen routine. However, they didn’t advance beyond the first round.
Prueher spent nearly five years as a producer on “Letterman,” where it was his job to read about guests and find embarrassing footage of them to show. Making celebrities seem interesting for seven minutes is pretty challenging, Prueher said. “Celebrities are pretty boring for the most part.”
He’d produce those segments and occasionally got to write jokes for guests who wanted to do comedy on the show. His favorite part of the job was being able to write for comedians like Steve Martin and Ellen DeGeneres, said Prueher, who later spent three years working for late night host Stephen Colbert, often warming up the audience.
Prueher left when Found Footage began taking up more of his time.
Although Prueher and Pickett started charging strangers admission to see the Found Footage Festival in 2004, it really goes back to their days at Stoughton High School when they put together similar shows for friends in Prueher’s parents’ living room.
“We were just very bored teenagers,” Prueher said.