Nick Prueher of Found Footage Festival stomps baskets and lawsuits in “Chop & Steele”

The archivist comedian shares his insights on his career beginnings with Joe Pickett and new documentary premiering at the Wisconsin Film Festival on April 18.
Chop (Joe Pickett) lifts his foot while Steele (Nick Prueher) holds a wicker basket on the ground to be stomped in a local news morning show studio. Two news anchors to their right watch their activity. A sign reading “Chop & Steele Give Thank’s 4 Strength’s” Pickett rests against a wall displaying the TV station behind them.
Chop (Joe Pickett) lifts his foot while Steele (Nick Prueher) holds a wicker basket on the ground to be stomped in a local news morning show studio. Two news anchors to their right watch their activity. A sign reading “Chop & Steele Give Thank’s 4 Strength’s” Pickett rests against a wall displaying the TV station behind them.

The archivist comedian shares his insights on his career beginnings with Joe Pickett and new documentary premiering at the Wisconsin Film Festival on April 18.

Wisconsin natives Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher have made a career out of bringing the weirdest, most obscure VHS tapes they can find to the public. As the faces of Found Footage Festival, they’ve been hosting shows with live commentary on compilations of weird tapes that include everything from angry RV salesmen, electronic stimulation masks that burn your face, and home movies of ill-conceived stunts.

Since their first live show in 2004, they’ve spent much of the 21st century taking their show on the road. To promote themselves in whatever city they happened to be appearing that night, they would sometimes appear on local news affiliate morning shows.

Eventually, Pickett and Prueher realized these shows were not paying much attention to them, so they decided to follow their comedy instincts to see if they could get booked as fictional characters (in the spirit of Andy Kaufman). They were able to pass through these morning news shows’ apparently non-existent vetting process and appear as various characters, culminating with their strongman duo Chop & Steele. The not-especially-muscular Pickett and Prueher broke sticks and crushed wicker baskets on the air.


In 2017, Grey Media, the parent company of one of these news shows, decided that Pickett and Prueher’s shenanigans were disparaging their journalistic integrity, and sued the Found Footage Festival. As part of the effort to fight back against the lawsuit, they started making a documentary about the legal process. The result, Chop & Steele (2022), co-directed by Ben Steinbauer and Berndt Mader, screens at back-to-back times during the Wisconsin Film Festival, on Tuesday, April 18, at 6:15 p.m. and at 8:30 p.m., at Hilldale.

In late March, Tone Madison spoke with Prueher over the phone to get all the info on how the documentary came about, their connection to comedian Mark Proksch, The Beaver Trilogy, some of the costume details behind their characters, roommate antics with Pickett in college, the Midwestern origins of live video commentary, their greatest rivals, and getting the special Jim’s Coins discount with a Wisconsin Film Festival ticket.

Nick Prueher takes a call on an Alf phone while sitting at a desk in a black business suit.
Nick Prueher takes a call on an Alf phone while sitting at a desk in a black business suit.

Tone Madison: While I watching the documentary—there’s a scene where Joe is talking to his wife about being served with the lawsuit—and it got me thinking, what exactly was the point when you guys were like, “OK, this lawsuit is happening, we need to start making a movie about this?”

Nick Prueher: Well, the time it dawned on us that this was real, I think we’d gotten a summons—not even a summons—just got a notification that said, “Hey, if you don’t stop, we’re gonna…” Sometimes you’ll get these notices from a lawyer to try to scare you off of something. When we got those in the past, we’d always ignore them, ’cause it’s usually just somebody trying to get money. And you’re like, “Well, we’re not doing anything illegal, so, you know, nice try, but no.” But then, a reporter from the New York Post called and [asked], “Do you have any comment about your lawsuit over Grey Media? We’re doing a story.” We’re like, “Huh? Lawsuit? Oh, I guess this is a real thing. We have to actually, like, be bothered to find a lawyer and representation about it.” And that’s when we were like, “This is gonna get expensive to defend ourselves.” 

At that point is when we had talked about, “Well, you know, the future of what we do is in the balance.” We called our friend Ben Steinbauer, who had made a documentary called Winnebago Man (2010), about one of our earliest VHS hits in our live show, the Jack Rebney Winnebago outtakes. So we said, “You know, there’s some interesting stuff happening. You might wanna get a camera over here.”  [Steinbauer] had another film and some TV projects in the works, but he was like “Nope, we’ll be there this weekend.” So yeah, for four years on and off, Ben and his crew were following us through this weird time in our careers.

Tone Madison: At a certain point, the documentary becomes an overview of your whole history with the Found Footage Festival. I wanted to ask about one specific person that is brought up a little bit [in the documentary], Mark Proksch.

Nick Prueher: Yeah!

Tone Madison: Honestly, I have to confess I was not totally aware of your involvement in [Proksch’s portrayal of the] “K-Strass” character. I remember seeing K-Strass open for Neil Hamburger a decade ago. Is Mark someone you guys grew up with, or how did you meet him?

Nick Prueher: Mark and I were dorm-mates in college and in classes together at University Of Wisconsin–Eau Claire. Maybe it was my sophomore year when I talked to Mark and [asked], “Should we start a college humor newspaper?” There wasn’t one in Eau Claire, so we did.

Mark and I started this humor newspaper with Joe, called The Daily Chimp. We were the three editors of the humor newspaper. And we would do pranks on campus. We started a breakdancing team on campus, and handed out cigarettes to people; it was just complete moronic disrupter kind of stuff in college. Often we would be in a public setting and Joe would say, “Hey, Mark, go over to this person and ask if you can go to the bathroom” or something. [Mark] just had this incredible ability to completely turn into this dumb-guy character and be an idiot in public at our behest.

We’d get bored going on [these local morning news shows with Found Footage Festival], showing a couple clips to try to get people to go to the show at night. I realized none of the news stations were paying attention. So Joe would dare me to work in a two-word phrase on one of these news stations. Right before we’d go on air, he’d say “basketball murderers,” and I would have to somehow work that seamlessly into the interview.

So we started doing that, and then Mark was between jobs. He was living in Milwaukee, and so he and Joe cooked up the idea to have [Mark] go on the road with us. Instead of booking us on the morning shows, we’d come up with a fake character. We developed this yo-yo character, promoting environmentalism with yo-yoing, and sent our press releases. A dozen of the news stations wanted him to come on. So they did the first few in Wisconsin, and then he came on the road on one of our tours, and [had] three or four bookings. Then, all of a sudden, one of the new clips blew up, and these news stations [started] canceling, because one of the clips they posted online was getting 2 or 3 million views. [They realized K-Strass was a character.]


I remember driving to Missouri, and getting an email to our fake yo-yo account. It was from Bill Hader and Paul Rudd, who said “Hey, we’re together right now laughing at this,” and then Tim & Eric’s production company [Abso Lutely Productions] reached out. All that started happening when we were on the road in Missouri, and then I think The Office flew Mark out there and wrote a part based on the dumb-guy character [warehouse worker Nate Nickerson], and it kinda went from there.

Comedian Mark Proksch appears in character as Kenny "K-Strass" Strasser, wearing a yellow baseball cap and suspenders, while the name "Kenny Strasser" appears in metallic bold lettering across the bottom of the image.
Comedian Mark Proksch appears in character as Kenny “K-Strass” Strasser, wearing a yellow baseball cap and suspenders, while the name “Kenny Strasser” appears in metallic bold lettering across the bottom of the image.

Tone Madison: I wanted to ask you about another one of your ventures, which is releasing films. You most recently released Creating Rem Lezar and Driver 23 / The Atlas Moth on DVD and Blu-ray. I know, in the past you’ve had Heavy Metal Parking Lot [on DVD] at your shows, and I saw on the most recent Blu-ray reissue, your livestream [for the 35th anniversary of Heavy Metal Parking Lot] was on there. I appreciated that, because it had all the Zoom Internet glitches included. So I wanted to ask, what’s next for Found Footage Fest Films?

Nick Prueher: The thing that’s been on my bucket list for a long time is The Beaver Trilogy. I know there’s bootleg DVDs out there, but I want to do a Blu-ray special edition of The Beaver Trilogy

This filmmaker [Trent Harris] was a camera guy at a local news station in Utah—this is the late ’70s. A kid from a nearby town, Beaver, is starstruck [when he sees a camera] and is really interested in being on TV. I don’t think they covered him on the local news, but he did impressions. So he just kinda kept the camera running, and the kid’s like, “I’m gonna do a talent show, and I’m gonna do an Olivia Newton-John impersonation, and come see me.” The guy’s like, “Yeah, okay,” and it’s just this interesting documentary of this interesting kid who has showbusiness dreams in a small town in Utah.

[Harris] becomes so fascinated that he, later, in LA, puts out an open casting call to create a fictionalized version of it. One of the people who answers ends up being [a young] Sean Penn, who does an exact impersonation of The Beaver Kid, and studies the tape. It’s like spot on, and it’s just this short [film]. And a few years later, he wants to really expand this, put some budget into it, and shoot on film. [He] puts out another open casting call, and another unknown actor, Crispin Glover, answers the call—also doing an exact impression of this original kid, who just happened to stop by the news station.

So it’s called The Beaver Trilogy, because all three [short] films together make about a [feature-]length movie. But, because of the Olivia Newton-John song rights, this has never been released. So I reached out to the filmmaker. I’m like “Hey, let’s put it on our Blu-ray label.” He’s like, “Ah, I’d love to but, you know, just legally…” and I was like, “We’ll assume the legal onus. We have a lawyer now, don’t worry about that. This is just DVDs sold at our shows and on our website, it’s not like it’s at Best Buy or on Amazon.” And he’s [still] like, “No, I can’t take that risk.”

So, I’m still working on it, but that’s sort of my dream project to release next. But in the meantime, we’re now up to volume 10 of our show, so we’re gonna do a 10-volume Blu-ray set of all our past Found Footage Festival DVDs. Then we’re also releasing a movie we produced called Life On The Farm, and Chop & Steele on VHS.

Tone Madison: I actually have bought a few things directly from [Trent Harris]. It’s funny that you mention that he’s so cagey about it, maybe I shouldn’t even say this, but he sells The Beaver Trilogy on his website. 

Nick Prueher: Yeah! Yeah, I know. When I brought up the Blu-ray, he was just like , “No, no,” but he clearly is selling them. So there’s ways around this, but I think maybe involving a third party would be—maybe he just gets cagey about that. He sent me something else, too. He heard ‘found footage’ and he was like, “I made a found footage film that was like a compilation of stuff,” so he sent me that on DVD as well. But yeah, interesting dude. I would love to do this retrospective thing, but still gotta convince him we’re trustworthy, I guess.

Tone Madison: Yeah, him and Neil Breen, they gotta retain all the rights to their movies.

Nick Prueher: I get it! I get it. I just want to put it on DVD. I also reached out to [Neil Breen], because I’ve been working for the Alamo Drafthouse chain of cinemas and said “Hey, I know you got a new one called Cade out. Let’s do a tour, and he never responded. But I saw that he was gonna do the film festival circuit with that movie first, so maybe eventually. 

Tone Madison: Maybe this is a little bit of an inside baseball question, but how did the Found Footage Festival discs come to be distributed by MVD Entertainment Group?

Nick Prueher: We have a guy we work with, Glen, who’s kind of our merch guru. And he found them. Glen’s like “Hey, you know, instead of just sending these out or fielding requests from individual stores, there’s a company called MVD that’s interested.” I think they and one other company—maybe it was Kino Lorber—were interested in distributing our discs. We were cagey, too, because somebody could try to sue us. It’s all fair use, but that has to be tested in a court of law if somebody were to come after you. I’m not sure exactly, but eventually MVD made us a pretty good offer and started getting us into stores. Our profits have been getting less and less as fewer people buy physical media now. 

Tone Madison: Yeah, I hear ya. Although I gotta say, MVD, they’ve got Arrow and Severin. Those are my two personal favorite home video labels, so you’re in good company.

Nick Prueher: Good, good.

Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher sit in a waiting area while dressed as their strongman characters Chop and Steele. Pickett looks exhausted while Prueher looks angry and determined.
Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher sit in a waiting area while dressed as their strongman characters Chop and Steele. Pickett looks exhausted while Prueher looks angry and determined.

Tone Madison: The “Give Thank’s 4 Strength’s” that’s Sharpied onto Joe’s shirt when he’s in character as Chop, what’s the origin of that?

Nick Prueher: Well, in the press release we sent out, we [said] the country’s never been more divided, and so we’re giving thanks for strengths, because it’s something we can all get behind. It was just some dumb catchphrase we included. We said we were on our “Give Thank’s 4 Strength’s” tour. And I think we said “strengths,” as if it was plural, too, just to make it more convoluted. We like to put things in the press release that somebody, if they were paying attention, could vet and spot was dumb. So right before we were going on air, Joe was like, “Here, write ‘Give Thank’s 4 Strength’s’ on my tanktop,” so I sat there with a marker. And he’s like, “Put an apostrophe over all the ‘s’s: thank apostrophe ‘s’ and strengths apostrophe ‘s,’ which hurt me to do physically, but, you know, that is what you do for art. 

Tone Madison: As I mentioned before, a lot of this documentary goes into you and Joe’s history. One question I still have is, were you guys ever roommates in your younger days? 

Nick Prueher: We were roommates in college. I was an RA in the dorms, and between sophomore and junior year, we were like, “What if when all the new freshmen came into the dorms, they just thought we were two roommates who both had perms. We both got home perms and just grew mustaches. This is like 1997, and there’s two guys with perms and mustaches who are roommates, and one of them’s an RA. It was funny to us even though we never got to hear people’s reactions on orientation day. Almost every night we would have people over to the dorm to watch videos and dumb TV, making jokes about it, and we would stay up until about 2 in the morning every day—every weekday—missing a lot of morning classes, because that was the priority. 

Tone Madison: [laughs] You guys have been doing this for a long time, and a semi-common experience is having a dream where you’re at work. So I wanted to ask: have you ever had a dream involving anybody from a Found Footage Festival clip, and if so, what happened in it?

Nick Prueher: Yeah, I had a dream with Jack Rebney, who we call the world’s angriest RV Salesman. But yeah, that’s a great question. We do a hundred shows a year, so you see the same clips night after night after night. You wake up with them in your head—a song or a jingle that’s just running through your head constantly. We were able to meet Jack Rebney eventually, the Winnebago Man, and it’s in that documentary. But yeah, I had a dream about him. I met him at a show in San Francisco, but I’ve never been to the RV he lives in—or I guess it’s a mobile home—in a state park in California, but I’ve seen it. So I had a dream where I was there walking in the woods with Jack Rebney. He was very gentle; he didn’t swear or get angry at me. 

Tone Madison: Hmm. So, now that you have a lawyer, Anderson Duff—

Nick Prueher: Yeah, that’s his real name.

Tone Madison: He’s called the best lawyer in the world in the movie. My question is, now that you’ve beaten your own lawsuit, have you ever considered suing someone else, and I do have some suggestions. 

Nick Prueher: Oh, you know, he’s not a litigating attorney, but it’d be fun. What are your suggestions?

Tone Madison: The directors of the film Rent-A-Pal.

Nick Prueher: Oh, yes.

Tone Madison: Sounds like you’re familiar? 

Nick Prueher: Yeah, when [Rent-A-Pal] came out, everybody was sending us that. I reached out to Rent-A-Friend, and I said, “What’s going on? Did you license your story to these folks?” And he was like, “No, they never reached out to me. They never consulted me.” So then I reached out to the director, and I’m like, “You might want to get in touch with the real guy, ’cause he could come after you.” Apparently, they kinda smoothed it over, but it would’ve been nice to just ask, “Hey we’re gonna write a movie about your story, but the dark version?” I haven’t watched the movie, but everybody in the world sent that to us when the news dropped.

Tone Madison: Yeah, Rent-A-Friend, there’s something slightly unsettling about it. Just in the original, why does it need to be a horror movie? Shame on you, Wil Wheaton. 

Nick Prueher: Yeah, that sort of seemed like the obvious place to go with it. It might be a great movie. I did not see it. 

Tone Madison: Yeah, I’ve never seen it either, I’m just aware it exists. My other suggestion, when I was doing my very thorough research and typing your names into IMDb, [I found out] there’s apparently a show on TV that’s called Joe Pickett. That’s the title of the show. 

Nick Prueher: Yes, yes! It’s a Western, based on a book series or something. Yeah, I think we gotta go after them [jokingly]. But, actually, one idea that Joe had was to make a series of books and have his name really big on them, even though he would be the author of them. And then we’d have another smaller title below, so people think it’s part of the Joe Pickett series of novels, but in reality it’s just [us] writing the dumbest books we can think of. 

But that marketplace confusion would lead to book sales, because it’s a bestselling series and TV show now. So, it’s like when The Little Mermaid comes out, and then there’s the knockoff version that was on VHS, called like The Littlest Mermaid. That’s the idea, to capitalize on Joe Pickett being a hit TV show by making our own series of Joe Pickett novels. 

Tone Madison: There you go. I’ve seen misprints of where it’s Mary Shelley by Frankenstein. Kind of a similar thing.

Nick Prueher: [laughs] Yeah.

Tone Madison: Do you think there is something innately Midwestern about the style of comedy of doing a live commentary and gently ridiculing stuff? You guys are from Wisconsin, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is from Minnesota. Is there anything to that?

Nick Prueher: Mmhmm. Yeah, I think there’s something Midwestern about not feeling a part of show business, but maybe wanting to be. Really, if you think about where most of the leading film critics are today, it’s Chicago. You know, A.V. Club is there, and Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel were from there. They’re not making the movies; they’re criticizing them. So I think that sort of feeling of, “Hey, we’re not part of this industry. The best we can do is make fun of it and take some ownership over making fun of it.” I think there is something Midwestern about that.

If I’d grown up in New York or Los Angeles, I would’ve been trying to make movies, not make jokes about them. And also, the fact that, at least this is the case for us—and I think this is the case for Mystery Science Theater as well—it’s not mean spirited. It’s sort of this ‘aww, shucks.’ There’s some bite to it, but we found these videos, and we cherish them. We have video skeletons in our closets as well, so it’s less of trying to do a snarky takedown and more of a celebration of this maybe regrettable material captured on VHS. 

Tone Madison: That definitely comes across. And I think the fact that you are able to find a lot of the people years later, and they’re always like “Oh yeah, I forgot about that.”

Nick Prueher: Yeah, that’s really gratifying for us. And if it was just snarky or detached, that would get old really quickly. I think the fact that we’re from Wisconsin, and at least on the surface, have that niceness and sincerity, too. We can certainly be sarcastic about things, but we have affection for this footage that we had to blow the dust off of and get our hands dirty to find. 

Tone Madison: To change gears a little bit: if you were on Celebrity Deathmatch, who would your opponent be, in character as Chop & Steele, so you have the sticks and the baskets to use—

Nick Prueher: Oh, I see. We can be in character.

Tone Madison: Who would your opponent be, and would you beat them?

Nick Prueher: Oh, that’s a good question. You know what, it would probably be Everything Is Terrible, these guys who’re younger than us. I think they had a blog for a while, and then they started doing live shows, and we were like, “Wait a minute, who are these jokers who think they can do a blog about VHS and do live shows?” People were telling us that these guys were coming out in costume and making people swear allegiance to them over Found Footage Festival. We’re like, “What the hell? Who are these jerks?” You know, we’ve never met these guys, and they’re riding on our coattails and all this stuff.

So, finally, somebody set up a versus show at a comedy festival in Washington, DC. So we were meeting them for the first time, and they’re just Midwestern guys who collect VHS tapes. They’re exactly like us. And within minutes we were commiserating about trying to rip a tape that’s in PAL format, the European format. It was like meeting a long lost brother, where you have very similar experiences. Then the other thing that would be good for Celebrity Deathmatch is they do their shows in costume, so they make these elaborate puppets and costumes. They were complaining about having to travel in a van with all that stuff, where all we have is a DVD player on our backs. But they have all these elaborate costume changes, and were kinda like, “Why did we do that to ourselves?” But I think that would be a good match, and I think we would destroy them.

Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher both smile while sitting in front of shelves filled with VHS tapes, including oversized reproductions of a McDonald’s training tape and one that reads "VCR Party." Pickett has a laptop in front of him, and Prueher points.
Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher both smile while sitting in front of shelves filled with VHS tapes, including oversized reproductions of a McDonald’s training tape and one that reads “VCR Party.” Pickett has a laptop in front of him, and Prueher points.

Tone Madison: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Nick Prueher: Just real quick, on our Tuesday night Youtube show, VCR Party—where we just kinda pull tapes off our shelf and [often] watch them for the first time—we’ve been having a competition for the best jingles from each state, from each local commercial from each state. Wisconsin’s [jingle] didn’t win, but I think our sentimental favorite was Jim’s Coins in Hilldale. It’s just [singing] “Jim’s Coins in Hilldale.”

When we were doing a show at the Barrymore in December, Jim from Jim’s Coins showed up and was like, “Hey, thanks for playing my jingle on there.” Because it was such a hit on our show, 40 different people from all over the world have remixed the jingle, as an EDM song [etc].

So we were gonna have Jim from Jim’s Coins judge a remix contest on our YouTube show, but because we’re screening at Hilldale for the Wisconsin Film Festival, I reached out to Jim and he said, “You know what, I’m gonna stay open late, and we’re gonna offer a special to anybody with a ticket to Chop & Steele.” Jim and his employees are coming to the screening, and he’s offering free appraisals. They’re giving a better deal when they buy gold, and all this stuff. I love that we’re doing a cross-promotional event with Jim’s Coins at Hilldale. It’s all coming full circle.

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