The audience that packed into last night's Found Footage Festival at Texas Theatre learned some important lessons. The most haunting stemmed from a video segment regarding the management practices of various open sores, where crudely edited television hosts materialized out of an abscessed toe, or spun a terrifying game of chance called "Wheel of Wounds." The collective gut-vice clamped tighter during an instructional video teaching masturbation techniques to people with learning disabilities. The female-centric version was titled "Fingertips."
Squeamish discomfort is why the audience showed up. They came to watch as the Found Footage Festival's creators and hosts, Letterman segment producer Nick Prueher and The Onion headline writer Joe Pickett, present ill-fated VCR fillers like these. Best friends since elementary school, the pair ransacks thrift stores, dumpsters and other areas with elevated staph infection potential searching for slivers of VHS history.
Since most were created with a specific, direct-purchase audience in mind, these ribbons of analog ephemera are refreshingly unapologetic. They're weird and fetishy. And watching them in a group environment gives the recorded failures a deserved posthumous victory lap.
Oddly, the best part of the night didn't come from a find. It was when the guys explained their relationship with, and creation of, purported yo-yo champ Kenny Strasser. Or, as YouTube fans know him: K-Strass.
Joe and Nick began touring Found Footage Festival in 2004, and quickly realized how boring the self-promotion circuit is -- especially the morning television news segments.
Soon, they dared each other to use specific phrases in live interviews. When Nick got away with "basketball rapists" without the anchor flinching, he saw the big picture. (Nobody's watching) + (Host doesn't care) / (Morning shows must fill seven and a half hours of time each week) = Unlimited comedy potential.
They needed a pinch hitter. A wild card. An unfamiliar face. So they called up their friend Kenny and had him join the tour. The Found boys wrote fictitious press releases for their friend, claiming that "Kenny Strausser" or "Kenny Strassburg" was a professional celebrity yo-yo artists who was raised in whatever town they were visiting. (Wait, it gets better.) They'd go on to say that he was traveling through on a school tour to teach children how to save the planet through green living and yo-yo wizardry.
Every show booked him.
"K-Strass" would then arrive, yo-yos in hand, and go on to be the worst interview any on-air personality has ever endured. He would also be the the best interview any 5 a.m. news watcher or insomniac had ever accidentally witnessed. Kenny made it intentionally uncomfortable: discussing his addiction issues and how he just does the gig for money. Then, he'd swing yo-yos around like sugared-up 5-year-old, frequently hitting himself in the crotch. "The best thing about Kenny is that he has no idea how to yo-yo," said Nick.
Strass was booked a handful of times before morning show vetters caught on, which only expanded his online fan club. He even got a few famous admirers -- when I interviewed Neil Hamburger last year, the throaty persona comic raved about Kenny's work "with the children."
The reel of Strass ... er ... berg's television pranks were the night's best. There's a magic to them; a reminder that life's most unpredictable points of humor sometimes hide in plain view. No digging required.
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