AHG: That’s interesting: do the people in the videos know they were doing something funny?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It’s like when you act up in class, you don’t care if it’s good attention or bad attention. You just want the attention. I think most people get it. It’s been 20 years, or longer, since they recorded their video and now people all over the country are celebrating it. It’s being resurrected. There’s gotta be something flattering about that. Certainly, it’s not mean-spirited–we have a genuine affection for the videos we find. I think people get that.
AHG: Do you guys ever find stuff on DVD?
Occasionally. We found an Elvis impersonator training video on DVD and a Toilet demonstration DVD showing how powerful a flushing device can be is in the new show. That’s proven to us that the format doesn’t matter. As long as someone has a bad idea and acess to video equipment, that will work. We have a nostolgic appreciation for VHS because its the format we grew up with–and it’s such a dead format so we find it a lot at thrift stores.
AHG: You mentioned satire a minute ago, what exactly are you satirizing?
I think the show satirizes the video obsessed culture from the 80s and 90s (and this hasn’t abated, it’s only gotten worse with web-cams) It was a time where anybody with an incling of an idea could get a video green-lit–it was like a gold rush. People wouldn’t even think things out fully before hitting the record button. It’s sort of a gentle look back at that time and getting to laugh at it.
AHG: Do you guys think you’re doing something similar to Tim and Eric or TV Carnage?
Yeah. I think it’s cool that people are embracing this aesthetic, or formula. We’re friends with Tim and Eric, and Derek (who does TV Carnage) We’re all colleagues, and we draw from similar material, but all three of us have a different take on it. There’s a lot of found videos out there, and I think there’s room for everybody.
AHG: What do you mean by “aesthetic?” What do you call this aesthetic? How do you define it?
I don’t know if there’s a name for it. Maybe the VHS aesthetic? Certainly Tim and Eric are recreating that in a lot of their shorts–the intentional bad tracking and poor green screen work. Derek (with the moniker TV Carnage) he cuts together feature length movie that require no attention span at all–it’s creative editing that finds themes and ideas in TV culture. We take people on a guided tour of found videos–the videos are so weird, you might need someone to ground them. That’s where we come in.
AHG: Why do you think there are so many weird religious videos?
It’s weird, but the most common types of videos we find are excercise videos, religious videos, and kids videos. I think education and religion are always looking for new ways to influence and teach. With video it’s like, ‘Hey, if we make this religious puppet video for kids it will be a fun video they can watch at home. They won’t have to go into a stuffy church to learn.’ It’s a new avenue they could use for influencing people–that’s maybe one reason. Another is, it’s cheap to do, churches have money, so it’s ‘Hey, let’s explore that.’
AHG: Why do so many people continue to practice ventriloquism?
There’s one in the new show that I’m still at a loss to explain. We found it in chicago last year. It’s called “Rent a Frined.” I guess the idea behind was if you were lonely, you could put this tape in the VCR and the guy on screen would be your virtual friend. It starts off with him asking questions like, “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” and you’re supposed to answer along with your TV screen–which requires a huge suspension of disbelief. If you can make that leap, he starts talking about himself and tells where he’s from etc. etc. But then, he runs out of things to talk about and kind of goes off the rails and revealing far to much about himself. You start to wonder if you want this guy as a friend, virtually or otherwise. He talks about how he regerts never approaching this girl he liked in high school and he pages through his high school yearbook. You’re doing this for strangers, man! At one point he says, “Nancy, if you’re watching this now, how are you doing? Look me up!” It’s just sad, it’s really sad. It’s one of those concept videos from the 80’s and this one clearly did not take off.
It’s sad, it’s strange, it’s funny. The good news is we tracked down this guy two weeks ago, and we’re going to meet him in Chicago. We have so many questions. Mostly, “What the hell were you thinking.”
AHG: What do you think makes these tapes funny? Is it failure? Is it a complicated irony?
**Laughs** There’s maybe a schadenfreude there, watching other people fail is always funny. For us, the videos have to be unintentionally funny. Maybe you feel subversive when you’re watching something that’s supposed to work on one level and we’re appreciating it on a different level–especially when you can do that in a big group in a theater.
I think it’s a combination of things: the nostalgia; being able to laugh at our past; maybe even a catharsis for some people. These are videos that ring pretty close to home. Sometimes they’re exercise videos your mom would work out to every day after school, or a training video you had to watch at your crummy first job that you couldn’t make fun of at the time, but now you can in a theater setting. It’s the catharsis of being able to laugh at something you couldn’t in another context.
AHG: One last question, Nick: where do you get your shirts?
Well, we spend a lot of time in thrift stores, so these are all thrift store finds. But that’s a very good question–I’m glad somebody noticed.