Straight to Video 

Finally: A fest for those of us who don't speak French

"Now an important announcement for ventriloquists and collectors!" intones a broadcaster, right before a creepy-looking dummy with a side part and red turtleneck appears onscreen. By the time the minute-and-a-half clip winds down, the dummy's head has been severed from the rest of the body (to show how his mouth and eyes work), and "Jerry's pal, Knucklehead Smiff" shows up.

At the very end, ventriloquist Paul Winchell addresses the camera: "I hope you have as much fun with your figures as I've had with mine!"

The '80s-era clip is part of a series of ventriloquism videos included in the fifth volume of the Found Footage Festival, a traveling show that compiles the weirdest, scariest, and most fucked-up clips from a bunch of best-to-be-forgotten VHS tapes picked up at thrift shops and garage sales over the years.

The creators and hosts of the festival, Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett, have spent the past seven years rifling through boxes of home movies, celebrity-endorsement tapes, and how-to videos to come up with the 65 or so clips that make up each 90-minute program.

"Instead of throwing their old VHS tapes away, people dump them at thrift stores, because they think they still have some value," says Prueher. "Salvation Army does the least amount of sorting, so that's our favorite. You don't just find copies of Jurassic Park III. You find all sorts of regional videos and goofy stuff that wasn't meant to be shown in public."

The latest tour — which comes to the Beachland Ballroom this week — includes clips from an exercise video starring late NFL great Lyle Alzado, segments on how to become a better bowler and businessman through hypnosis, and the way-disturbing ventriloquism montage.

"We've developed a better batting average over the years about what's going to be a good tape," says Prueher. "The most soul-crushing part is going through all these videos, which are bad in the wrong way. We're looking for videos that are bad in the right way."

Wisconsin natives Prueher and Pickett bonded over their "advanced sense of irony" in the sixth grade. Together and separately they made short films, wrote for The Onion, worked on David Letterman, and eventually put together their festival, which they've toured across the country since 2004.

One of Prueher's favorites is a collection of Winnebago promotional video outtakes starring "the world's angriest RV salesman." The clips, and the cult that grew from them, served as the basis for the 2009 documentary Winnebago Man.

In addition to the thrift stores the duo hit during each tour stop, fans have been a great source of material. "People bring us these tapes, and it's like Christmas morning," says Prueher. "We can't wait to unwrap them. This is as much an anthropological endeavor as a comedy show."

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