SAN FRANCISCO — Found Footage Festival and Everything Is Terrible joined forces for an evening of outlandish video footage and high weirdness at SF Sketchfest presented by Audible. The Castro Theater was packed Friday for an evening of news bloopers, corporate instructional videos gone wrong, cybersex commercials (“How to Have Cybersex – On the Internet”), demented exercise videos, freaky televangelists, clumsy pets and more.
Sketchfest, the annual comedy festival, now in its seventeenth year, is a Bay Area staple, offers a bit of everything in a little over two weeks’ worth of comedy shows featuring big names like Margaret Cho and Judd Apatow, as well as up-and-coming comedians of all mediums—in this case, media.
Friday show began with The Onion‘s Joe Pickett and his childhood friend and former Late Show with David Letterman staffer Nick Prueher. To hear them tell it, the duo has spent the last 15 years touring the country, scouring thrift stores, garage sales and cable access production houses in search of the strangest, funniest video footage out there—and then screening it for audiences.
Pickett and Prueher had the audience in hysterics with their newest found footage collection (available on DVD) featuring a 1960s police training video about helping women give birth (replete with an actual live birth that takes place on the back seat of a squad car), a dance video that featured a hirsute and mostly naked man pouring food all over himself while surrounded by seated and slightly bemused senior citizens, cat massage videos, sexercise lessons and a German porn movie.
The footage was grouped into thematic segments introduced by Pickett and Prueher, who occasionally added backstory or funny quips while the videos played. The pair also showed some footage from their own forays into early morning television, getting themselves booked on the pre-dawn programming as celebrity chefs, yo-yo experts or strongmen. Their strongmen prank landed the pair in federal court. Luckily they brought some of the highlights from their taped depositions.
With the rise of YouTube, you might think all the great, weird video rarities have been collected and curated, but Pickett and Prueher proved that the wellspring of human eccentricity is a generous one with an endless series of new worlds to be discovered.
After Pickett and Prueher’s presentation and a 10-minute intermission, Everything is Terrible presented the evening’s second act. Everything is Terrible is a performance collective that showcases outlandish footage from any number of dead media formats. The collective’s performance began in the darkened theater with thick smoke partially obscuring a podium where a puppet addressed the audience and ominous footage played on the screen behind them.
EIT’s footage was edited with quicker cuts into an extended montage. The production was reminiscent of Bay Area legend Negativland’s multimedia cut-ups. In rapid succession, strange characters acted out strange rituals from the 1980s and ’90s. Big hair held aloft by hairspray, fluorescent leotards and knit leggings populated blurry exercise videos with unbelievably bad soundtracks. Industry videos urged workplace safety by showing actors impaled by forklifts. Naked people were coached on the finer points of anal massage.
Both presentations recalled the pre-internet days, when, for lack of anything better to watch at 4 a.m., someone who may or may not have been on drugs at the time could stumble upon a public access show that was so surreal and so poorly produced that it was hard to believe it was on TV. Friday’s show captured some of that magic, and a whole lot of its weirdness.