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So bad it’s bound to be rib-tickling

Times Staff Writer

SOME people shop thrift stores for clothes or records, but Nick Prueher, Joe Pickett and Geoff Haas peruse them for thrown-away VHS videotapes. Specifically, the oddball moments in castoff videos, the best of which will be shown at their Found Footage Festival, kicking off tonight at the M Bar in Hollywood.

Dumpster dives, warehouses, estate sales, trashcans. They’re all the unlikely sources of what could be called an anti-film fest, one that celebrates the unintentional humor of videos shot by untrained hands -- videos so bad even their owners thought they were worthless.

“One thing that we love is people with a lot of ambition and not so much talent,” said Prueher, 29.

That includes the two hosts from a now-defunct Wisconsin home shopping channel, the actor hired by an insurance company to pretend his hand got stuck in a table saw and the group of drunken Michigan residents in a tape titled simply, “Memorial Day 2000.”

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“It’s a needle in a haystack to find something that’s entertainingly bad to show for an audience,” said Prueher, who recently found a promising tape in his neighbor’s trash.

“The label said ‘bunion surgery,’ and bunion was spelled wrong -- like onion with a B. Of course, my eyes lit up,” said Prueher, who was let down when he later watched what turned out to be a Discovery Channel program.

Prueher’s affection for found footage began as a preteen, when he and Pickett cruised their small Wisconsin hometown for broken answering machines, ejecting the tapes and listening to them for laughs. As they grew up, their affection for found footage switched from audio to video.

The fest’s curators now have a collection of 1,000-plus tapes, which Prueher keeps in the “spare bedroom” of his 550-square-foot New York City apartment, where he now lives. New York is also where the Found Footage Festival made its debut, in a small East Village theater in April.

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Prueher & Co. decided to take their show to the West Coast because “we kept getting e-mails from people who had heard about it,” said Prueher, whose fest made stops in Seattle, Portland and other western cities before hitting L.A.

“For whatever reason, these stupid little videos have struck a chord with people.”

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Found Footage Festival

Where: M Bar, 1253 N. Vine St., L.A.

When: 8 tonight, Friday and Saturday

Price: $10

Info: (323) 993-3305, www.uncabaret.com

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