Describe your collection.
Along with my childhood friend Joe Pickett, I collect obscure VHS videotapes. Together we have a collection of about 10,000 tapes. They range from get-rich-quick schemes, arts and crafts tutorials, religious lectures, exercise routines, and unusual home videos.
When and why did you start collecting?
Joe and I grew up in Stoughton, a small town in Wisconsin. We met in sixth grade and discovered that neither of us was very good students and that we possessed the same advanced sense of irony. We spent some time hanging out in thrift stores and our local video store where we discovered some great VHS tapes. Some of the first tapes we bought included Mr. T’s Be Somebody or Be Somebody’s Fool educational tape, the mid-80s television series Small Wonder, Hair Club for Men advertisements, flea and tick prevention videos. Before long, we started hosting regular Friday-night gatherings in my parents’ basement where we would share our latest finds with our friends. Our weekly show VCR Party Live! and tour Found Footage Festival grew from there.
How do you display and store your collection?
We originally just had the videotapes in our apartments and cars. We now have a dedicated office space to store them that has 14-foot ceilings. They are on shelves from floor to ceiling. We just started the process of cataloguing everything; we don’t have a Smithsonian-style archive. We’re preserving How to Spot Counterfeit Beanie Babies, not Citizen Kane.
What do you consider to be the Holy Grail of obscure VHS videotapes?
It’s often the stories behind how Joe and I acquired a videotape that makes it interesting. In the 1990s, we heard of an employee training video from Suncoast Video that featured Wayne and Garth (from the Saturday Night Live skit Wayne’s World) impersonators. We really wanted this video. Joe applied for a job at Suncoast Video, got the job, and snagged the videos to copy at home. He went in to work the next day to return the videos and quit the job.
Another Holy Grail video that we already own came from a camcorder we purchased at an estate sale for $5. We bought it thinking we could use the camera but when we plugged it in, a videotape popped out. It starts with the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack playing in the background and then a man comes out wearing a dress, lipsyncing to the music as his poodle barks beside him. There’s some blank tape and then it’s a video of the same man filming the demolition of a neighbouring house. The foreman asks in a strong Queens, NY accent, “What are you recording this for?!?” and the two men go on to argue about the filming and proceed to trade barbs. It’s pretty funny.
Someone showed me a YouTube clip taken from a video that I have yet to find; our rule is that we have to have the actual videotape to include it in our shows. It’s a 1986/1987 videotape created for grocery store managers. It’s called the Super Broker Shuffle. There were a lot of “shuffle” videos coming out in the mid-80s thanks to the Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl Shuffle. The grocery store version is guys in suits trying to rap. They are very earnestly trying to do it and not getting it right. They have no business rapping. We’d love to find that videotape.
What advice would you give to someone interested in starting a collection?
It’s like, “Do something with it!” People find inspiration in all sorts of places. It’s fun to have a collection but sharing it is the cool part for us. Whatever you are collecting, share it. Even better, get together with a group of people and have fun with it. I also collect old answering machine tapes. Joe and I spend a lot of time on tour – we have about 135 shows a year – so that keeps us entertained as we travel.
What resources do you use to acquire knowledge about the videotapes and connect with other collectors?
We love to track down the people who star in the videos. We once hired a private detective to track someone down to get the story behind the tape. We meet collectors of all types of things as we tour for the Found Footage Festival. We met a lovable weirdo in one town who was a scientist by day and collector by night. He collected matchbooks, restaurant menus. the dust from the bottom of cereal boxes, and VHS videotapes. We sat on his floor, watched videos with him, and put together a segment for the show.
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