Pranksters Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher in “Chop and Steele”
by: Cody Villafana
Directed by: Berndt Mader (“Booger Red”) and Ben Steinbauer (“Winnebago Man”)
Starring: Nick Prueher, Joe Pickett
If you were watching morning TV news somewhere in the Midwest in the last 15 years and saw a variety of characters that seemed impossible to be true, there’s a good chance you were watching a prank orchestrated by Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett. Founders of the “Found Footage Festival,” Nick and Joe have become infamous for their silly, but ultimately harmless pranks on unsuspecting new stations. Several years back, their strongman characters Chop and Steele became subject of a lawsuit from a local news media group that had gotten embarrassed by getting duped. The formation of these pranks and the subsequent fallout are the subject of the documentary film “Chop and Steele.”
As documentary subjects, Nick and Joe are a great hang. Their comedic sensibilities are subtle and dry, especially as they describe with great sarcasm the circumstances they find themselves in. The film does a great job of not only providing the history of the gags, starting with the incredible K-Strass yo-yo expert played by a pre-famous Mark Proksch, but also breaking down the organization of the pranks. It’s fascinating to see the level of care and detail that goes into the simplest things, like debates about what facial hair trimming looks the most ridiculous and how far they can push without giving it away.
One of the most intriguing dynamics of the film is the slow but clear deviation between Nick and Joe as a comedic partnership. Joe is a purist, wanting to do everything for the sake of comedy and not wanting to sell out in order to create something more commercial. Nick, on the otherhand, is less precious about the integrity of the comedy, and would eventually like to see something more financially fruitful and stable come from doing what he lives. The scenes in which the two are juxtaposed with separate interviews are among the best in the film, alongside, a dive into the aforementioned lawsuit that was brought against them for essentially making news stations look silly. This also leads to some of the funniest footage in the film, which is tapes of Nick and Joe’s depositions for this case, where their full dry sense of humor comes to play.
Though these subjects and certainly parts of the exploration are interesting and entertaining, one can’t help to feel like there was a lot of examination left on the table. Their deviation, for example, could have brought about fascinating debates about comedy as an artistic expression and pure form of punk rock rebellion versus a source of commerce. Furthermore, there is lots to be explored about the implications of getting sued for a victimless prank. Instead, the film opts on a light and breezy surface-level perspective, purely spending quality time with their two subjects.
While in the process of being sued, the film culminates in a very brave and goofy prank done on the stage of “America’s Got Talent.” Since their actual appearance on the show was ultimately cut down to mere seconds, this is likely the first bit of footage scene from the prank, which is especially impressive considering that cameras are not allowed inside the filming venue. It’s a hilarious gag, which culminates with a great talking head from “AGT” host Howie Mandel about not only the artistic nature of the prank, but his view on Nick and Joe themselves
Ultimately, “Chop and Steele” provides entertaining insight into prank comedy as an art-form, and though there is plenty of opportunity left on the table, is a source of valuable, and most importantly, enjoyable time with two eccentric, but deeply funny pranksters.