The 1980s science-fiction sitcom “Small Wonder” had big plans for success. The story of a family of engineers disguising a robot as their daughter was supposed to touch millions of Americans and catapult the show into silver screen notoriety. While the show did not achieve its goal, it did result in sixth graders Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher forming a friendship that would produce the comical genius of the Found Footage Festival 20 years later.

Their bond over the absurdity of “Small Wonder” created a shared passion between Prueher and Pickett for videos remarkable for their unintentional hilarity.

“We didn’t excel in anything else besides really liking and appreciating painfully awful videos,” Prueher says.

What used to be purely a common interest took a larger role in the boys’ lives after Prueher found a discarded copy of a McDonald’s training video. The ridiculousness of the video made Prueher and Pickett wonder if perhaps other videos of the same sort of mundane humor were lying around, waiting to be found. So they began their search, and thus the Found Footage Festival was born.

According to its website, “The Found Footage Festival is a one-of-a-kind event that showcases footage from videos that were found at garage sales and thrift stores and in warehouses and dumpsters across the country.” All footage is found in its original format and is playfully ironic, finding humor in the epic failure of the movie’s execution.

“Most of the footage is stuff that was never meant to be shown in public,” Prueher says. “But we show this stuff anyway. There’s something a little naughty about watching something you’re not supposed to, and people enjoy that.”

The compilations of footage have culminated in Prueher and Pickett’s now sixth year in touring. Their live show, complete with commentary on the footage, has been everywhere from Paris to the Las Vegas strip to “crazy places we never thought we’d show our garbage-can derived videos,” as Prueher phrases it. The shock of the show’s popularity never ceases to amaze the co-curators.

“I think our show strikes a chord with some people. It’s uncomfortably familiar,” Prueher says. “We assumed that 30 — year — old, post-collegiate slackers — our peers — would be our main demographic. But there’s a diverse audience out there every show. I mean, the elderly come. And there’s full frontal male nudity in every show. I guess it’s just a general sense of nostalgia and appreciation for irony that brings our audience all together.”

Georgetown students and faculty alike fall into that diverse group of fans.

“Found Footage Festival redefines random in a hilarious way,” Josh Sizer (COL ’12), a student in the film and media studies program, says. “It showcases failed attempts of video from every imaginable category, all while making you nostalgic for the days of standard definition [television].”

Caetlin Benson-Allott, a professor in the film and media mtudies program and the English department, finds great entertainment and insight in the footage seen at the Found Footage Festival.

“What’s unique to me about found footage is the way it points out the artistic and expressive potential of otherwise disregarded films: industrial films, stock footage, bad Hollywood movies,” Benson-Allott says. “A lot of found footage becomes hilarious — or insightful — not because of any intervention on the artists’ part, but because of the relationship to the past that it encourages. Approaching a forgotten film as ‘found footage’ can give us more insight into the production of our culture than simply rewatching a classic mainstream film.”

Benson-Allott is one of many who plan on attending Prueher and Pickett’s next stop on their tour, The Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse on Saturday, Feb. 5. Prueher promises a hilarious new show worth the $12 admission ticket.

“We’re showcasing a new video called Rent-a-Friend, Prueher says excitedly. “Seriously, it sounds too good to be true, but the video’s premise is that you buy the tape, watch it and there’s a guy sitting on a stool, talking with you and asking you questions, being your friend. It is one of the saddest things I can imagine. I guess the guy assumes you can suspend your disbelief enough to talk back to the screen? But at the end, he runs out of things to talk about and just starts opening up about things he really just shouldn’t say to anyone. Pathetic, but hysterical.”

Besides the Rent-a-Friend footage, expect to see a 1985 trip to Fort Lauderdale gone wild, as well as a pristine screening of the short documentary turned underground cult classic Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Shot locally in Maryland back in 1986 by the film’s directors Jeff Krulik and John Heyn, this 13-minute film has served as a time capsule of the parking lot of a Judas Priest concert. This film is usually only seen in low-quality, bootlegged VHS form, so seeing this cult classic — lampooned by Lady Gaga, Less Than Jake and Backstreet Boys no less —  in a theatrical version is an added bonus to an already worthwhile show.

The Arlington show will be one of the many lined up for this new year — Pickett and Prueher do about 100 shows per year. In addition to the live viewings, the two friends produce a show on The Onion’s A.V. Club site twice a week, with new episodes airing this spring. The duo is also in the process of releasing a book entitled VHS. Due to come out this fall, the book will include covers from Pickett and Prueher’s favorite footage, complete with commentary as wittily ironic as the covers themselves.

With all these projects, it is reasonable to question the future of the Found Footage Festival, especially with the new age of DVDs and Internet movies. But when asked about continued success of the project, Prueher says he is not concerned with running out of material.

“We do hold a soft spot in our hearts for VHS,” Prueher says. “But now that we can watch things on demand and online, we’ve been finding more and more discarded DVDs, which still provide great footage. Luckily for us, people still make videos off really bad ideas. That will never change.”

For example?

“We came across this DVD called, How to Sing Like the King. It’s a training video for Elvis impersonators. And we found this within the last five years. I think we’ll be fine with material.”

But their spreading of a love for irony and a fantastic appreciation for awkward moments cannot continue without the help of their fans.

“We do have one plea,” Prueher says. “If you have any videos that you’ve found around D.C. or your hometown, whether it’s from a dumpster, a garage sale or your home video cabinet in the back of your basement, bring the footage to the show. That kind of stuff is how we keep going.”

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