‘Chop & Steele’ & The Long Game
Fantastic Fest @ Home @ celluloid consommé
Chop & Steele, dir. Ben Steinbauer & Berndt Mader
Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett are a couple of guys who are pretty good at finding weird tapes. They started amassing a large collection of them that they would watch together and share with friends, then the library got so big they felt they had to share it with the world. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Found Footage Festival, or have been fortunate enough to have attended one in the past. What you may not know about Nick or Joe is they both have a penchant for pranks.
They’ll pull pranks on each other or for the hell of it, ranging from seasonal DMV photo pranks to harmless personal ones in the name of comedy. But they wanted something more so in putting their heads together to go bigger they branched out to numerous small local news outlets. They appeared on TV as made-up characters who would show up to educate the early, early morning crowd and newscaster staff, instead intending to royally screw up their presentation in some spectacular way or another. One of their big acts is assuming the personalities of Chop & Steele, a strongman duo who specialize in training with everyday household objects instead of at the gym. They’ll clasp hands and lift each other, stomp on baskets and count the reps, or lift jugs of gravy instead of weights. Pretty harmless fun. It’s easy to lose yourself in the events of their jokes and comedic stunts but just over the horizon lies uncertainty.
In the midst of legal troubles started by the stations they appeared on, both Nick and Joe undergo separate crises before the pandemic hits the US. The documentary shifts as they re-evaluate what they’ve been doing with their life, and a surprising yet genuine tenderness emerges from that. They learn, separately and together, that they have this unbreakable human core of wholesome values and resolve to come back to do more of what they have before. The end result of their exploits remain the same but their reason for doing so is more clarified for them. Something that reaffirms their philosophy is the discovery of a celebrity for themselves, a man who starred in a McDonald’s janitorial training video who just happened to live in their own footprint. Having finally met him and asked questions they’ve had burning for years, they get to close a chapter together on their own genesis.
For those unaware of Nick and Joe’s work and showmanship, Chop & Steele contains everything needed to know about who they are. People already familiar with the Found Footage Fest will find some ground retreaded but as the two open up to the camera, there is a yet undiscovered heart to the “why” of what they do, found like a diamond in the rough. Maybe Steinbauer and Mader wanted to get to the root of it all because they were fans or maybe they became infatuated with the mystery that fueled this playful obsession turned more serious during the making. Either way they end up striking gold in chronicling the earnest attempts from these two to earn the most honest laughs in comedy history, and at this point they have no plans to stop what they’ve always done anytime soon.