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Chop & Steele documentary review
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Chop & Steele Tells the Story of Two Unheralded Pranksters 

Tribeca Film Festival 2022
Chop & Steele Review

Chop & Steele, a new documentary that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, does two valuable things: It tells us the unique story of a couple of talented fringe comedic figures and makes it clear that local morning TV shows have no standards or discernment whatsoever when it comes to booking segments. 

Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, both natives of Wisconsin, are a comedy team, a pair of Midwestern Sacha Baron Cohens who specialize in low-stakes pranks. In the film, directed by Ben Steinbauer and Berndt Mader, the two are interviewed extensively, along with the likes of David Cross, Reggie Watts, and that other guy associated with chaos on the sets of talk shows, Bobcat Goldthwait. 

Known at first as the creators of The Found Footage Festival, a traveling road show made up of weird and funny VHS clips, Pickett and Prueher were regularly invited on local morning programs to promote the shows. 

But once they realized how bored they were with such appearances, the duo decided to have some fun, and make up fictional characters to pitch to morning shows. And because so many morning TV shows’ standards of what they’ll book are basically nonexistent, it worked repeatedly. They made up a fake chef, who fed people slop, and themselves portrayed the titular Chop & Steele, a riff on Hans and Franz who were “strongmen” despite not being especially strong. The two would lie about having appeared on America’s Got Talent but later tried out for the show for real, with unspeakably gross results.

 It was all penny-ante stuff, not particularly political. You’d think morning show producers would have a listserv or Facebook group or something, where they compare notes and warn each other not to book these guys. 

Probably their most famous bit involved a bogus “Yo-Yo Master,” who wasn’t particularly adept at the yo-yo but fooled numerous TV stations anyway. The Yo-yo guy was played by their friend Mark Proksch, who parlayed that into a spot on The Office, and now plays Colin Robinson on What We Do in the Shadows. 

This all led to two main sources of conflict:  Pickett and Prueher were sued by Gray Television, a local TV station owner, for copyright infringement — because they posted clips of the appearances without permission — and also fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud. The suit seemed pretty frivolous and was later settled. 

The other conflict was a familiar one, involving whether or not to sell out. The footage festivals and the TV pranks both gained the duo some respect in comedy circles, but neither was exactly a lucrative money-making venture, even before the lawsuit. 

When Proksch, their friend, landed on The Office, Pickett and Prueher were invited to submit writers packets to the hit comedy series, but they weren’t interested, since Pickett didn’t want to move to L.A. and besides, he “doesn’t like that show.” That was probably a decade ago, but one gets the sense that they’re still looking for a happy medium when it comes to doing their comedy and making a living at it without losing themselves. 

Chop & Steele is still awaiting distribution, but whenever it lands it’s worth checking out as a creative exploration of niche comedy. 

The Tribeca Film Festival runs June 8-19. Visit the festival’s official website for more information.

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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