That Time A Dumb Media Company Tried To Sue The Pants Off Two Comedians
Pranksters have been poking live newscasts for at least as long as goofballs have had the ability to shout “Baba Booey!”
But when the professionals get involved, comedy pranks can reach a whole new level. That’s what happened when the chuckleheads behind the Found Footage Festival created Chop & Steele, fake fitness gurus who get buff with ridiculous training methods like stomping on wicker baskets or jousting with tennis rackets.
The two dad-bod pranksters (childhood Wisconsin buddies Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher) found it ridiculously easy to get booked on local morning news shows, where junior producers jump at the chance to schedule anyone willing to fill time in the early morning hours.
It wasn’t the duo’s first news pranking rodeo. They’d previously goofed morning shows with their friend (and What We Do In the Shadows regular) Mark Proksch, who posed as a yo-yo expert. The bit, of course, was Mark had absolutely zero yo-yo skills.
It’s all fun and games -- at least until someone gets sued. That’s what happened to Pickett and Prueher when Grey Media, the parent company of one of the TV stations pranked by Chop & Steele, filed a multimillion-dollar federal fraud lawsuit against the funny guys. Yikes.
The “strong men” had no idea they were being sued until they read about it in the New York Post. "We had to turn over a year's worth of texts, emails, documentary, anything that mentioned the news,” says Prueher. “Joe's dad got subpoenaed. It was just a huge pain in the ass for about a year."
After a live Found Footage Fest show, Pickett went on the lam to avoid getting served by a process server. By “on the lam,” we mean he hid in a public bathroom stall, looking for ducts or vents by which he could make his escape. Unfortunately, life isn’t like the movies so when he exited the john half an hour later, the papers were served.
The lawsuit caught the attention of other funny people like Bobcat Goldthwait, David Cross, and Reggie Watts, all of whom lent their online support. Pickett and Prueher needed the help--by their own admission, they were “going broke” defending themselves. But the thing that actually saved their comedy bacon was when Vice News decided to produce a story on their dilemma.
Vice, rightly, was positioning the story as a First Amendment battle, and a deliberately silly one at that. It was the first instance that Vice could find where a media company attempted to retaliate against pranksters.
Things turned around when Vice reached out to Grey Television for comment on their story. Several attempts to reach the company’s lawyers went unreturned. And then suddenly, the guys were offered a settlement. Or, in the words of Pickett, “they caved.”
Nick and Joe were ecstatic, despite begrudgingly agreeing never to “use fake information to appear on a Gray television station again.”
But, Joe points out, other news stations are still fair game. “I think specifically Sinclair,” he says, poking the notoriously conservative broadcast group and its large number of local television stations.
But even if their pranking days are over, you can still catch Chop & Steele on the big screen. A documentary about their adventures recently debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival. At least, we think the movie debuted there? Maybe we’d better douple-check to make sure …
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Top image: Chop & Steele