Fitness newbies often focus their efforts on exercises like the bench-press, but every real (fake) strongman knows the only moves that matter are the twig karate chop and the gravy jug lift.
Last fall, a pair of prankster gym rats known as Chop and Steele showed off those very moves and more to the anchors and viewers of the Good Day Dakota morning program in the KX News studios in Bismarck. Now, they're being sued in a federal court by broadcaster Gray Television Group Inc., for another bizarre bodybuilding routine carried out in a television station in Eau Claire, Wis.
KX News is an affiliate of a different broadcasting company, Nexstar Media Group, and is not listed in the lawsuit. A call to the KX newsroom for comment on the segment was not returned. However, Chop and Steele -- also known as Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, when they’re not performing inspiring feats of strength -- were happy to talk about their cable TV appearances.
Pickett says the two have no feelings of ill-will toward newscasters. In the strongmen demonstrations, as with other TV appearances they’ve made in the past, Pickett says the goal is to play the fool while having a good time.
“I think we just know morning news shows and know how they tick, and it’s kind of fun to see what we can get away with,” he said. “We’re not total sociopaths, is what I’m saying.”
A video compilation of their three TV visits depicts Chop and Steele demonstrating such activities as whacking tennis rackets together, throwing sticks at each other’s backs, curling jugs of gravy and hitting an old tire with baseball bats. At one point, Chop stomps on five small wicker baskets in succession with some assistance from Steele, all to the possibly disingenuous admiration of a pair of Allentown, Pa., news anchors.
Pickett and Prueher might not be much for working out, but do have a clear taste for the off-beat.
The men are the creators and organizers of a series called the Found Footage Festival, a live show with a national touring schedule to present odd and humorous footage from a variety of sources, with a special focus on VHS.
Prueher said the two gained an intimate knowledge of cable morning programs while promoting the festival’s tours for more than 13 years. Over that course of time, he said, the two built a feeling that producers of such shows were “going through the motions” at times.
It wasn’t much of a leap from there to begin wondering just what they could get on the air. One of their earliest doings was Kenny Strasser -- also known as K-Strass the yo-yo master -- who was a character played by a friend. Despite being terrible at using a yo-yo, Kenny made multiple appearances on cable news shows to demonstrate his craft.
The Found Footage duo had to think of a new shtick when it was their turn to hit the airwaves together.
“We thought, ‘The country’s really divided now, so here are these strongmen doing feats of strength to unite America,’” Prueher said. “Honestly, it was a really lazy pitch.”
Aside from the absurdist exercise regimen, the joke works in large part due to the visual incongruity of the two men and the title of “strongman.”
Prueher says he weighs about 140 pounds and isn’t much of a gym-goer. Pickett, he explains, “likes to drink beer” and looks the part.
“There were some news stations where we showed up and they took one look at us and said, ‘This is fake, right?’” Pickett said. “Then we just said, ‘Well, you got us,’ and walked away.”
Though they only made a total of three appearances, the duo was approved to exhibit their prowess on seven news programs across the country, a feat they accomplished by sending out press releases touting the strongman act as a past contestant of primetime TV show America’s Got Talent.
The Gray Television lawsuit, filed two weeks ago in a New York district court, now accuses the pair of defrauding the WEAU television station in Eau Claire for the purpose of using the footage of their appearance to promote their festival circuit. Gray Television alleges it has already been “substantially and irreparably” harmed by the fake fitness presentation and requests the court issue a permanent injunction to prevent airing of the Eau Claire visit at the festival or elsewhere.
The broadcaster is also seeking a “full and complete accounting” of any gains made by the festival by use of the Wisconsin footage and is asking for “compensatory and punitive damages” in an as-yet undetermined amount.
Before their November visit to the studio, the complaint states, Pickett and Prueher had approached the network through fictitious promoter “Jerry Chubb” to make a pitch to come on air to promote the also-fictitious “Give Thanks 4 Strengths” tour. The stated purpose of that tour was to focus on “ways to unify people, how to prevent bullying, and how to generally be a ‘good dude,’ ” the complaint says.
Sometime after making their way through Eau Claire, the two shifted their sights to North Dakota. They first tried to get on TV in Fargo, where they’ve toured in the past with their festival, but were rejected by the studios there, clad as they were in zebra-striped Zubaz pants and skull-cap bandanas, bearing promises to help “work your delts, your tris and your plaps.”
Eventually though, they landed in Bismarck at the KX News morning show.
The video from the Good Day Dakota bit appears to have been taken down, but both strongmen said they appreciated the work of news anchor Jim Gefroh in keeping the segment moving as best he could.
“He was a cool guy -- he rolled with it,” Pickett said.
The morning show team seemed to have fun with the segment, but Pickett seemed remorseful about one exercise which had gone awry. For the sake of realism, the strongmen had brought on “like six jugs of gravy” to lift on-set and ended up dropping some of them, as seen in the video.
“The gravy squirted out everywhere onto the floor and I genuinely felt bad that the whole studio smelled like gravy,” Pickett said, adding he’d helped clean up after the bit and hoped the smell of gravy had since worked itself out.
Prueher’s most recent escapade isn’t even the first time he’s involved some kind of food in a Gray Television studio prank. The complaint states that he also appeared on air in 2014 at a station in Wausau, Wis., under the guise of “Chef Keith Guerke” to promote a cookbook featuring recipes using leftovers. During that performance, Prueher demonstrated recipes such as “mashed-potato ice-cream cones” and managed to knock over his cooking table while on-air.
Unfortunately, as the complaint points out, there is “no such book” to replicate the creations of the made-up chef.
We’re also guessing you probably can’t find Chop and Steele’s routine at your nearest fitness center.
As for the lawsuit, the two strongmen feel confident their demonstrations are covered by fair use law which Preheur described as fairly open-ended. He believed the case was rooted in the embarassment of the station, though he said the WEAU staff members "weren't mad at the time" and that one of the anchors of the show sent them a tongue-in-cheek email calling out their act in the days after the appearance.
"We use (fair use) every time we’ve done our show ... in America, that’s protected free speech," he said. Though he wasn't happy about being sued, Preheur did say he was "a little amused that a paralegal at a law firm has to parse out every dumb thing we said and did on that show."
In North Dakota, Gray Television owns KVLY-TV, or Valley News Live, and KFYR-TV.