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VICE News

Meet the comedy duo who got sued for pranking the news

How a prank ignited a debate over free speech and literally fake news.

by Oliver Noble and Brandon Lisy
Mar 22 2018, 12:15pm

When they infiltrated three morning news programs by passing themselves off as a hilariously unathletic strongman duo, Brooklyn comedians Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett were not the first people to prank TV News.

Left-leaning activists The Yes Men famously infiltrated BBC, and right-wing provocateur James O'Keefe unsuccessfully attempted to plant a false story in the Washington Post. But Prueher and Pickett, who run the Found Footage Festival, have no overt political agenda and are happy to simply interrupt news programming with the absurd or profane.

Out of embarrassment or pragmatism, media companies generally avoid legal retaliation after getting pranked. Yet when Prueher and Pickett pranked Gray Television, the company sued, kicking off a battle over free speech, comedy, and how easy it can be get past TV bookers.

Gray owns or operates over 100 local television stations across the country, and it had been previously fooled by two other fake characters created by Prueher and Pickett. But after the comedians appeared as the strongmen "Chop and Steele" on "Hello Wisconsin" in 2016, Gray decided to sue.

The charges? Gray accused Prueher and Pickett of copyright infringement over clips of the broadcast Prueher and Pickett used in a montage posted online. But the more serious charges were “fraud” and “conspiracy to commit fraud.”

Almost a year after the charges were filed, as VICE News was reporting this story, there was a sudden twist: the two sides came to an unexpected settlement. Watch the story to see why both sides are claiming a legal victory, in what Prueher described as “a really stupid first amendment battle.”