The Unique World of Competitive Tickling in "Tickled"

Mar 1, 2016

This story is part of True/False Conversations, a series of in-depth interviews with the filmmakers of this year's True/False Film Fest. Find the rest of them here or download the podcast on iTunes.

When David Farrier, a journalist from New Zealand, came across videos of competitive endurance tickling online, he thought he had found one of the most unique sports out there. But when he tried to reach out and learn more about the sport, he was met with an alarming amount hostility.

This hostility raised a red flag for Farrier and his partner Dylan Reeve. "Tickled" documents the two first-time directors on their twist-and-turn-filled journey into this unique world. Along the way, they encounter legal battles, privacy issues, character assassination and more.

KBIA's Rodney Davis talked with Farrier about the film and how he stumbled across this bizarre sport.

Farrier: I was looking for a story, and I came across this thing called competitive endurance tickling. It was this sport that took place in Los Angeles once a month, and fit young men would get flown from all around the world once a month to take part in this tickling contest. The pay was really good. You could get $2,000, you get put up in a really nice hotel, you get flown over to Los Angeles and all you need to do is be tickled on camera. And I was like, "Oh my God. This story is amazing. This is the craziest sport I’ve ever heard of." So I reached out to the organizers and the response I got back from their PR person on Facebook, just on their public wall, "Go away. We don’t want to do a story with you." And I thought that’s quite weird because I’m just sort of inquiring about this thing and we sort of went back and forth and these emails got really weird, and they were really aggressive towards me. So I thought there has got to be something more to this tickling competition. The whole documentary is just about me and my friend Dylan traveling to Los Angeles and sort of going, "Hey, what is competitive endurance tickling?" and we went down a rabbit hole that was just way crazier than I think either of us expected.

Davis: So could you give me an example of something that caught your eye or caught your attention or something that was very unexpected that happened once you got to Los Angeles?

Farrier: Totally, I mean one of the really unexpected things is that we found out pretty early on that this tickling competition wasn’t a sport, but they seemed to be kind of fetish videos. So we found out that there is this whole group of people out there who love watching tickling and it’s like a sexual thing for them and that was a really big surprise.

Davis: So you said a few times now that there were lawyers involved and things like that. So was it pretty difficult to get this story out there?

Farrier: There was an attorney hired in New York, and an attorney in New Zealand where I live, so that became quite difficult because you know we are trying to make this documentary, but at the same time we’re having to deal with these legal letters that were coming in.

Davis: In general, what do you hope that the average viewer will take away from your film?

Farrier: I think the average viewer when they watch "Tickled" will probably come away realizing, and learning I suppose, for one thing what a crazy world tickling is. But also I think just to be super aware on the Internet that things aren’t necessarily what they seem to be. And I know that everyone says that already but what I learned from this documentary is that we are pretty naïve in a lot of ways to just trust a lot of things that we come across online.