22 May 2016

The funny business of competitive tickling

From Sunday Morning, 10:06 am on 22 May 2016

Journalist David Farrier goes inside the world of competitive endurance tickling in his new film Tickled.

David Farrier (left) inside the strange world of competitive tickling

David Farrier (left) inside the strange world of competitive tickling Photo: Supplied

Journalist David Farrier, looking for stories to add to his arsenal of the weird, quirky and slightly whacky, stumbled upon the world of competitive tickling. What was supposed to be a two and half minute light clip for the late night news ended up becoming a film, a film that has less to do with tickling and more to do with legal threats, bullying, and a dark and twisted tale of a creepy sub culture.

The Hollywood Reporter said “it’s a cyber-detective story all-too insane to be true”. But it is true. Tickled, which was co-directed with Dylan Reeve rolls into US theatres on June 17th.

Read an edited excerpt of the interview below:

So you find out about competitive tickling, and that’s how it starts…

Yeah, I saw this video online of these athletic young men in Adidas gear and they were flown into Los Angeles from all over the world, including new Zealand, and it’s a tickling contest. The money’s really good, it’s a couple thousand dollars in cash and they put you in a really nice hotel in downtown LA. All you need to do is tickle on camera. For me, it was this whacky, crazy… like ultimate Frisbee, just this weird new sport I had never heard of.

Perfect for two minutes of the late news.

Totally. And it gets harder and harder. I did that job for nine years and it was becoming harder and harder to find things on the internet that would surprise people because your Facebook feed is just curated with crazy stuff. It’s hard to find fresh stories in the world of pop culture to shock people and I thought tickling was it. I reached out to the organisers and got pushback straight away and that was when I went, ‘Oh, okay, they don’t want a story done about this sport. They’re trying to recruit people and yet they don’t want it done’.

You emailed an organisation called Jane O’Brien Media.

Yeah, she was a woman based in LA who just loves tickling, loves crazy reality shows and her latest thing was tickling contests, which apparently were this big thing in the Japanese market and there’s great money in it and you go and tickle on camera and that’s it.

And the response you get is extraordinary. ‘We don’t want anything to do with a homosexual journalist’.

Yeah, and it was completely out of the blue. It was weird because, why does that matter? It was on their public Facebook wall, it wasn’t like a private email to me, it was on a Facebook page where they have 20,000 Likes, it’s very public. And also the sport just seemed inherently super gay because it’s buff, young, good looking dudes tickling each other. Straight away there was this pushback, and I started blogging about it and then organically my friend Dylan started blogging about it and digging into the web presence of these people and as we did that, we then started getting letters from lawyers in New York representing Jane O’Brien, we got a lawyer in New Zealand hired by Jane O’Brien Media, there was a private investigator on my doorstep… it happened very quickly. It went from like 0 to 100 in the space of like, two days. It was just insane.

And then you thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got a story!’

Yeah, it was a story story. The number of times I’d go up to TV3 and say, 'I’d love to do an hour-long doco on this', they were usually terrible ideas I think, plus, it’s hard to make documentaries in New Zealand. You’ve got your Inside New Zealand slots, it’s difficult. But this just seemed like ticking every possible box, so straight away we went to Kickstarter. There was a tickling competition in Los Angeles, the company was mysterious and super intense and had a lot of money so we went to America and started shooting.