11 Apr 2016

The dark, twisted world of tickling

7:50 pm on 11 April 2016

A documentary exploring the world of competitive endurance tickling finds it's not all laughter and games - it's much, much darker than that.

Tickled, produced and directed by former TV3 journalist David Farrier, premieres in New Zealand on Wednesday night.

The film was one of the stand-out documentaries at this year's Sundance Festival and has received rave reviews.

But while movie-goers are embracing Mr Farrier's investigation into this underground competition, the contest's organisers are not. They've even hired private investigators to secretly film Tickled screenings in the US, Mr Farrier said.

Mr Farrier started looking into the world of endurance tickling after stumbling across it online.

"I thought there was nothing stranger than a tickling contest," he told Checkpoint with John Campbell.

"So I emailed the organisers of the tickling contest saying I would like to do more with you, I'd like to find out more about this thing. The response I got back from them was so sort of negative and aggressive, like 'go away, we don't want anything to do with you'."

Thinking there may be more to the story, which he initially thought was light and funny, he started writing and blogging about it. Then he started receiving letters from lawyers threatening to sue him.

Digging deeper, Mr Farrier discovered a world where young men were flown to Los Angeles once a month and were paid $US2000 to be tickled.

They often ended up being bullied and harassed online. But the videos of the men being tickled were also essentially being used as porn, he said.

"What we find out in the film is tickling is a whole fetish thing... A fully-clothed porn flick, which is again - it's strange on top of strange"

This underworld of endurance tickling had existed for more than a decade, Mr Farrier discovered.

"It turns into a documentary that is less about tickling and it's more of a thriller, really.

"So much darkness comes out of it. It's crazy."