This ‘sport’ is no laughing matter.
The camera turns on. It’s a bare white room with a futon on the floor and there’s a young man in an Adidas shirt and shorts.
He’s joined by another young man in the same uniform, but different colors. He ties the first man down, crouches over him and starts shoving his fingers into his armpits. The first man starts laughing uncontrollably and pushing against his bonds. More and more people enter the room, all focused on finding the helpless victim’s sensitive spots and exploiting them while the camera rolls.
Welcome to the world of “competitive endurance tickling.”
Despite its presentation as a “sport,” there don’t seem to be winners and losers. There’s no scoring points, no team identification and no time limit. The only thing making it seem athletic is the outfits.
That’s what led journalist David Farrier to want to look further into competitive tickling, and what he found is weirder than you can imagine.
Farrier makes a living writing about weird and wild stuff, so when he reached out to Jane O’Brien Media, the company producing the videos, he thought he’d be writing a harmless puff piece on a silly new sport.
He was wrong.
From laughter to lawsuits
His initial questions were met with vicious comments about his sexuality?—?Farrier is bisexual, and Jane O’Brien didn’t want a “homosexual journalist” covering her videos.
That set David Farrier and cohort Dylan Reeve on a bizarre journey to the heart of giggles. It’s chronicled in their documentary “Tickled,” now available on streaming platforms.
I spoke to David and Dylan about their deep dive into the tickling world, as well as the panoply of threats and lawsuits levied against them by Jane O’Brien Media.
Oh yeah, lawsuits. Soon after David published a blog on competitive tickling, a lawyer got involved.
“This was actually the first time somebody threatened to sue me over an article,” David says. “I’ve been nervous that I’d be approached legally for stories in the past. I’ve had a lot of threats. But this is the first time it’s ever crossed over into a letter from the lawyer.”
That lawyer demanded that David and Dylan immediately stop all investigations into Jane O’Brien’s tickling empire.
A shadowy tickle empire
The duo traveled to the United States, where they met TJ Gretzner, an aspiring football player who had taken a turn in the tickle zone. When he rebuffed Jane O’Brien’s offer to make more videos, she proceeded to ruin his life online.
O’Brien?—?or her surrogates?—?spread TJ’s tickle videos far and wide. They set up websites under his name to showcase them. And they sent those videos to family members, employers and coaches.
There was obviously something deeper going on here than just a couple of guys rolling around and laughing.
Jane O’Brien Media was paying out staggering sums of cash to its ticklers and victims and flying them to Los Angeles from all over the world. Obviously setting up a new sport costs money?—?look at the quixotic attempt to make jai alai catch on in the 1960s?—?but this is ridiculous.
And it’s not just the Los Angeles studio. The company has agents all over the country producing tickling videos and sending them back to Jane O’Brien. You can think of these as the “minor leagues” of the competitive endurance tickling world, with participants in hotel rooms and in street clothes.
Anything to get the story
One of the film’s most compelling sections is an interview with Richard Ivey, a Florida man who produces tickling fetish videos himself. Richard?—?whom my friends and I dubbed “Tickle Dad” on first viewing?—?is unrepentant about his interests. He gets a sexual thrill out of tickling and knows other people do, too, and isn’t trying to disguise it as a “sport.”
To get the interview, David and Dylan had to give Richard a little something.
David says, “Part of the deal of Richard giving us the interview is that we all took a turn on the tickle chair.”
“He said to David, if you want to interview me, I’m going to tickle you,” Dylan says. “It turns out he was serious. And then David said if he’s tickling me, he’s going to tickle the rest of you as well. So David did 10 minutes. Dom and Cam and I did five each.”
Tickles come in two types
What is it about tickling that makes us feel so helpless? Scientists still don’t really know. Some theorize that it’s a danger reflex, but ticklish parts of the body aren’t typically the most vital ones to protect. People typically do lose their tickle sensitivity over time, so it makes sense that Jane O’Brien Media targets young men.
Interestingly enough, there are two distinct forms of tickling: knismesis, which is the light teasing you’d get from a feather or an electric toothbrush, and gargalesis, the deeper probing of pits, feet and other sensitive regions. Gargalesis is by far the more provoking, and these videos are chock full of it.
We won’t spoil all of “Tickled’s” twists and turns in this article. Suffice it to say that Jane O’Brien Media is not what it appears to be, and the shadowy figure behind this worldwide tickling empire is a man with enormous money and power.
That same man is continuing his legal assault against Dylan and David, most notably accosting them outside the Los Angeles premiere of the movie and promising more trouble in their future?—?while constantly denying his involvement.
Jane O’Brien Media is still producing tickling competitions. A dramatic video on their website puts a call out for “athletes, personal trainers and extreme sportsmen” willing to get their tickle on.
I contacted them to see if they could let me know what the rules were for competitive endurance tickling, but did not receive a reply.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. It leaves room for some enterprising person to write their own. Here’s my first draft of a proposed rule set for prospective competitive ticklers.
Competitive Endurance Tickling Unofficial Rules
- A “match” is organized into two 10-minute periods.
- Each team is composed of five Ticklers and one Victim.
- At the beginning of a period, the Victim is tied down on the Tickling Surface. The first opposing Tickler enters and the clock starts.
- The Tickler can tickle the Victim on any part of his body, with the exception of areas covered by his underwear.
- Every two minutes an additional Tickler enters the room and begins to tickle.
- Sensors are attached to the Victim’s restraints. If these sensors monitor a force above a certain threshold, points are added to the tickling team’s total.
- An audio sensor is positioned above the Victim’s head to record laughter. If this sensor monitors a sound above a certain threshold, points are added to the tickling team’s total.
- If the Victim gives up before the 10 minutes have elapsed, the tickling team is automatically declared the victor.
- At the end of the period, the teams switch and the tickling team sends their Victim in for 10 minutes.
- The team with the highest score at the end of the two periods is the winner.
Sounds pretty simple, right? There would be a small setup cost for the monitoring devices, but I’m pretty sure Jane O’Brien Media can afford it. Give me a call, guys. I’m ready to tickle you—er, I mean, TAKE YOU—to the big leagues.