From LOL to WTF: A Review of HBO’s Tickled

I had rearranged the furniture, wiped down the countertops, and even refilled the Brita. So I was riding that high right into my HBO queue.

I thought — look how productive I’ve been today. I am perhaps, the most productive? No, not perhaps. Definitely.

So I decided that since my spirits were so high, might as well nourish the ol’ noggin too. And I had every intention on selecting a thought-provoking, eye-opening documentary that would challenge the very core of my belief system.

Then I saw Tickled.

In this shocking documentary you have to see to believe, a pop-culture journalist’s investigation into ‘competitive endurance tickling’ leads him on a dark, twisted journey full of manipulation, deception and online intimidation.

The story starts like this: pop-journalist (and the doc’s director) David Farrier stumbles upon this website that hosts videos of competitive endurance tickling and man, are these videos weird.

A majority of them look like they were shot in a studio, but there’s a few that look like they were filmed in the bedroom of that one weird cousin that you sometimes see at Thanksgiving.

It’s always young, athletic-looking dudes, sometimes shirtless, but usually in workout clothes. One’s tied down on the bed and then a slew of other young men come in and start tickling him.

And that’s it. There’s no point system, no teams, no refs, no uniforms. Beyond shame hiding their boners, there’s no kind of strategy here.

You may be saying to yourself — boy, this sure seems like some kind of fetish porn and not anything remotely like a professional sport.

And you wouldn’t be that far off because, spoiler alert: tickling is one hundred percent fetish porn.

Perhaps the strangest moment for me were the interviews with the boys who star in these videos.

They all seemed so shocked that a stranger filming them would post said film online.

Apparently, a rep from the site would try to recruit boys with extravagant gifts — a brand new Playstation, an expensive watch, and in one particularly bold move, a envelope filled with $2K in cash.

These kids were completely beside themselves because they hadn’t even done anything yet. And that would’ve been my first red flag.

A stranger is asking you to be a part of some kind of competitive tickling team—your first and only answer should be no. It should not be, okay but like…what about an Xbox?

Then when you actually show up to the shoot and realize that you’re going to be shackled to a bed while strangers tickle you, you don’t maybe take a second look at all that and reassess?

But blindly they marched on — and months later when these videos pop up online, the guys were not only shocked but pretty pissed. They claim they never agreed to having them shared online, yet there they were.

The trouble starts, though, when they try to get them taken down. Hell hath no fury like an online platform dedicated to secret tickling porn.

The same reps that were once showering these guys with gifts were now the ones threatening them over email, text, and phone, sending their family members links to the clips, and even going as far as opening up domains in these guys names and hosting the videos on there.

And it seemed like this harassment went on for months until these kids would eventually give up, seemingly exhausted from fighting a battle they don’t have the means to win.

There’s so many twists and turns in this documentary that I feel like stopping here is the best I can do to not ruin them.

Tickled is by far the strangest documentary I’ve ever seen. And while Farrier specifically is targeting competitive tickling and this particular site, I think the real message here is that the anonymity that the internet provides can be a blessing and a curse, depending on the person sitting in front of the screen.

Tickled is available on HBO and probably on other pirated websites. 5 out of 5 stars for blowing my god damn mind.