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movie poster, depicting the face of a man, his mouth covered by a cloth gag with the word 'tickled' superimposed over it
New Zealand theatrical release poster
Directed byDavid Farrier
Dylan Reeve
Produced byCarthew Neal
Narrated byDavid Farrier
CinematographyDominic Fryer
Edited bySimon Coldrick
A Ticklish Tale
Fumes Production
Horseshoe Films
Distributed byMagnolia Pictures (US)
Release date
  • 27 May 2016 (2016-05-27)
Running time
92 minutes
CountryNew Zealand
Box office$923,000[1]

Tickled is a 2016 New Zealand documentary about "competitive endurance tickling" and videos featuring it, and the practices of those producing the videos. It is directed by David Farrier and Dylan Reeve. The film explores possible legal and ethical issues with certain individuals making the videos, and has itself been the subject of legal challenges. A follow-up special, The Tickle King, aired on HBO in February 2017.[2][3]


David Farrier, a New Zealand television reporter whose beat focuses on "quirky and odd stories",[4] encounters online videos depicting "competitive endurance tickling", an activity in which young athletic men are restrained and tickled by each other. He begins to research it for a story and requests an interview with the videos' producer, Jane O'Brien Media. The company responds with a volatile email, refusing to "associate with a homosexual journalist",[5] although Farrier is actually bisexual.[6] Farrier, bewildered at the hostile response, partners with television producer Dylan Reeve to dig deeper into the mysterious producers.[5]

After their initial blog posts about the story go viral, Farrier and Reeve receive legal threats from Jane O'Brien Media, who send Kevin Clarke and two other representatives to New Zealand to meet with them. Although their interactions are superficially cordial, the Jane O'Brien Media representatives bully the investigators to drop the project. Farrier and Reeve respond by following the representatives to Los Angeles to an apparent video recording location, but are turned away at the door.

Researching the phenomenon further, Farrier and Reeve uncover information about a person known as "Terri DiSisto" (alias "Terri Tickle"), who pioneered recruiting and distributing tickling videos online in the 1990s. They interview independent tickling-video producer Richard Ivey, whose operations are comparatively low-key, and also acknowledge a homoerotic aspect. Former participants in Jane O'Brien Media's videos describe coercive and manipulative treatment by the producers, such as defamation campaigns against them, exposing their personal information, and contacting associates to discredit them as homosexual or as sexual deviants, all in retaliation for speaking out against the company. A local recruiter in Muskegon, Michigan, describes "audition" videos he helped make that were published by O'Brien Media without the participants' consent.

Farrier and Reeve discover documents on a defunct tickling video web site that link Jane O'Brien Media to David D'Amato, the former school administrator behind the "Terri Tickle" alias. From two journalists who had investigated Terri DiSisto years earlier, they learn that D'Amato served a six-month prison sentence for disabling computer systems at two different universities in retaliation against an 18-year-old male student who attempted to terminate an online relationship, which began when the young man was 17.[7][8] They determine that D'Amato now lives on a substantial inheritance from his father, a successful lawyer.[9] After considerable effort to locate D'Amato, they confront him on the street, and he responds with additional legal threats. Before returning to New Zealand, Farrier contacts D'Amato's stepmother for comment. She implicitly confirms her stepson's "tickling" past, and Farrier informs her that he believes D'Amato is still involved in it. The last thing she says is that she is "afraid" of D'Amato.


Under the working title Tickle King: The Hunt for the Truth in Competitive Tickling, Farrier and Reeve raised NZ$29,570 for the film on Kickstarter in June 2014, intended primarily to cover the costs of the crew traveling to the United States for a week.[4] The project also received funding from the New Zealand Film Commission.[10]

In addition to original music composed by Rodi Kirkcaldy and Florian Zwietnig, the film's soundtrack includes several tracks composed by Shane Carruth for his 2013 film Upstream Color.


The film was screened in January 2016 at the Sundance Film Festival, after which Magnolia Pictures picked up its distribution rights and HBO picked up its U.S. TV rights.[10] In March 2016, it was presented as part of the True/False Film Festival.

On 27 May 2016, the film was released theatrically in New Zealand. It was released by Magnolia Pictures in the U.S. on 17 June, and in Australia and the United Kingdom on 19 August.


Tickled received critical acclaim. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 94% of 120 critics' reviews of the film are positive, with an average rating of 7.6/10; the site's "critics consensus" reads: "Tickled uses an investigation into a silly-seeming subculture as the launching point for thought-provoking insights into online bullying and the destructive abilities of the internet."[11] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 76 out of 100 based on reviews from 28 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[12]

In a review headlined "fetish documentary goes from giggly to grim", Nigel Smith of The Guardian gave the film four stars out of five.[13] Manohla Dargis of The New York Times named it a Critic's Pick, writing that "Farrier and Mr. Reeve see the humor, but they also see the pathos—because it's all fun and giggles until someone gets hurt."[14][15] Darian Lusk of the New York Observer wrote: "The shocking truth is uncomfortably pursued to its fullest, and the result is a riveting piece of investigative journalism."[16] The Salt Lake Tribune gave the film 4.5 stars and called it "an act of journalistic courage", commenting that the filmmakers "reveal the harm that can be done by an individual with a lot of money and a vindictive streak".[17] Dennis Harvey of Variety stated that the onscreen presence of the filmmakers "is justified because the harassment they experience in pursuing the story becomes a big part of its narrative".[18]

Armond White of Out magazine was critical of the film, commenting that it "zips past its sexual aspects", and concluding that it is ultimately "frustrating, a blue-balls documentary".[19]

Response from the subjects[edit]

After the film's premiere screening at Sundance, D'Amato—in March 2016—filed a federal lawsuit against the filmmakers for making false accusations, including the implication that D'Amato used extortion and abused minors, and stated that he had no relationship with O'Brien Media. In response, Farrier told The Salt Lake Tribune that, "given the number of hollow legal threats we faced during the making of it, it's almost refreshing to see a real case being filed by real lawyers."[20]

In June 2016, Kevin Clarke of O'Brien Media created a website to counter the claims made in the film.[21]

D'Amato attended the 18 June 2016 screening of the film at the Nuart Theater in Los Angeles, and confronted Dylan Reeve, saying, "You need to lawyer up. You need to get criminal counsel." Clarke argued with Reeve during a public question-and-answer session after the film, saying, "The film is a piece of garbage full of lies. Release the audio tapes that show you're lying. And if you don't release it, it's the same as admitting you're lying."[22]

Additionally, D'Amato filed a $40 million defamation and slander lawsuit in Nassau County court against his stepmother Dorothy D'Amato, alleging that she made statements in the film with the intention to injure his business, causing mental distress.[23]

On 13 March 2017, at age 55, D'Amato died.[24] The filmmakers posted a statement on their website in which they said they were "incredibly sad" to learn of his passing, and asked that his death be treated with respect.[25]


  1. ^ "Tickled". The Numbers. Archived from the original on 12 December 2023. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  2. ^ Tickled (27 June 2017), The Tickle King, archived from the original on 12 December 2023, retrieved 19 November 2017
  3. ^ "Controversy surrounds 'Tickled' documentary". newsday.com. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  4. ^ a b "Project page on kickstarter".
  5. ^ a b "Is 'Tickled' Poised to Be the Next 'Catfish'?". hollywoodreporter.com. 11 May 2016. Archived from the original on 12 December 2023. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  6. ^ Perrott, Alan (6 June 2015). "Why David Farrier gave up med school for journalism". New Zealand Herald. ISSN 1170-0777. Archived from the original on 12 December 2023. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
  7. ^ Brian McWilliams (2004). Spam Kings: The Real Story behind the High-Rolling Hucksters Pushing Porn, Pills, and %*@)# Enlargements. O'Reilly. ISBN 978-0-596-00732-4.
  8. ^ Scoblionkov, Deborah. "Who's Laughing Now?". mycitypaper.com. Archived from the original on 31 March 2017. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  9. ^ Earl, William (18 March 2017). "David D'Amato, the Villain of 'Tickled,' 'Died Suddenly' at Age 55". indiewire.com. Archived from the original on 19 March 2017. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  10. ^ a b Sharf, Zack (31 January 2016). "Magnolia Pictures and HBO Pick Up Sundance Doc 'Tickled'". IndieWire. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  11. ^ "Tickled". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on 12 December 2023. Retrieved 2 March 2024.
  12. ^ "Tickled". Metacritic. Archived from the original on 12 December 2023. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  13. ^ Smith, Nigel (8 March 2016). "Tickled review: fetish documentary goes from giggly to grim". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  14. ^ Dargis, Manohla (16 June 2016). "Review: 'Tickled' Is Fun and Giggles Until It Isn't Anymore". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  15. ^ "'Tickled': Sundance Review". The Hollywood Reporter. 24 January 2016. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  16. ^ "Weekend Stream: This Tickling Documentary and Its Even More Bizarre Follow-Up". New York Observer. 24 March 2017. Archived from the original on 12 December 2023. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  17. ^ "Sundance '16 review: 'Tickled'". The Salt Lake Tribune. 30 January 2016. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  18. ^ Harvey, Dennis (24 January 2016). "'Tickled' Review: An Engrossing Investigative Doc". Variety. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  19. ^ White, Armond (24 June 2016). "Sports Documentary 'Tickled' Exploits Fetishism and Gay Teasing". Out. Archived from the original on 25 June 2016. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  20. ^ Manson, Pamela (11 March 2016). "Sundance film on 'competitive endurance tickling' is defamatory, suit alleges". The Salt Lake Tribune. Archived from the original on 25 May 2016. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  21. ^ Winfrey, Graham (23 May 2016). "'Tickled': Campaign Launched To Try To Discredit Provocative Competitive Tickling Documentary". IndieWire. Archived from the original on 4 June 2016. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  22. ^ Fagan, Josh (18 June 2016). "Tickled creator Dylan Reeve confronted by the subject of his documentary at premiere". Stuff.co.nz. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  23. ^ O'Sullivan, Michael (30 June 2016). "He made a movie about competitive tickling. But then things got truly weird". The Washington Post. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  24. ^ "Life after the Tickle King's death". The Spinoff. 19 June 2017. Archived from the original on 12 December 2023. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  25. ^ "Tickled". Archived from the original on 19 March 2017. Retrieved 18 March 2017.

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