David Farrier was sucked into a tickling vortex back in 2014, and spent the next few years immersed in the world of Competitive Endurance Tickling. Throughout 2016 he took the resulting film, Tickled, to festivals around the world and followed it up with The Tickle King on HBO last month. After three years he was ready to move on. But the internet had other ideas.
It never stops. Once the tickling floodgates open, they stay open. If I died tomorrow, that would probably be my one takeaway from my 34 years on earth: “Once opened, never shall the Tickling Floodgates be sealed again”.
This time, it was a job posting on Playbill.com:
TITLE: Hysterical Laughing LOL
‘Hysterical Laughing LOL’ sounded like a fun sort of time, so I read on.
“The Laughing Out Loud project is casting non union males for an experimental short piece of work titled HYSTERICAL LAUGHING LOL, to be taped by the producer. Actors should bring something creative to the process.”
So far, just like any other audition in New York City. My greedy, tickle-obsessed eyes kept reading.
“This is a project that will test the laughing skills of an actor that will be lying on a table or sitting up in a chair and getting his ribs and feet tickled by the creator of the project.”
And then, in bold, no less:
Tickled Male: 20s to 40’s age range, average to very tall, trim to muscular, great laughing skills, very sensitive ribs and feet.
Uh-oh. This seemed like familiar territory. Trim to muscular men. Not too old. Need to be very ticklish. Must be tickled on tape.
There was a contact email address for a fairly non-descript ‘Eighth Avenue Studios’. A Google search revealed only three results, one of them the website for Tony D’Allesandro Photography. Call me paranoid, but the name did remind me a little of Jane O’Brien Photography (spoiler: this story doesn’t lead there).
While some of Tony D’Allesandro Photography’s photos were quite thespian-y, others were less so. Specifically, one of them showed a male actor caressing and licking what appeared to be a female foot. Another showed a gentleman looking very intently at another gentleman’s shoe.
I decided to email to audition. I would usually just email as David Farrier, but search results for me at the moment scream “Tickled investigation”, so I emailed Tony D’Allesandro at Eighth Avenue Studios from a pseudonym (I chose ‘Adam Jones’), saying I wanted to audition.
I got a reply five minutes later.
I imagined his email being typed quite quickly, “shotsof” coming out in a hurried jumble of excitement.
D’Allesandro needed a shot of me, and fast. I quickly sent a photo back, one that I hoped said “20s to 40s age range, average to very tall, trim to muscular, great laughing skills.”
A photo had the potential to blow my cover, but I went with it, saying “this is me with my friend Colin”.
Okay, so I’ve learnt something in the last year about foot and tickling fetishists: They are very passionate about it. This is great – everyone should be passionate about something. I have also noticed that when engaged in general conversation/small talk, some tickling fetishists reveal themselves quite, well, abruptly:
Anyway, I was getting fetish-related vibes from D’Allesandro, so I sent some more emails, ultimately curious if this was an ad for an authentic theatre audition or a front for making tickling fetish videos:
Me: Sorry, I am still figuring out what this play / installation is about!
D’Allesandro: Its a laughing skills on tape its on playbill.com called Hysterical Laughing LOL
Me: So it’s for a short film and the stage? What an unusual idea.
D’Allesandro: Lol yes
Me: Can I see some of your other work? I’d just feel more comfortable that way before I send you shot of my feet.
OK, so I wasn’t talking to Tony D’Allesandro? I was talking to Anthony Fusco? Who the hell is Anthony Fusco?
A quick Google of Fusco returned some fetish related content… and an item with Dan Savage for his Savage Love column, where he answers people’s questions about sex.
Someone had written to Savage in 2013 about an advert they’d seen on Playbill.com, circa 2007/2008, for two male actors to film a scene in Sniff. The premise of Sniff was as follows:
“The smaller roommate is being ordered to sniff, lick, and caress the larger roommate’s feet”.
It all sounded very familiar. “After the audition,” the writer concluded, “the director requested a picture of my feet via e-mail”.
Savage had done some digging, and had landed on Anthony Fusco, too. The nuts and bolts of what Savage found are as follows:
- Anthony Fusco said openly he is a foot fetishist.
- He wrote and directed Sniff, which was actually a scene in Big Naked Feet, “a five-scene, one-act comedy” he wrote and directed New York nine years ago.
- Big Naked Feet was part of the Strawberry One-Act Festival run by a Mr Van Dirk Fisher
- The play reads like a porn, but Fusco insisted the video he wanted to make was for promo material, saying “It’s not porn and it’s not foot-fetish fap material.”
- At the end of their chat, Fusco asked Savage for a photo of his feet.
So, back in 2008, there was supposedly a play about tickling. But why was this new audition – for a new play about tickling, by Anthony Fusco – being handled by Tony D’Allesandro?
I emailed Anthony Fusco and was quite blunt:
Me: Are you Tony D’Allesandro too?
Fusco: Yes i do that separately. We all have an acting name.
Do we? Um. Fair enough. I thought I’d send a few more emails.
Me: Sorry for my scepticism, just the specific things you need (close ups of feet, specifically needing very tickling people) make me think this is for your personal use and not a play or a short.
Fusco/D’Allesandro: It is for a gig yes but no worry I have actors
Me: It’s just you seem to be into feet and tickling on a personal level under your other name (Tony D’Allesandro), so I find the fact you are running private auditions (on camera) for it to be a bit suspicious. Do you see where I am coming from?
Fusco/D’Allesandro: Not really the auditions are not on camera in person.
Me: Have you seen the documentary Tickled? You might enjoy it.
Fusco/D’Allesandro: No I have not.
Me: Here is the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOBXuCYB4jQ.
And things went quiet.
What does this all mean? Well, maybe absolutely nothing. So what if Fusco used more than one name? I was, after all, emailing him as ‘Adam Jones’. Sure, Fusco was tickling obsessed, but then again so was I, emailing, googling, making up Gmail names. If anyone’s lost the plot, it’s me. Move on from tickling, Farrier. FFS.
I suppose it all comes down to that age-old question: Would you go on camera and tickle somebody for cash?
Fusco/D’Allesandro told me, rather nonsensically, “the auditions are not on camera in person”. But re-reading the audition notice, it clearly states: “The footage will be edited and used for a trailer for an upcoming short film and stage presentation in the works for 2017.”
It sounds a lot like what Dan Savage wrote about Fusco’s last tickle-related play that took place almost a decade ago: “Fusco insists, however, that the video he’s making is intended as promo material for a planned remount of Big Naked Feet. It’s not porn and it’s not foot-fetish fap material.”
It’s definitely not porn. It’s definitely not foot-fetish fap material.
With this in mind, I did some searching for the promo material Fusco talked about.
I couldn’t find it.
And a nagging question began to form in the back of my mind: How do we know there was ever even a play?
Fusco told Savage there was a play. But Savage didn’t see the play. It’s the whole tree-falling-in-the-woods scenario. But with tickling.
I decided to drop a Facebook message to The Strawberry One-Act Festival, which the play was allegedly a part of, but didn’t get a reply. Determined, and slowly sinking into madness, I sent an email to the Riant Theatre where the Strawberry One-Act Festival takes place. I emailed as myself this time, not ‘Adam Jones’:
About an hour later I got a reply, but from someone new: StandingTallMales.
I noted that both the Riant Theatre and StandingTallMales both used Gmail addresses. As did D’Allesandro. As did Fusco. Fusco and StandingTallMales also shared this at the bottom of their messages:
We emailed back and forth:
Me: Hi there StandingTallMales. Do you work with the Strawberry Festival, run by Van Dirk Fisher? I am just confirming Anthony has put on shows with the Strawberry One Act Festival, and if the festival had any comments on the shows in general, specifically one that ran back in 2008 called Big Naked Feet. I see he is running auditions for a new play also related to feet and tickling called Hysterical Laughter LOL. Thankyou.
StandingTallMales: Why are you confirming? Are you interested in working with him?
Me: Wait, are you Anthony? I feel like you might be Anthony.
StandingTallMales: You did a movie Tickled correct?
Me: Yes that is me, dedicated tickling reporter. So are you Anthony? I was looking for some independent confirmation of your plays from the Strawberry Festival.
StandingTallMales: Yes it is me but why are you asking for confirmation? Yes I am a playwright.
… followed shortly by another email:
StandingTallMales/Fusco: So may I ask why am I being questioned? Why are you writing to Strawberry questioning me? Please explain your reasoning for this?
… followed shortly by another email:
StandingTallMales/Fusco: Do you want to do a film about me lol? Please let me know
Me: A few people referred me to a Playbill post seeking auditions for a play called Hysterical Laugher LOL. That ad was posted by Eighth Avenue Studios … who turns out to be you. To seek more clarity on your work, I thought I would look into your other tickling-related play, Big Naked Feet, so got in touch with the Strawberry Festival and the Riant Theatre, and got a reply from Stand Tall Males… who is also you. Basically I am talking to a lot of people and companies to get my head around Hysterical Laughter LOL, and all the people I talk to or I hear about are… you.
We exchanged some more emails. They didn’t exactly give me the clarity I hoped for but in short, StandingTallMales/Eighth Avenue Studios/Tony D’Allesandro/Anthony Fusco told me, “It is something I want to work on for a future play yes” and “My plays are mainly drama or comedy.”
They also told me they didn’t want their name “out there”. But the fact is, their name – or names – are already out there, expressed by their own volition on that most public of domains: the internet. They just haven’t been connected together before.
To be honest, I was sick to death of thinking about Anthony Fusco, StandingTallMale, Eighth Avenue Studios, Tony D’Allesandro, The Strawberry One-Act Festival, Van Dirk Fisher and The Riant Theatre.
They can tickle all they want, if they want to: I am just curious whether there’s a bloody play or not. The play’s the thing.
Discouraged, I reached out to some actor-types in New York – young people in their mid-20s, who keep their eyes peeled for acting action. One of them tells me, “There is a director in the city who is always posting creepy audition notices that usually involve a foot fetish of some kind. I am wondering if this could be the same person”.
I wonder how the new auditions for Hysterical Laughing LOL will go. They’re being held right now in New York, and close on April 30. Actors selected from the audition will be invited for “a test in the studio”. So an audition… followed by a test. Followed by… the play?
And maybe it will just be a play. Occam’s razor tells me that an audition for a play will just be an audition for a play.
Or maybe… just maybe… *purely in my own imagination*… Maybe it’s all a huge front for a much shadier enterprise, an entire world of fictitious names and businesses and websites all created with the sole purpose of getting fit, attractive young men to tickle each other on camera, a practice that is definitely, ABSOLUTELY not fetish-related, and DEFINITELY doesn’t all lead back to one individual.
But that’s a bit far fetched. It’s probably just a play.
Afterword: After I spent quite a bit of time writing this, I went for a nice walk in the sun. And I thought to myself: What does this all mean? And more specifically… why does it even matter? There is nothing absolutely nothing wrong with being into tickling. There’s nothing wrong with plays. And I suppose there’s nothing wrong with having multiple email addresses. I suppose why it matters is that it’s, well, interesting. The title of the ad is interesting: “Hysterical Laughing LOL”. It’s interesting that everyone I spoke to was the same person. And it’s interesting that after I wrote this, I got an email that included this:
So yeah, it’s interesting. And maybe people auditioning for the play will find it interesting, and the context will be important to them. But also, a small part of me screams: “What is this guy up to? Who knows, who cares, not me.”
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.