Yaqi takes his name from Carlos Castaneda's Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, which teaches that enlightenment can be attained through unusual channels. His unusual channel of choice happens to be tickling. That's right, tickling, and to hear the Houston native describe the practice, it's the path to a more peaceful world. "Tickling is fun. It's about joy. It's about happiness," Yaqi gushes. "One of the most common things I hear from people after they've been tickled is 'My stress is gone. My tension's gone.' "
As fetishes go, this one is fairly benign. Yet there's something about watching one of Yaqi's videos that feels like New Age pornography. There are 17 tapes to choose from: men tickling men, men tickling women, women tickling women or -- his most popular category to date -- women tickling men. "I'm actually the first Web site to feature guys being tickled by women," Yaqi boasts. "The norm out there are top-less or fully naked women, and that is the kind of unfortunate stigma tickling has."
As long as Yaqi can remember, he's had a fascination with touch; he sees tickling as simply an extension of human contact. He sought out books and magazines on the subject, but it wasn't until the rise of the Internet that he discovered an untapped worldwide interest in wandering fingers. But the videos he found on the Web were horribly amateurish. As a producer of legal films, Yaqi knew he could make professional-quality videos that would put his odd obsession in a better light. In other words, he put his subjects in underwear and bikinis. "The more skin available to tickle, the better experience it will be," Yaqi says, by way of justification.
Of course, the ticklees are also tied up. "Restraints are a big part of the full experience, because it's important that you not be able to get away," he explains.
His class act has managed to become mainstream enough to get the attention of television producers. He's already been flown to London for an episode of Dot.Comedy. He tackled host Gail Porter and tickled her on stage during taping, but that scene was never aired. He is also featured in an upcoming MTV pilot, Beyond the Classifieds, but Yaqi wasn't happy with how the network treated him. "They kind of invalidated tickling as a lifestyle," he says.
It was enough to inspire him to make his own documentary to put tickling in its proper context. But that tape got into the hands of Howard Stern, who has devoted several episodes to trashing Yaqi on the air. "He devoted a half-hour to just saying all these really hideous, rude, sardonic comments about me, about my site, about my tape," Yaqi says. "Then he turns around and asks me to be on the show, so I'm going on the Stern show" on January 25.
Yaqi's campaign for tickling acceptance still raises one question: If his videos are so innocent, why should we buy one? "If not for masturbatory purposes?" Yaqi laughs. "They are so funny to watch The verbal communication that you have with people as you're tickling them often are very, very funny. They're just very, very positive things."