“Hungry” is a documentary about the strange — and sometimes nauseating — world of competitive eating. With no shortage of trash talking and contract disputes, competitive eating is starting to look like the professional sport that serious competitive eaters consider it to be.
"We’re both comedians and we met in New York City, and we were always talking about the idea of doing a film about competitive eating... We always spoke about maybe writing a script about it because we thought it was funny," says filmmaker Barry Rothbart. "It was going to be a comedy piece, but then it turned into more of this look into this strange, niche world."
The film spends the most time on Takeru Kobayashi — who took competitive eating by storm in 2001 when he doubled the Nathan's Coney Island hot dog eating record as a newcomer — and his legal battle with the organizers of the famous eating contest, Major League Eating, or MLE. Kobayashi won the Nathan's competition for six years in a row, until being defeated by the current champion, Joey Chestnut.
"Hungry" also follows two other competitive eaters: Brad “The Lunatic” Sciullo and Dave Goldstein, who goes by the nickname “U.S. Male.”
"They’re very different. Kobayashi’s a celebrity and he’s very famous. And Brad’s this... kind of a young crazy guy. And then 'U.S. Male' is just a family guy who’s in his early fifties who just enjoys doing it," says filmmaker Jeff Cerulli. "So you get the three different characters who are all at different stages of their career in competitive eating."
Some scenes in “Hungry” are a little hard to watch because competitive eating can be...hard to watch. Part of Brad Sciullo’s training regimen involves chugging gallons of water to stretch his stomach. Other eaters will consume huge amounts of low calorie foods like lettuce in preparation for a contest.
The filmmakers also confessed that throwing up seems like the only logical thing to do after an eating competition, but the competitive eaters featured in "Hungry" weren't so open when it came to this subject.
"They don’t talk about it," says Barry. "We really wanted to find that out. It’s a pride thing. It’s very strange how they don’t want to talk about it, but they have to."
"There’s a lot of sports that are more dangerous than this, but I think the reason people have such a visceral reaction is because everyone knows what it’s like to overeat. No one knows what it’s like to be punched in the face by a boxer or to fall off a surfboard or to be in an MMA fight, but people know what it’s like to overeat, so there’s more physical empathy," says Barry.
Barry and Jeff say they entered a handful of competitions themselves while making the documentary, and found out just how difficult competitive eating is.
"You’d be surprised how boring it is to watch two amateur... competitive eaters try to competitive eat. It’s basically watching someone eat a meal for ten minutes. There’s nothing more boring than that," says Barry. "So, I think we decided it didn’t work for the film, but we definitely learned how hard it is. It’s very hard."
Kobayashi is credited by many as being the first to treat competitive eating as a serious sport and many have followed his lead, but the outside world's view hasn't changed much. Competitive eaters say they struggle with a public that doesn’t take them seriously and doesn’t consider what they do to be a real sport.
"I think a lot of people talk about it like, this is gross, and this is something that’s wrong and that this is something that’s like freaks trying to get attention. So I think that that was what we assumed the majority of people thought about it, which was what we thought about it for a while," says Barry. "And then I think as we dug more into it, we realized that these are actual normal people that take this very seriously as their fifteen minutes of fame."
To learn more about the documentary and find out how you can rent it online, visit the film's website.