"You're adorable," he said. "I don't know whether to kiss you or lick you."
His first words to me were even better than I'd imagined.
I could tell you that my obsession with Richard Simmons is ironic, but it's really not. I found and purchased a Sweatin' to the Oldies video at Goodwill, circa 1991. My friends Kim, Alyssa & I plugged in the tape and followed Richard as he aerobicized to "Rockin' Robbin." It was so weird, so funny, but so genuine! To this day, when I'm on a crappy run or just trying to make it through the day, I visualize Richard as my personal cheerleader and it makes me smile. Try it sometime.
So when I recently read this Grantland post about a regular dude who took Richard's AEROBICS CLASS (!) at his STUDIO (!!) called SLIMMONS (!!!) in Beverly Hills, I about died! Richard opened Slimmons in 1974 and still teaches three classes a week. It's open to the public and costs $12, practically free for an experience of this caliber, in my humble opinion.
Last week, my boyfriend Josh and I spent a few days with my bro, Andy, and his fiancee, Shari, in LA. Can you believe I talked all three of them into going to Slimmons with me? Shari was an easy sell, but Andy & Josh were more apprehensive (with good reason, as it turned out). But I didn't care, because we were going to sweat with Richard.
I was excited, but scared.
I know what you're thinking: what's so scary about sweating with Richard Simmons? Well kids, it's like this: What if he's awful? What if it gets really uncomfortable? The man is a loose cannon, people! What if Josh and Andy hate it so much that it ruins the experience for me? I had butterflies the entire ride there.
Slimmons is nothing fancy, just a modest lobby filled with Sweatin' memorabilia, a pink mirrored studio and two ladies bathrooms. I'm quite positive the interior designer also styled The Max from Saved by the Bell.
Richard arrived just before 6:30.
I expected him to mambo-cha-cha his way into the gym, but on this particular day, it was more of a slow, laborious zombie-like shuffle; one leg doing most of the work as the other dragged along like a sack of low-fat snacks. I guess a lifetime of high kicks eventually catches up with you (he made a comment about a knee injury during the hour). He maneuvered his way over to me, dressed as a cowboy topped with a black Liza Minnelli wig and shallow boss of the plains cowboy hat, and said the thing about kissing vs licking.
And then he started swearing.
"You are f*cked up!" he said with utter disgust, while scowling at my boyfriend. Then he looked at me. "He is F*CKED UP!" With a pregnant pause, he turned back to Josh, scolding, "You are sleeping on the couch tonight." He then moved on to my brother, and with a coy smirk stated, "And you're sleeping with me tonight." He then continued on, greeting each of the 40 participants, aged between 20 and 80.
Ten minutes later, he cued up the music and we all started marching. The jazz hands, grapevines and campy kickboxing moves flowed. After a few songs (everything from ABBA to this song by NONONO... all on vinyl!) , we got in a huge circle and kept dancing. Sound like a wedding reception? It was, except Richard effin' Simmons was there!
Richard singled out Andy and Josh immediately, demanding they join him in the middle of the circle. Next, he requested they take off their shirts. When they politely declined, he shouted, "TAKE OFF YOUR F*CKING SHIRTS!" You can't reason with bananas, so they obliged. We all took turns in the center circle. For once, we women didn't have to hear "Take off your top!" The guys, on the other hand, all ended up shirtless.
We danced for 40 minutes, did some bicep curls, then all sat down while Richard soapboxed about how there are horrible people in this world who sell marijuana, meth, heroin, coke and crack to children. There were genuine tears. He then raffled off a few gifts, including the sweaty shirt off his back, a crystal bracelet and a neti pot... which my brother took home. Win!
I did break a sweat, but the workout wasn't especially intense, and things clearly got weird, but I am so glad we went. I met a few of Richard's regulars who attend classes a few times a week, some of them for decades. Together, they've lost thousands of pounds. As his client Kat told me after class, "We're like a dysfunctional family, and it's so fun." And that's the thing here-- it never felt like exercise, which is the whole point to Richard's madness. It's a testament to the fact that fitness doesn't require training for a marathon or dead lifting 'til you barf. Dancing with your friends for an hour counts, too, and it's a lot more fun.
Even if you don't leave dripping with sweat, you'll leave with the best photo ever. And if you're really lucky, a neti pot.