My Night with Richard Simmons Sweat (The Class, Not His Sweat)

Read about Joe Donatelli’s experience at Richard Simmons’ Slimmons aerobics class. (Let us never speak of this again.)

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“Shut up!”

That’s what Richard Simmons says if he recognizes you.

“Shut up!”

That’s what Richard Simmons says if you wear something outrageous to his aerobics class, which is open to anyone in Los Angeles on Tuesday nights with $12 and two hours to burn.

“Shut up!”

That’s what Richard Simmons says if he legitimately wants you to shut up because he’s talking.

Simmons throws out “Shut Ups” like Zsa Zsa Gabor drops “Darlings.” Everywhere, in all directions, all the time. It’s one of the many memorable things about (yes, this is the real name of the class) “Richard Simmons Sweat.”

The first time you see Richard Simmons in real life, you expect him to be wearing a basketball jersey and short shorts, because that’s how he appeared in all those commercials and late-night talk shows. But this time he entered in a red pompadour wig, white makeup and a silver cape. He had just come from a video shoot. Or possibly a regular Tuesday afternoon. You never know with Simmons.

He sauntered into Slimmons Studio in full Joan Crawford regalia, and when nobody recognized him immediately, he yelled, “Shut up!” Then everyone—and by everyone I mean 50 women aged 22 to 70 plus four guys—clapped.

He then personally greeted every member of the class with a hug and air kiss. I got a “Nice to meet you.” The lady behind me got a big, old “Shut up!”

The theme for today’s class, he told us, would be divas, in honor of the video he was shooting. (I still say allegedly shooting.) And even though the musical set list would come to include Neil Diamond and Louis Armstrong, nobody cared, because if Richard Simmons says Neil Diamond is a diva, then damn it he’s a diva.

We started with basic warm-up movements to loosen each muscle group. Then it was time to aerobicize. It was near impossible to see Simmons through the mass of bodies in the room, so I did whatever the woman in front of me did, and I hoped I did it right because for reasons that I don’t care to think about I was really hoping Richard Simmons wouldn’t notice me.

OK, I’ll think about them for a moment. Simmons is brutally honest, and I move with all of the grace of a 19th-century German boy’s automaton. I didn’t want him to notice how clunky I was.

Of course, he zeroed in on me immediately.

One of the moves we were doing required us to alternate raising our hands in the air, and I kept forgetting to do that because I’m a straight, white guy who unless he is wearing a baseball glove can move only one body part at a time. But with Simmons barking and staring lasers, I figured it out quick, and Simmons said “Good,” and I was relieved.

“Now you’re all going to dance with me!” he shouted to the class.

Simmons shouts a lot. Only about 25 percent of what he shouts is understandable. I swear at one point he said, “Circle-y, circle-y donut holes!” That’s probably not what he said. Or maybe it was. Who knows?

We gathered in a circle and Simmons walked around and pointed at the people he wanted to join him in the circle. Then he’d run through a basic combination of steps and the people in the circle and everyone on the outside of the circle would repeat them.

He grouped the folks in the circle by men and women, so when I was pulled into the circle, it was with the other four guys.

When the women were in the circle, Simmons stood and danced with them.

When the men were dancing in the circle, Simmons writhed on the floor like a model on the hood of a sports car in a rock video from the 1980s.

At one point Richard Simmons sat on the ground, leaned back with his weight on his elbows and opened and closed his legs while looking me in the eye.

It was the gayest moment of my life, and I say that as someone whose friend once confessed his love to him.

We aerobicized a bit more, warmed down and closed with a quick weight-lifting session with dumbbells and a short core workout.

While we sat on our mats, Simmons ended class with a motivational speech. He said he saw a lot of stress, a lot of unhappiness and a lot of pain in this class. (I’m pretty sure he was referring to me while I was in the dancing circle, but there’s no way to really know.) He then told the story about how when he was a kid he used to sell candy on the corner in New Orleans (of course he did) and some kids used to beat him up. He said he tried to win them over by buying them gifts, but it didn’t work. I think the point of the story was: sometimes life sucks.

He then encouraged us to be kind to each other. He told the bosses in the room to compliment their employees. He urged us all to give to charity. He cried while talking about charity. For about five seconds. Then his tone of voice returned to normal, such as that is for Simmons. “He can be dramatic,” my wife later said with intentional comedic understatement.

Afterwards we all lined up and took pictures.

Simmons noticed my wedding ring. (Of course he did.)

“You guys are married?”

“We are,” I said, never feeling more married in my life.

“That’s too bad,” he said, “Shut up.”

UPDATE:

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UPDATE: Richard Simmons made this video, which will haunt your dreams forever in 8-bit madness. I am sharing it because I don’t want to live in a world where you have not seen this yet.

Note: I have also posted this story here, to see how it would do on Kinja.

(Joe Donatelli is a freelance journalist who publishes The Humor Columnist. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and get on the mailing list for his upcoming book.) 

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Silent Frisco

Read Joe Donatelli’s review of Silent Frisco.

I live in Los Angeles. Many nights when I’m driving home from doing something sensible (like eating dinner or mailing my estimated quarterly taxes) I pass nightclubs with long lines at the entrances. These clubs typically have names like Lure, or XXIVIIXXI, or Thigh.

Thigh will have a gimmick—like the bar is shaped like a thigh, and also there is a signature drink called The Thigh Ball and also the walls are lined with photos of celebrity thighs. Hey, you’ll notice, there’s Ernest Borgnine’s thigh. Neat. (Pasty.)

Sitting above the dance floor is a DJ who might also, but coincidentally, be named Thigh. He’s not like a wedding DJ. He doesn’t spin a bunch of songs you already know. Club DJs play original mixes, sometimes accompanied by a light show and lasers and stuff falling from the ceiling. It’s all about the experience, and the experience is driven by the DJ. This is why, for example, you will rarely hear “Friends in Low Places” at a really hot Hollywood nightclub or electronic music festival.

If you’re the type of person who’s ever been to one of these hot dance clubs and thought, “Gee, this is all great and stuff, but I wish there were two DJs, and I wish I could choose from between them by flicking a switch on a set of blinking yellow headphones,” then you’re in luck, because that’s now a thing that exists. It’s called Silent Frisco.

silent-frisco-dance

My wife and I went to Silent Frisco at Wilshire in Santa Monica. (Full disclosure: I do a little freelance work for Silent Frisco’s PR rep, who invited us.)

Here’s how it works. At the door, guests receive a set of wireless headphones. The headphones have volume control plus a switch that allows the listener to select between two channels. There’s a green channel and a blue channel, and the top of the headphones light up blue or green. I know you were wondering, and yes I did look kind of like that dude from Cloud City when I had the headphones on.

joe-lobot

Wut up, Lobot?

The two channels at each Silent Frisco vary. Past events have featured Daft Punk Vs. Radiohead, and the night we attended was 1980s Vs. 1990s. One upcoming event promises to pit Michael against Prince. Organizers, if you’re reading this, I suggest you take a hard look at: Biggie Vs. Tupac, Madonna Vs. Lady Gaga, David Lee Roth Van Halen Vs. Sammy Hagar Van Halen and Eddie Murphy Vs. Patrick Swayze in the ultimate showdown of popular actors who recorded a song for some reason.

With headphones on, the dance floor feels normal. People are dancing, drinking, kissing and so on. With headphones off, it’s Bizarro Club World, because the room is relatively quiet while a large group of people move silently to two different rhythms. It’s like standing in the middle of a piece of performance art called, “Rhythm Failure: An Examination of Poor White Dancing—Badness Accentuated by Silence.”

My advice: If you want to dance, keep the headphones on all night. All the way to the car, if possible.

After dancing for a bit, we went to the bar, and I did something I’d never done in a dance club before. I had a conversation. The bar was still noisy, but I could speak with my wife without shouting, which I recall our Pre-Cana instructor saying was important.

silent-frisco-bar

I saw one man and woman silently communicating from across the bar. She pointed to the green lights on top of her headphones, as if to indicate, “This jam be the shiznit.” Then he pointed to the blue lights on his headset, as if to say, “No, dawg, my jam is the dopest.” They moved closer and danced together to completely different songs, which is something most men do anyway.

Silent Frisco was fun and novel and, most importantly, a personal wakeup call. I realized that we, as a nation, have chafed under the tyranny of the single-DJ system for far too long. It is a beautiful thing to be able to choose between silence and the shiznit.

(Joe Donatelli is a freelance journalist who publishes The Humor Columnist. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and get on the mailing list for his upcoming book.

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Comeback Victory: Ohio University football has come a long way. A really, really long way. Really.

Ohio University alumni Joe Donatelli recalls the dark days of the Ohio University football program from the mid-1990s.

Packed house at Peden Stadium

Note: This story originally appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of Ohio Today.

To see just how far the Ohio football program has come, one must travel back in time to 1994. My freshman year the football team failed to win a game. It didn’t just lose. It invented new and exciting ways to lose. The first game I attended at Peden Stadium was a 5-0 loss to Utah State. For you non-football fans, 5-0 is an unusual football score. It’s like losing a baseball game .7 to 0.

I seem to recall the Utah State game being played under dark skies, but perhaps that’s because it felt like every game that season was played in a Tim Burton movie. It was always windy, always dark, always raining. If the field had split in half during the second quarter and 10,000 specters leapt into the gray sky, it would’ve surprised no one. It would have explained things. Ah, we would have said, the stadium’s haunted. That’s why we can’t get past the 50.

True story: I got my ticket by purchasing a hamburger at the Wendy’s on Court Street. Attendance was 5,940. Most fans left after the 110 performed at halftime, as was tradition at the time.

The rest of the season was a disaster. Ohio lost by an average of 16 points a game. Greg Graziano, who hosted the “Coach’s Corner” TV show, was forced to show highlights of short runs by running back Lakarlos Townsend. For you non-football fans, this would be like showing “American Idol” highlights of singers not falling off the stage.

After one particularly bad outing, head coach Tom Lichtenberg went on the radio and said something along the lines of, “We played like Cliffy and the Clowns, and I’m Cliffy.” The quote made its way into sports reporter Rob Demovsky’s story in The Athens Messenger, and it summed up the season.

It should be noted that the players, many of whom were talented, took all this losing hard. I got to know a few of them when I covered the men’s track team for The Post. I asked why they played two sports, and their response was, “We want to win something.” To their credit, on the track, they usually did.

Lichtenberg was fired at the end of the season, and a new coach, Jim Grobe, was hired for the 1995 campaign.

In Grobe’s first home game, Ohio snapped its 12-game losing streak against Illinois State. A few hundred students stormed the field and tore down the goalpost, probably more out of irony than joy. Depending who you ask, the goalpost was either carried uptown to the bars or dumped in the Hocking. Or possibly both. The athletic department hilariously warned students not to tear down the goalposts again, which was not a problem, as Ohio wouldn’t win another home game for almost a year.

But the team had turned a corner. In 1996 and 1997 Ohio won more games than it lost, and what we now know as Ohio football was born. It was during the Grobe years that students started attending games again, and not just for the 110, which it should be noted has never had a bad season.

And that’s where I left things when I graduated. We were winless my freshman year. We were winners my senior year.

Last fall, my wife and I returned to Athens for a semester. (You can read all about that adventure here.) When we went to the New Mexico State game last season, it didn’t feel—what’s the word?—real.

Tailgreat Park

During the 1997 season, the tailgate section was wherever my friend Jim parked his Chevy Celebrity (actual photo above), plus whoever else then happened to park around us. There were no tents. No bouncy castles for the kids. No double-wide bathrooms. Or fancy alumni tents. Or bands. Or families. It was mainly people who bled green and white and who liked drinking in the morning, which are probably two sides of the same coin.

Back in the 1990s, the game-day experience was bare-bones. You had the band and the cheerleaders and the mascot, and tiny football promoting the local realty company and that was about it. Now, besides often being televised, the stadium has Victory Hill and a video scoreboard and contests and other fun things to distract fans during TV timeouts.

Probably the biggest change is that there are so many fans. My wife and I had no idea that by going to the New Mexico State game we’d be part of the largest crowd in school history (25,893). Demand is such that ticket cost is not based on price elasticity (meaning price rises with demand), which is a vast departure from the old burger-based pricing scheme.

It was an exciting season, which kicked off with the school and town still buzzing about Ohio’s appearance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Utah State. The Bobcats won 24-23, which is a fine football score.

Joe Donatelli ’98 was managing editor of The Post in 1997-98. He is the author of The Marching Band Refused to Yield: The True Story of the Time the Ohio University Alumni Band Fought the Miami of Ohio Football Team.

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Have You Stopped to Consider … The Sad and Lonely Life of The Jolly Green Giant

The Jolly Green Giant’s loneliness has been commercialized with Just for One dinners. Poor guy.

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“Ho ho ho…it’s always just for one.”

Green Giant bursts into tears. Tears flood a local farm. Runs away. Accidentally stomps a peaceful village. Punches the ground for his stupidity. Earthquake kills everyone in 500-mile radius. Finds himself even more alone.

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Flying is Awful

Read Joe Donatelli’s rant about why flying in an airplane is awful.

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The commercial flying experience is a mockery to the modern traveler.

Let me tell you about my last flight—a nightmare.

I booked my ticket several weeks ago on my laptop. Thank goodness I didn’t have to talk on the phone with a customer service representative. You know the type—the ones who sound like they’re sitting on a fork. Did it all online.

The airline said I’d earned enough rewards points for a free flight because I flew so much. Are they nuts? What other business does this? It’s not like if I drop $1,000 at Home Depot they’ll give me free cabinet coating. This is how they suck you in. They give you a bunch of free stuff for nothing.

Anyways, the airline emailed me to let me check in. Like I need one more email in my life. So 24 hours before my flight I checked in before I got to the airport.

Inside the terminal the employees all had their heads buried in computers. These computers are so important, making sure millions of people across the world get where they’re supposed to go while also making sure no bad guys get on the flights. I get it. We’re all just a number to you people.

I checked a bag, which I dread. An airline employee tagged it and put it on a conveyor belt, where it disappeared into the bowels of the airport with thousands of other bags only to reemerge somehow magically at my destination like it had been there the whole time. Some trick.

Had an hour to kill, so I went to one of those bars and drank a beer from Colorado and a whiskey from Ireland. I read a financial magazine from New York with advice from the most successful people in the United States. Then I watched a television news program featuring breaking news stories from four continents.

When they started boarding, the airline ladies let on people with handicaps, the elderly, parents with small children and active military service personnel first. Then the rest of us boarded “in an orderly fashion.” Moo!

But, oh, the flight.

This flight.

When you think about it, the nerve of these people. The captain made a 115,000-pound machine defy gravity with nothing but the sound of his voice and a few movements of his hands. No wonder they all think so highly of themselves, these captains.

We accelerated to 485 miles per hour 30,000 feet above the earth in a machine designed by engineers who’d mastered something called “fluid mechanics.” (I dunno either.) The captain deftly adjusted the flying machine to comply with the unseen forces of lift, thrust, weight and drag, the big showoff.

Long flight. I killed time by listening to music on a wireless electronic device. Then I ate a warm cheeseburger and drank a cold beer I’d purchased on the flight. Finally, some civilization.

When I glanced out the window I saw cities, farms, lakes, rivers, mountains and then clouds and blue sky—a vantage point most people who ever lived on earth never experienced unless they happened to be on top of a volcano when it blew up.

Oh, yeah, these “flight attendants.” (Can’t call them stewardesses anymore.) During the flight one accidentally woke me up when we were being served free water and soft drinks, which they managed to do when not entertaining us with funny comments and songs over the P.A.

Eventually, we began our descent, and the pilot maneuvered a floating mass of metal, glass, plastic, electronics, hydraulics, flammable liquids and wires onto a small patch of concrete several football fields long smack dab in the middle of a busy city. But the big-shot didn’t do it alone. He had assistance from invisible men who spoke in a device in his ear and some computers.

The plane’s weight ultimately rested on landing gear made of aluminum, which is a soft, ductile metal they also use to make soda cans, which is not a comforting thought.

Our plane then taxied across the runway while giant machines with the speed, weight and enough liquid ammunition to destroy skyscrapers barely avoided each other while landing and taking off.

So, yeah, get this. We get off the runway, and they tell us there’s no gate ready yet. We sat there for 15 minutes waiting for a damn gate to open up.

Awful.

Commercial flying—we don’t deserve this.

Joe Donatelli is the author of “Full Griswold: Stories from a Honeymoon in Italy.” Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and G+.

Photo via David Francis

UPDATE: This version contains slight edits. Thank you to the Reddit flying community for your feedback.

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