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