Pod­caster proud of Sim­mons in­ves­ti­ga­tion

Times Colonist - - Arts - VIC­TO­RIA AHEARN The Cana­dian Press

TORONTO — The cre­ator of a hit pod­cast that in­ves­ti­gated the health and well-be­ing of Richard Sim­mons says he has no re­grets about the show that was crit­i­cized for in­vad­ing the pri­vacy of the now-reclu­sive fit­ness leg­end.

Miss­ing Richard Sim­mons host Dan Taber­ski, who is in the lineup for the Hot Docs Pod­cast Fes­ti­val that kicked off to­day, says he still hasn’t spo­ken with the 69-year-old Sweatin’ to the Oldies star, but he be­lieves he’s liv­ing “the life he chooses to lead right now.”

“I’ve said from the be­gin­ning he owes no­body any­thing and I’m glad that, for what­ever rea­son, he’s do­ing things the way he wants to,” Taber­ski, who hails from Queens, New York, said this week in a phone in­ter­view.

“I had break­fast with his man­ager a month or two ago … and I feel con­vinced that he’s do­ing OK and that he’s liv­ing the life he wants.”

Miss­ing Richard Sim­mons de­buted in Fe­bru­ary and aimed to find out why the beloved Sim­mons re­treated from pub­lic life in 2014.

Taber­ski was a reg­u­lar at Sim­mons’s for­mer ex­er­cise class Slim­mons in Bev­erly Hills, Cal­i­for­nia, and said he con­sid­ered him­self to be a friend of the com­i­cal work­out en­thu­si­ast. He said he was gen­uinely con­cerned for Sim­mons when he seem­ingly “dis­ap­peared.”

While crit­ics lauded the pod­cast for be­ing en­gag­ing and ad­dic­tive, some also ques­tioned if it went too far in prob­ing Sim­mons’s per­sonal life for de­tails on his phys­i­cal and men­tal health. One columnist in the New York Times called the pod­cast “mo­rally sus­pect” while an­other in the

Guardian asked: “Is the hit pod­cast an elab­o­rate stalk­ing stunt?”

Taber­ski said he’s proud the pod­cast took Sim­mons se­ri­ously and “didn’t treat him like: ‘Oh, the guy in the short shorts, he’s that funny guy on Let­ter­man, he’s the guy that Howard Stern makes fun of, he’s the punch­line.”’

He said the pod­cast asks com­pli­cated ques­tions such as: “What does one per­son owe an­other per­son? What does a celebrity owe peo­ple? What is em­pa­thy and what is the cost of em­pa­thy? What hap­pens when you put your life out there for 40 years and then de­cide one day to stop do­ing that?”

“If we’re go­ing to ask com­pli­cated ques­tions, I think it’s OK for peo­ple to ask me com­pli­cated ques­tions … and I think that crit­i­cism was part of that and I wel­comed it,” said Taber­ski, 44.

“I’m re­ally proud of paint­ing a com­plex pic­ture about a re­ally im­por­tant per­son who I think is re­ally spe­cial, and I think the peo­ple who lis­tened to the pod­cast got the same thing. So in terms of re­grets, no,” he added.

“It wasn’t per­fect, for sure. But we went in eyes wide open. We drew lines about what we would and wouldn’t do. We de­cided that it wasn’t go­ing to be an end­less quest, that it was go­ing to be six episodes only and that when we were done telling the story of Richard Sim­mons and putting it out there, that was go­ing to be it. I think we stuck to that and I’m proud of it.”

Taber­ski, who is also a film­maker and pro­ducer who worked for sev­eral years on The Daily Show, said he’s now help­ing write and give editorial ad­vice on an up­com­ing pod­cast about the Heaven’s Gate cult. He’s also work­ing on an­other pod­cast that he plans to host and re­lease next year.

This year’s Hot Docs Pod­cast Fes­ti­val, which runs through Sun­day, also in­cludes a ses­sion with An­drew Ran­nells of Girls, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee of Kim’s Con­ve­nience and He­lene Joy of Mur­doch Mys­ter­ies read­ing es­says from Mod­ern Love: The Pod­cast, based on the New York Times col­umn.

The ap­petite for live, on­stage pod­cast pre­sen­ta­tions is “huge,” say or­ga­niz­ers.

“The land­scape has en­tirely changed over the past year,” said Alan Black, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cin­ema and co-cu­ra­tor of the fes­ti­val.

“When we did our first it­er­a­tion, a live pod­cast was a rar­ity and it seems like over the past year, pod­cast fes­ti­vals are spring­ing up all over the place.

“It’s kind of like a rock band — you’re not sell­ing your al­bum, you’re sell­ing the tour.”

Reclu­sive fit­ness leg­end Richard Sim­mons re­treated from pub­lic life in 2014.

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