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 Thursday, 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, N.Y., 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, Calif., 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 like: “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 that 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.”