The gym is closed and a Peloton bike doesn’t quite fit the budget. Understood. Meanwhile, going for a run outside is like traversing a minefield of lackadaisical pedestrians. What’s a fitness-conscious, coronavirus-trapped homebody to do? How about a workout with the stars? There’s a treasure trove of campy old VHS fitness tapes that have been digitized for your pleasure and uploaded onto YouTube and other online platforms.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, it seemed as if every celebrity (Pat Boone! Shirley Jones!! Marla Maples!!!) decided they should release a fitness tape à la Jane Fonda. However, most of these celebs had no business getting near unitards and leggings. That’s what makes these VHS chestnuts so deliciously hilarious. C’mon gals, lace up those Reebok high tops and dig out your Olivia Newton-John sweatbands. It’s time to get physical.
Debbie Reynolds “Do It Debbie’s Way” — In 1983 anything was possible, including Debbie Reynolds in a workout studio with Dionne Warwick, Teri Garr, Rose Marie, and, wait for it . . . Shelley Winters. Winters, looking like she’d much rather be at a Long John Silver’s than in this video, wears a sweat shirt that reads, “I’m only doing this for Debbie.” Watching this mess is like a three-martini hangover come to life. Reynolds often breaks into random song during the workout and forgets the routines, while Winters, who is hiding at the back of the room in her ill-fitting black sweats yells, “Are my bulges supposed to hurt?” and “How many of you girls slept with Howard Hughes?” You know this workout is high-end because a massive crystal chandelier is inexplicably suspended over the set. Reynolds offers motivation by yelling, “If I only had a hit record I wouldn’t have to do this,” and “I hate exercise!”
“Angela Lansbury’s Positive Moves: A Personal Plan for Fitness and Well-Being at Any Age" — Here is perhaps the most popular and inappropriate of all the celebrity workout videos. It’s so weirdly sexual that you’ll never watch “Murder She Wrote” the same way again. It starts out innocently enough with the Cabot Cove sleuth talking about the importance of fitness. Cut to Lansbury in a towel, giving herself an aloe vera massage, while talking about getting in touch with her body. As Jessica Fletcher would say, “I don’t want to alarm you, but something very sinister is going on here.” Next, the doyenne of Maine detectives is in a mauve pantsuit writhing on the floor and thrusting her hips toward the heavens in the name of fitness. But stick around for the grand finale. It’s Lansbury in a bubble bath surrounded by candles. "It used to be thought that women lose interest in sex after menopause, but now we know that just isn’t true.” I don’t think Mrs. Potts would approve.
Zsa Zsa Gabor “It’s Simple Darling” — “Exercise doesn’t have to be difficult,” Zsa Zsa purrs, and it certainly isn’t difficult in this video. This was Zsa Zsa’s excuse to hang with her “two muscular friends Mike and François.” Her brawny buds, who look as if they were kicked out of Chippendales for steroid abuse and an addiction to manscaping, were likely added to help attract Zsa Zsa’s primary fan base: cougars and gay men. It’s a great quarantine workout for those who prefer to exercise while sitting on a replica Louis XIV chair and pressing 1-pound weights. In other words, everyone should love this workout.
“Fitness Walking With Sally Struthers” — Come along as we watch Sally Struthers and her friends walk around a park in a manner that suggests they all really need to use a bathroom, but can’t find one.
Milton Berle “Low Impact/High Comedy Workout” — Berle’s contribution to the genre is more about entertainment and less about exercise, and I use the word entertainment very loosely. Berle breaks out his 1950s drag shtick and dresses like Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons, perpetually interrupting a room full of seniors who are actually attempting to exercise to a soundtrack of sweet big band tunes. It should be noted that at no point is Berle shown working out. Instead he trots around the room telling borscht belt jokes such as “This lady is on a liquid diet. She only drinks what comes out of her blender. Last night she drank two pot roasts and a chicken.” Oy vey.
The Marky Mark Workout: Form, Focus, Fitness — Yo, it’s about that time. Back when he was still Marky Mark, Mark Wahlberg (sans Funky Bunch) showed us the workout that helped land him those fly honeys. Yes, he uses the term fly honeys to describe women in this video, and he uses it often. Less than five minutes into the workout, he’s done wearing a shirt (yay!) but later he puts it back on (why?). Eventually he gives the people what they want. “I can’t do no abs with my shirt on, so I’m gonna take the shirt off and we’re gonna to get diesel.” And with that, the shirt is gone. Again. The exercising concludes with Wahlberg and “six fly girls in a jacuzzi.” This feels less like a workout and more like a sexual harassment lawsuit waiting to happen.
Sid Caesar “Shape Up!” — Some things should be set on fire, encased in concrete, and then buried in the backyard, and this exercise video is one of them. The legendary comic Sid Caesar, who helped define television comedy in the 1950s with “Your Show of Shows” could have easily titled this 1985 dumpster fire/workout video “Your Low of Lows.” It’s inexplicably filmed in a hotel room with the then 60-something Caesar pacing around nervously talking about the importance of being friends with yourself. Eventually he eagerly strips out of his shirt the same way your newly-divorced uncle would at a poolside singles mixer, and starts using furniture in his hotel room to exercise. And then (yes, there’s more), he takes off his sweat pants to reveal a pair of tiny briefs. If you have a delicate constitution I suggest you stop reading now. Caesar then leans on a door frame, in the aforementioned briefs, as he demonstrates how squeezing his buttocks helps his prostate. Don’t try this at home kids, or anywhere else. Ever.