“I’ll never forget the day I found my hip bone,” vamped Tara Anderson at the packed Weight Watchers meeting she was leading in Saint-Leonard, Montreal. “I found this bump! So I came out of the shower [back of her hand across her forehead] and announced dramatically to my husband, ‘I have a lump.’ He said, ‘Well, you’ve got a matching one right over there.’”
Anderson (down 40 lb.) didn’t wait for the laughter to stop before pressing ahead: “I just want to thank the member who gave me the present last week and told me it had zero [food] points. Driving home, I was overcome with hunger, so I tried to rip open the Cellophane by stabbing at it with a pen. I finally got it open and bit into it blindly.” She paused for effect. “It was a sponge! This is a reminder: don’t let yourself get that hungry.”
Spotting the Maclean’s journalist in the crowd, she shifted gears quickly, “Did you find us okay? We’re the Weight Watchers meeting beside a gelato store in the strip mall with a Harvey’s and Chinese takeout.”
Anderson, a blond 33-year-old in miniskirt and boots, is adored by members. And she’s not the only witty leader to attract hard-core devotees. Weight Watchers doubles as a shadow comedy circuit operating across the country, seven nights a week. It creates local celebrities who have no interest in auditioning for Yuk Yuk’s or the Comedy Nest. Their forte is self-deprecating humour about bad eating habits. Mostly, they make fun of themselves.
Who are the headliners? There is the iconic Mary Mach in the Niagara Peninsula, Rolland Paquette in Montreal, Kristine Copland in Whitehorse, Maureen Rabinovitch—the “Joan Rivers of Weight Watchers” in west end Montreal—and Charlie Nucifora, who leads meetings at a downtown YMCA in Toronto. He has been entertaining members for 10 years, gearing his devilish comments to a gay-friendly audience. “As I got older, my age and my waist became the same number—32, 34, 36. Oh God, not 38!” cried Nucifora (down 20 lb.), who owns and operates a hair salon. Members cross town to attend his Wednesday night meetings, arriving early to get a good seat and staying late to bend his ear.
At a Monday night meeting at Loblaws in Montreal, leader Maureen Rabinovitch riffed about the dangers of eating at social events. “Oh, honey, I can arrive at a wedding a size 12 and leave a size 14,” she quipped. “I’ve had to undo my bra to keep eating!”
Vicky Smith (down 40 lb.), a leader in Edmonton, is the queen of asides. Member Maggie McClelland (down 105 lb.) never misses her meetings: “She’s got that wry British humour, but I don’t think everyone gets her at first,” said McClelland. “I’ve lost over 100 lb. in one year because of Vicky.”
One Wednesday evening in January, leader Suzane Urquhart was the reason Weight Watchers members had braved –27° C weather to attend a meeting in the Barrhaven area of Ottawa. Her 30 groupies were in high spirits, fuelled by New Year’s resolutions. When Urquhart spotted the stranger with the notepad, she quipped, “She’s sitting with the drinkers. That must be the journalist.”
Like film stars, charismatic leaders at Weight Watchers receive a special level of devotion from their fans. “I stalk Suzane,” admitted Jen Evans (down 135 lb.), a marketing and communications specialist. “She’s the reason I finally lost the weight. It took me seven tries, but I found my leader and reached my goal.” Likewise, Selene Commerford (down 85 lb.) credits Urquhart’s comic stylings for her success. She attends Urquhart’s Saturday morning class in Orléans, where it’s standing room only.
Kes Smith (down 35 lb.) is another beloved headliner on the Ottawa circuit. Her background in stand-up comedy and theatre is evident, as she spouts jokes like this: “My husband is on the military diet—Cap’n Crunch and Col. Sanders.” Members love when she recalls her own struggles with weight loss. “I went from being an hourglass to a Coke bottle to a Coke can,” she confessed drolly after a meeting in Barrhaven. “Fatty foods give me amnesia,” continued Smith. “I remember [to count] the salad but forget the cheesecake!”
Back in Montreal, Rabinovitch ended her meeting with an anecdote about dining at Bar-B Barn. “I ordered a baked potato, but they were sold out, so I had to have the french fries, guilt free. What could I do?” she recalled, shrugging. “But the waitress came back and said, ‘I have good news! I found you the last baked potato. I turned to my husband and said, ‘No tip for her.’ ”