harold-ramisHere we are, yet again, to say goodbye to another comedy genius. Early morning, on February 24, Harold Ramis passed away at the age of 69 from complications due to autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis. Ramis was a beloved actor, writer, and director who was involved in some of the most iconic comedies of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. To name just a few: Caddyshack, Groundhog’s Day, National Lampoon’s Animal House, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Stripes, Meatballs, Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2. While his later work seemed to fizzle out with audiences, Ramis still managed to achieve noteworthy performances in Orange County (2002), Knocked Up (2007), and Year One (2009).

Though he often played second fiddle to Bill Murray during their six-film collaboration, to call Ramis just a straight man downplays his talent as an actor and a comedian. Ramis has always been a more subdued performer, relying on his dry wit to subtly poke fun at or comment on institutions of authority and the new bourgeois culture. This was a man who grew up during the tumultuous era of the 1960s and tried to infuse that same spirit of rebellion into his movies. Take another look at that list up top and it becomes pretty clear that Ramis was all about underachievers and underdogs, turning them into unlikely, though not unwelcome heroes. Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2, I think, are the best examples. As Egon Spengler, nerds and geeks alike got to see a positive depiction of themselves on the big screen. Spengler and his fellow Ghostbusters were action heroes, but they were also men of science with a sense of humor to boot. Venkman may have been the street-smart, cynical romantic, but Egon was the quintessential nerd and he still got to save the day. Unlike now where nerd and geek culture have been greatly elevated, back in the 80s, this was a huge deal. Above all else, Ramis brought intelligence to his work. Again, it’s too easy to call Animal House or Caddyshack examples of frat house, juvenile humor. Do they have slapstick and low brow jokes, of course, but Ramis was as sly as he was overt in presenting comedy. He’d re-write or punch up scripts to make sure there was something for the audience to latch on to, something that resonated. Case in point, we remember pretty much all of his movies. The good ones at least.

The outpouring of articles and videos honoring Ramis speaks to the long-reaching influence he’s had on at least two generations of movie-goers. Most of his movies are quotable masterpieces of comedy with each sporting at least a scene or a line that sticks in your memory the rest of your life. It’s one thing to write a joke, it’s another to write joke funny enough to get people quoting it the second they walk out of the theater and years later. I should know. I haven’t seen Caddyshack since I was a teenager, but I can still quote a great deal of Billy Murray’s lines. The same goes for the Ghostbusters movies. When I was a kid, I was scared out of my mind because of the ghosts! I still remember hiding my head in my father’s chest or sitting behind the couch because I was freaked out by Ghostbusters 2. In all honesty, I had a better appreciation of The Real Ghostbusters cartoon before I truly enjoyed the movies they were based on, but I still went back and watched them again.

It’s impossible to perfectly encapsulate one man’s impact on cinematic culture, so the best thing we can do is curl up on the sofa and facilitate our own time loops of Harold Ramis movies. All I know for certain is that Mr. Ramis is now a wry grin of stars shining down on us singing “Do Wah Diddy”.

Next time I promise to write about something a bit more positive.

  1. bwcarey says:

    great human being, he brought love to life, bless him

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