Tuesday, February 25, 2014

My thoughts on Harold Ramis

I wonder if he knew. Harold Ramis passed away yesterday and the internet tom toms are ablaze with tributes and an outpouring of love from his many fans. I wonder if he realized how beloved he was and how much his work meant to so many people. Our paths never crossed. I never met him. But the sense I get is that he didn’t.

Other names garnered way more attention. John Hughes. Judd Apatow. The Ferrelly Brothers. But in his quiet, unassuming way Harold Ramis was a giant who contributed to some of the finest screen comedy of the last half-century. From MEATBALLS to ANIMAL HOUSE to GHOSTBUSTERS to STRIPES to CADDYSHACK to one of the great romcoms of all-time, GROUNDHOG DAY – Ramis either co-wrote, directed, and acted in all of them. Wow. Even just one of those credits would be enough to lift someone up to the top of the comedy pantheon.

I always loved Harold Ramis comedies. He had this amazing ability to mix broad outlandish comedy with real emotional moments. No matter how absurd and extreme his scenarios could be, there was always an underlying layer of humanity. The goal was to make you laugh, not shock you. He was never mean-spirited.

His comedies were always smart, even when they were silly. And you got the sense he had great affection for his characters – all of his characters – even the gopher.

Screenwriters and directors of today’s screen comedies could take a lesson from Harold Ramis. When I compare them, the current crop don’t have the inspired lunacy, underlying themes, and playfulness of Ramis' fare. He had been sick for several years. I wondered what had happened to him. I’d see one of these current forced slapdash formula comedies and hope he’d someday make his return.

There was no one like him. And it’s our great loss.  When you want a classic new comedy, now who are you gonna call…?

RIP Harold Ramis.  If they remake GHOSTBUSTERS (and there is talk of that), I hope you'll play one of the ghosts.  

42 comments:

Mary Stella said...

This is a lovely post. Thank you for writing it, Ken.

Barry Traylor said...

Thanks for the post Ken. My thoughts exactly.

Mr. Hollywood said...

I had the joy of working with Harold on STRIPES, then GROUNDHOG DAY, and finally ANALYZE THIS, where I spent the most time with him. Not only was he one of the most gifted men to ever have written a script or directed a film, but he made comedy seem so effortless, and he was a GOOD man to boot. That's a rare combination.
In a world that needs comedy so badly, his passing leaves a huge hole that, frankly, will not be filled. Judd Apatow, Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell all take note: really study what this man gave us because your work doesn't hold a candle to his body of work. Strive to follow in his footsteps. Strive to lift the quality of your work. And thank you Harold, so humble in your brilliance, for lifting the everyday difficulties of life off our shoulders for a few hours of laughter and joy! Your work and spirit will always be with us!

Max Shenk said...

For some of us, he was, is, and always will be Moe Green...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYCbF0Fat-c

Mike Barer said...

I was not familliar with the name, but I was with his work. It is a sad loss for the industry which needs more, not less of what he had to offer.

VincentS said...

I was an extra in ANALYSE THAT and it was one the most interesting experiences I've ever had. I was one of the prisoners rioting behind Robert DeNiro. We shot for two days on Riker's Island and as anyone who's seen the movie can attest, DeNiro sings the same way he acts - He works hard. At one point, Harold Ramis actually addressed us and thanked us for our efforts. He, not the AD, but the director THANKED THE EXTRAS. That rarely if ever happens. No knock on directors such as yourself, Ken. They have the toughest job on a set and for him to do that on top of everything else he would normally have to do during the course of his work day made it all the more special. His is an irreplaceable loss both as a person and as an artist.

Pat Reeder said...

So sad to hear of his passing. Not just for his movies, but he was also in the earliest episodes of one of the greatest TV shows of all time, "SCTV." If you don't have them all on DVD, get the boxed sets immediately!

I still remember when I was fresh out of college, I worked with a very funny guy who reminded me a lot of Bill Murray. He loved "Stripes" so much that every time his newlywed wife wanted to go to the movies, he'd take her to see "Stripes" again. He used to say it was so good, why see anything else? When they broke up a few years later, I wondered if she divorced him just so she could finally see another movie. I like to think of her finally getting to see another movie after watching "Stripes" 10,000 times, and the movie is "Groundhog Day."

Artie in Sin City said...

Dialed right in...like always...

Mike L said...

A nice tribute. I'll never forget a short bit at the end of an SCTV episode where Harold is the host of Dialing for Dollars and he calls Paul Pope. Turns out he has reached Pope Paul. "Oh, you are watching." His nervousness was side-splitting. A mensch.

Ed said...

I don't know about the gopher quip. That gopher was a survivor...and he could dance too!

Thanks, Mr. Levine. Harold Ramis will be greatly missed.

blinky said...

The first movie my wife-to-be and I went to was Animal House. We saw it in Sarasota at a matinee. Afterward we looked at each other and said together: Let's see it again. So we stayed and saw it again. We are still married and it is the only movie we ever saw twice in one sitting.
Thanks, Harold Ramis!

john brown said...

My favorite film of his was Multiplicity. It lost money, probably because of the name, but he used Michael Keaton wonderfully. That movie tackled the question, What if you could clone yourself?. What are the possible ramifications of such a thing? Funny, smart with a healthy dose of slapstick, goofy humor.

Dan Sousa said...

Our family is convinced that Groundhog Day is one of the most underrated, enjoyable movies of all time ... we have watched it so many times that we can quote almost every line. And as for all the great comedies from the 70s and 80s he was involved in, they defined my generation! I am still prone to yelling "Noonan" on golf outings when somebody is trying to putt ...

H Johnson said...

My children have all grown up to be nice people with terrific senses of humor. I have to believe that the infinite viewings of Stripes when it first came out on VHS had something to do with it.

Our family has enjoyed all of Harold Ramis' films and his underlying and unbroken thread of kindness throughout will be missed.

Your tribute is of some comfort at this sad time. Thank you.

PS: It was years before my son quit calling me every Groundhog's Day and waking me with "I Got You Babe".

Damn

Hamid said...

Thanks for the moving tribute, Ken. These last 6/7 months have been pretty terrible for the loss of great talents who were also great people.

John Brown

Good to see another Multiplicity fan. That deserved to be a big fat hit, but like you say, the title probably put a lot of people off, and being released in the summer when Independence Day was raking it in didn't help.

Keaton was fantastic in that film and I think it's every bit as good as Groundhog Day.

John Lloyd said...

Always remember: If someone asks if you're a god .... say YES!

Nat Gerter (sitcom room veteran) said...

I think it is easy while praising his writing and directing (and if Groundhog Day isn't exactly what it should be in every single moment, then no film is) to overlooking his acting, his particular laidback presence. It is easy to say sure, he was a goofy comedy guy in things like SCTV and Ghostbusters, but then you see him in As Good As It Gets, which is full of certified Oscar-grade talent acting hard, and he just comes in and does this small scene as a doctor with comforting, calming confidence, with all the ease of someone who is just reading the script to himself and just nails it.

Anonymous said...

My stepdaughter lived with us her senior year in high school (this was 23/yikes/years ago). Her father & I were making wisecracks and quoting Animal House as we were trying to talk to her about college. She got very annoyed and spouted, "That is just a stupid movie. It isn't even funny." We stopped dead in our tracks and I asked, "Have you even seen it?" She hadn't. I made her get in the car and go to the store to rent the VHS. When she got home, I sat her down and told her not to move until it was over. I could hear her trying to muffle her giggles while I was doing the dishes she was supposed to be doing. Finally she gave up and just laughed out loud. She appologized to her father & me. That weekend we had a comedy marathon of all of Mr. Ramis's comedies and others she refused to acknowledge...Mel Brooks among them. She never doubted our taste in comedy again.

Pam aka SisterZip

Phillip B said...

I was very saddened by his death, but just thinking about his work I spent the rest of the day laughing. It will always be there - embedded in my brain.

Here he is just killing in 1 minute and 5 seconds, for the Famous Philosophers School on SCTV -

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYySOUdAG5k

MJ said...

Absolutely riveted by his comments during interviews in the Making of Caddyshack. Nearly as fun as the feature itself. You could sure tell he enjoyed making that film.

Alan C said...

A few years ago I was in Chicago and went to see Second City. There was someone in the audience who looked just like Harold Ramis. I so wanted to go up and say hello but chickened out. Now I'm kicking myself!

LouOCNY said...

It has been gently discussed on a Marx Brothers Facebook page, that many of his movies are a true spiritual descendant of what the Marxes were doing in their time, and Ramis had pretty much discussed his stuf the same way. His movies were all about the outcasts....the unappreciated refusing to be kept down, and roaring back to win - all while being very, very funny.

One thing that is not being discussed too much, is how Ramis was at the very heart of the Second City revolution of the early 70s - he was a very important part of both the Chicago and Toronto units which came to dominate film comedy for a decade. As part of that, he was a huge part of the OTHER two prime contributions of National Lampoon to the culture - NatLamp's Lemmings, and the very hysterical National Lampoon Radio Hour.

A very nice tribute Ken...

RIP Harold Ramis - you will be missed!

D. McEwan said...

Re: This entire column: Ditto!

Sid Caesar aand Harold Ramis in the same month. The world is a lot less funny this February (The month of Groundhog's Day).

Groundhog's Day is my paternal grandfather's birthday, so I was happy it was honored as being the title and setting of a truely great, and even somewhat profound, comedy.

And just how rare is a self-effacing comedian.

chalmers said...

Thanks for the wonderful tribute, Ken. You hit on how I've been feeling since hearing the news yesterday.

Harold Ramis could expertly deploy stupid humor, slob humor, dirty humor, or insult humor but there
was always an underlying sensitivity and decency.

As Nat mentioned, his performance in "As Good as it Gets" typifies this, and I'd add his short scene with Seth Rogen in "Knocked Up."

mdv1959 said...

I always thought "Groundhog Day" was as close to perfect as any comedy that has ever been made. Incredible script, acting and directing. Comedies never get the credit they deserve, but for me "Groundhog Day" is one of the best 25 films ever made.

Thank you Harold for all the joy you brought me.

RockGolf said...

A co-writer and director on several of the most beloved and successful comedies of the last 30 years.

Wow. Harold Ramis is like the Ken Levine of movies.

kenju said...

I remember him on SCTV shows in the early days, even though he wasn't on camera for many episodes. His comic timing was impeccable.

chuckcd said...

"And that would have worked if you hadn't stopped me"

We will miss you and your work Mr. Ramis.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Harold Ramis is like the Ken Levine of movies.

Oh, jesus. Stop licking his ass

Johnny Walker said...

I'm not sure that we, the general public, knew either. At least I know I was shocked. He was never the funniest character in any of the movies he was in, his directorial efforts were hit and miss (with some great hits), but now he's gone, it's suddenly apparent that his contributions will be missed.

There was a genial humanity that was obviously very deep and genuine. Makes you realize just how important the glue in between things is.

Johnny Walker said...

Getting older and watching people die is depressing, but I guess it beats the alternative.

Al Ternative said...

Not getting older, and not watching people die? That sounds GREAT.

Dale said...

That's for sure. Sad to have seen many friends pass. I am in the entertainment field and have lost so many to AIDS. Another is suicide (among drummers suicide is a curse. I lost 7 drummer friends to suicide over thirty years.)
Last night I had no time. But tonight I plan to watch Analyze that and Groundhog day.
RIP Mr Ramis.

susie said...

Al Ternative says "Not getting older, and not watching people die? That sounds GREAT."

Wait, doesn't that sound like Groundhog Day?

Paul Duca said...

Dale...I thought it was only a concern to be a drummer for Spinal Tap.

Breadbaker said...

I really appreciated both Ken's comments and the comments of the posters who knew Harold Ramis. We need more people in entertainment like him.

Birdie said...

I know you hate Chevy Chase with a passion, but that's no reason to leave out Vacation, Ramis's best movie. And no matter what one says about Chevy's limited range, he was genius in that part. It's also a bit darker and more subversive then Ramis's other comedies,

Anyway, I've always championed Ramis as terribly underrated and have always been a big fan. The news hit me pretty hard.

Hamid said...

I love the line Ramis has in Ghostbusters after they've had to walk up hundreds of flights of stairs to get to Dana's floor in the apartment block. He takes one look down the hallway and says in his deadpan tone: "Art deco. Very nice".

Dale said...

Hi Paul.
Sadly no, because most bands are Spinal Tap. :-)

Well I just watched Groundhog day. I enjoyed it very much. Harold as the neuroligist was very good. Strange to be enjoying a movie and then feel sad for an actor who has passed. I had to put that behind me and get back into the spirit of the film. Which I did. I feel that was a credit to all involved. Lovely film.

I know a lot of Hollywood types read this blog. I always appreciate good work and to any who have contributed to my happiness over the years, many thanks. Ramis was one who did on numerous occassions.
Cheers guys. Dale

Hollywoodaholic said...

Jon Landis is alive and Harold Ramis isn't. Making me rethink the idea of karma.

Dixon Steele said...

Thanks God you liked him...I couldn't take another Sid Caesar takedown so soon...

jbryant said...

Alan C: You definitely should have approached Ramis at Second City. From what I read, he loved being recognized and considered it one of the big advantages to moving back to Chicago in recent years. Since there were far fewer celebrities living there, he was a bigger deal there.

I think he tended to be underrated because perhaps his greatest strength was collaboration. Even a fan might have a hard time remembering which films he directed and which he only co-wrote. And of course he was a master of improv, which doesn't show up in Writers Guild arbitration.