Harold Ramis used to order food from my parents’ restaurant, Dima’s Mediterranean Grille, back in the day. The restaurant wasn’t too far from where he lived in Glencoe, Illinois. I wasn’t old enough back then to appreciate how cool it was that one of the forefathers of modern comedy routinely ordered some tasty chicken kabob from an eatery owned by my mom and dad.
Little did I know back then that Ramis would become one of the most influential factors on my creative development. Movies like Stripes, Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, Meatballs, and Animal House taught me what tickled my funny bone. It’s amazing that one person had his hand in concocting so many iconic cinematic recipes.
Ramis taught me a lot about comedy, but more importantly he taught me a lot about myself. Harold knew his strengths as a performer, collaborator, writer, and director. He came to prominence with a stable of other legendary performers: John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, and Chevy Chase to name a few. Instead of trying to be the loudest voice in the room, Ramis became a master at delivering clever one-liners, directing big personalities, and crafting hilarious situations to help his costars shine.
I’ve grown up with a lot of big personalities – many of whom I’ve been blessed to make movies with since I was in fourth grade. Watching films that Ramis directed, wrote, and starred in gave me confidence in my abilities as a storyteller and performer. I didn’t need the loudest voice to be heard. One-liners were cool. Helping other people shine was and will always be a special thing. The goal of comedy – and storytelling in general – is to milk the most out of each scene in every story. The best kind of art is unselfish. I think Ramis understood that early on.
Here’s one of my favorite Ramis one-liners. I love how he smiles. He knows how good the line is and doesn’t try to hide it.
“No we’re not homosexual, but we are willing to learn.” If that doesn’t make you laugh, I’m sorry.
I take pride in the fact that Ramis is from Chicago. In my extremely biased opinion, he found a way to weave Second City themes (those of the comedy club and Chicago) into all of his creative content. He rooted and wrote for the underdog. There’s no better example than his underdog obsession than Bill Murray’s monologue in Stripes.
“We’ve been kicking ass for 200 years! We’re 10 and 1!” Brilliant.
One of my favorite Ramis themes is discontent with and skepticism of authority. He managed to touch on serious issues with such a hilarious grace. He showed us that we should never trust powerful establishments just because they’ve been around for a while. At an early age, I began to harbor a dislike of country club-types, power-hungry bureaucrats, and scheming administrators because Ramis showed me how ridiculous they all were.
There is perhaps no better example of Ramis’ ability to lambast authority in sidesplitting fashion than this beautiful scene from Animal House.
“You can do what you want to us. But we’re not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America!” Patriotism at its finest.
Long before the age of instant feedback in which Tweeters and Facebook users could provide their opinions on social issues and political leaders in real time, Ramis helped give a clever, witty voice to a class of people tired of taking shit from higher classes. Caddyshack is the ultimate snobs vs. slobs story, and there’s a reason millennials connect with it in the same way that their parents did. Sometimes pure, comedic anarchy is the only way to combat tyrannical oligarchy. I love when Judge Smails – the ultimate snob – slices a shot off the tee after Rodney Dangerfield bets him $100.
“I owe you nothing.” Such a snobby attitude.
In real life, a lot of assholes get away with things. Dickbags at work hand you assignments they should take care of themselves, snobs at school put you down, pricks with low self-esteem try to make you feel worse so they get a momentary reprieve from their self-loathing. Ramis was so wonderful at making sure that those kind of people got what they deserved in his films. Like the “dickless” city worker in Ghostbusters.
“Yes it’s true. This man has no dick.” Gets me every time.
I could spend all day talking (or writing) your ear off about how great Ramis’s work is and always will be. Hell, I haven’t even talked about his most heartfelt film, Groundhog Day. Instead, I urge you to go watch his movies for yourself, and to always comically question authority.
I wish I were old enough to have delivered you some chicken kabob myself back all those years ago, Harold. I could have said thanks for all you’ve done for me in person.