The comedy world was hit with another dose of tragic news this week, when legendary comedic actor, writer and director Harold Ramis passed away on Monday morning at the age of 69.
Now, when Sid Caesar passed away last week, numerous comedy legends found themselves taking to the airwaves to inform us what a truly influential figure Caesar was in shaping generations of comedy. And while many will do the same for Ramis, most of us will not need such a reminder.
As a writer, Ramis is responsible for cross-generational box-office hits like Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, Caddyshack, Stripes, and just when you think that’s it, it’s like … oh yeah, fucking Animal House! And as a director, in addition to many of the films he himself wrote, he’s responsible for bringing to the screen National Lampoon’s Vacation, Analyze This, Multiplicity, and more. (More being Stuart Saves His Family.)
Get where I’m going with this? His track record is ridiculous, having created a large handful, maybe even two handfuls, of the greatest comedies of all time.
Harold Ramis (R) with longtime collaborator Bill Murray. In the wake of Ramis' death, Murray said, "He earned his keep on this planet. God bless him."
Never one to leave the spotlight, or perhaps because those who admired him refused to let him disappear, in recent years Ramis has taken smaller acting roles in films like Knocked Up, and even directed several episodes of NBC's The Office.
And I know what you’re thinking: “DON’T FORGET ABOUT SCTV ,YOU IDIOT!” Well, I haven’t. So please stop shouting. It's here.
So yeah, what follows is by no means a comprehensive list of Ramis’ credits, but rather, just some quick key players. Something to spend a few minutes with before we all get back to whatever we happened to be doing before we heard this tragic, bummer-town news. Of course, if you’re like me, what you happened to be doing was watching Groundhog Day again, because it was a Tuesday and you just like to watch good movies on Tuesdays.
SCTV — Writer, Actor (1976–78)
After early jobs as a joke writer for Playboy Magazine and a cast member on the main stage at Second City, Ramis became the head writer on an upstart comedy show you may have heard of called SCTV. In three years there, he created an institution and, of course, many legendary characters, including Officer Friendly, which you can watch below. It's highly recommended, as, you know, that's the whole point of this thing.
ANIMAL HOUSE — Writer (1978)
Having left SCTV for a career in film, Ramis teamed up with the National Lampoon Magazine's Doug McKinney to write a little film that would eventually be called Animal House. Animal House was the first screenplay that Ramis ever wrote to actually get made and it's just as great today as it was when it was released in 1978. If you want to know how great it was in 1978, just ask my dad, because growing up he never shut up about it. Ever.
Animal House made a star of John Belushi and even made playing the Kevin Bacon game that much easier. We all owe a lot to Animal House.
MEATBALLS — Writer (1979)
A comedy classic in its own right, Meatballs continued the trend of Ramis having people shove things into their mouth for comedic effect.
Take special note of how quickly these hits are being cranked out. It's pretty amazing.
CADDYSHACK — Writer, Director (1980)
We all know Caddyshack. We all love Caddyshack.
- Kenny (Loggins).
None of it happens without Ramis.
Below is a real cool behind-the-scenes feature about Caddyshack where everyone seems to be in surprisingly good spirits. It's a fun watch.
STRIPES — Actor, Writer (1981)
Honestly, it's starting to get ridiculous how good this part of Harold Ramis' career was. In Stripes, Bill Murray loses his job and convinces his good friend Harold Ramis to join the military with him. The characters have names which we all know because we've all seen this movie 100 times. Honestly, it's stupid. Stupid that I'm reminding you of this, not the movie. The movie's great.
If you haven't seen it, get on it. NOW. Here's the opening scene. We'll pick up when it's over.
NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION — Director (1983)
WAIT, WHAT? HE DID THIS, TOO???
Remember how this movie spawned seemingly a dozen sequels? Well, you have Harold Ramis to thank for that.
As an aspiring comedy writer, his output is mind-boggling to me. But then I'm like, "Wait, he only directed this one. That's not that impressive." Which, of course, is a lie, but it allows me to sleep at night and spend my weekend's watching True Detective, so I'm cool with it.
Damn, Harold Ramis was the best. The rest of us should perhaps consider alternative careers.
GHOSTBUSTERS — Actor, Writer (1984)
Here it is, folks. The one EVERYONE knows. Of course, everyone on Earth has heard of all these great films, but Ghostbusters is the movie you can be confident the aliens are aware of. It's that kind of movie. With every other movie, Ramis created just that, a movie. With Ghostbusters, he created a franchise. A business. An empire. Hell, maybe even a religion. One thing's for sure, he created a very large marshmallow man.
From a box-office standpoint, it's his biggest hit by far, grossing nearly $300 million worldwide, spawning one sequel, two animated TV spinoffs, and hopefully now that Ramis has passed away, no other future sequels. For Ghostbusters is nothing without Ramis and nothing without Egon Spengler.
Do yourselves a favor. DVR American Idol this week and, instead, go ahead and watch Ghostbusters for the 300th time. It will make you a better person.
Did all this get you so worked up and excited about Ghostbusters that you feel like singing? Here, take a few minutes. I'll join you.
GROUNDHOG DAY — Writer, Director (1993)
If I'm being honest, as great as Ghostbusters was, this is the masterpiece in the Harold Ramis oeuvre.
Groundhog Day is the story of a weatherman who finds himself living the same day over and over and over, perhaps for 10 years, perhaps for a thousand. A decent-sized hit upon its release, the film's reputation has been on a straight incline ever since. In 2013, the screenplay, co-written with Danny Rubin, ranked Number 27 on the Writer's Guild of America's 101 Greatest Screenplays of All Time. That's a fact I read, but refused to confirm, knowing that it would only anger me that there are apparently people who believe there are 26 greater screenplays.
AND THAT'S JUST CRACKING THE SURFACE
Ramis is also responsible for having either written or directed the following things you spent your days watching over and over and over again over the last four decades.
- Back to School (1986)
- Stuart Saves His Family (1995)
- Armed and Dangerous (1986)
- Multiplicity (1996)
- Analyze This (1999)
- Year One (2009)
- Several episodes of TV's The Office ...
- AND SO MUCH MORE!!!! (Google it if you don't believe me)
Here's some deleted scenes from the "Beach Games" episode of The Office that Ramis' directed, because why the hell not, right?
In short, the world of comedy is now left with a giant, Harold Ramis–sized hole in it that may never be filled. And while we’re left stuck here to deal with that, Harold Ramis must now move on to what better place there hopefully is out there. And for instructions on how to handle his new situation, he need look no further than himself.
If you've learned anything from this, we hope it's this: Go watch funny shit.