Harold Ramis – this is just a tribute

A piece on the late Harold Ramis that I wrote for Graffiti with Punctuation.

Harold Ramis died early on Monday morning after battling illness for a long time. He was 69 years-old. Of all the ages the great comedy performer, writer and director could go out on, it had to be 69. I’m sure he is chuckling somewhere right now.

Lots will be written about Ramis over the next few weeks. His career will be analysed, retrospectives will pop up and people who enjoyed Year One will come out of the woodwork. I don’t want to dive into his incredible resume; I just want to say thanks. Thanks for the laughs Mr Ramis, but I’ll be forever grateful for the way you championed the misfits.

In Animal House, when Larry Kroger and Kent Dorfman seek to join a fraternity at Faber College they visit the prestigious Omega Theta Pi House’s invitational party. Korger and Dorman are not welcome at Omega House because they don’t fit the good looking mould of white, anglo-saxon, rich young men. Soon after, they meet John “Bluto” Blutarsky who takes them to Delta house where they are accepted amongst a group of rebels and oddballs. Animal House was Ramis’ first produced screenplay that he co-wrote with Douglas Kenney and Chris Miller. Comedy is all about status, and from inside Delta House Ramis’ was able to use his band of nonconformists to ridicule the superiority of Omega House and the evil Dean Vernon Wormer. Not only was derision the name of the game but director John Landis knew how to have a hell of a good time doing it. Ramis made the freaks and geeks the center of attention without betraying everything that made them unique and it became a staple of his career with the loners in Meatballs, the eccentricity of Rodney Dangerfield dancing on golf courses in Caddyshack (Ramis’ directorial debut) and a platoon of losers in Stripes.

Ramis applied is loner logic when he collaborated on the screenplay for Ghostbusters with Dan Aykroyd. Dr. Peter Venkman, Dr. Raymond Stanz and Dr. Egon Spengler were three scientists working on the fringe of their university who are eventually cast out and left unemployed. These three downtrodden characters were the perfect foil to the supernatural occurrences going on around them as well as the establishment that wanted to crush their operation.

Groundhog Day had Ramis on co-writing and directing duties and although Bill Murray’s cocky weatherman is a tiny departure from the underclass usually represented in Ramis’ films, it still functions as a romantic comedy, and Murray is as further away from the chiseled love interest as you can get.

The 90s and 00s was not particularly kind to Ramis and his films but I wonder how often he functioned as a fixer on Hollywood comedies to save the day or clean up a mess. Between 2006 and 2010 Ramis directed four episodes of the American version of The Office: A Benihana Christmas, Safety Training, Beach Games and The Delivery Part 2. These are four of the best episodes of the series and it seemed like Ramis was right at home with the odd employees of Dunder Mifflin and their bumbling boss, Michael Scott, who is a character that fitted perfectly into Ramis’ underclass of outsiders.

Ramis’ legacy will live on for a long time as each generation discovers his body of work and the birthplace of modern American comedy that’s so distinctly present in each Judd Apatow produced film or Seth Rogen’s goofy laugh. A little bit of Lawrence Kroger and Kent Dorfman lives in everyone who is searching for a place to fit in somewhere. Thanks Harold Ramis for making your films feel like home.