Harold Ramis, 1944-2014: Comedian, filmmaker, and teacher

by | Mar 5, 2014 | Opinion


Brian O’Neill, Sports Editor

I was 15 years old, getting taller and my voice was changing when my dad sat me down for that seminal moment in the relationship between a father and a son.

We watched Caddyshack.

I had reached that age where I was old enough to appreciate the classic comedies of my father’s youth. It was a comedic rite of passage, a sign that I had moved past the PG-13 world I had inhabited up until that point, and into a vast unmined territory of comedic gold.

It was because of this that Harold Ramis’ death on Feb. 24 affected me so deeply. Ramis passed away due to complications from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a rare disease that causes swelling of the blood vessels. He was 69.

Until I saw Caddyshack, I only knew Ramis as the straight-laced Ghostbuster Egon Spengler. He was much more than that. He either wrote, directed or starred in many movies that influenced me: Animal House, Stripes, Groundhog Day, Back to School, Meatballs and National Lampoon’s Vacation. That doesn’t even touch on his stage work with the Second City in Chicago, and his role in starting the cult television classic SCTV in 1976.

He was one of the world’s greatest satirists. U.S. President Barack Obama said as much in a statement upon hearing about Ramis’ death. Fittingly, Obama concluded his statement with a Caddyshack joke. Total consciousness, indeed.

He was an ordinary looking man with an extraordinary comedic mind. That’s what has made his films so universal and capable of withstanding the test of time. There are elements within them that speak to everyone. The times surrounding his films may be different, but the takeaway is the same. They’re also just as side splitting.

Ramis’ films ushered in a more mature take on the traditional comedy, filled with racy and explicit jokes once thought too risqué for the big screen. A genre line can be drawn from Animal House to Knocked Up. They contained an energy and contempt for authority that came out of post-Vietnam America.

More importantly, his movies taught us. They taught us about questioning authority, and rooting for the underdog in all of us.

Here are thirteen other things Harold Ramis taught the world:

1. Broad comedy doesn’t have to be dumb comedy. This was a motto he and Animal House co-writer Doug Kenney had while writing the film. A broad premise or concept is relatable to a larger audience, but always write to the top of your intelligence.

2. The Dalai Lama can hit the long ball off the tee when golfing. He is also a cheapskate when tipping his looper. (Caddyshack)

3. What a looper is (A caddy).

4. Never to look into the trap and don’t cross the streams. (Ghostbusters)

5. TOGA! TOGA! TOGA! (Animal House)

6. Without Caddyshack, there would be no Happy Gilmore. Without Animal House, there would be no Old School. Without Ghostbusters, an entire generation would have grown up without knowing what a focused, non-terminal, repeating phantasm, or a Class Five full roaming vapor was.

7. When you try to be the ball, you can end up right in the lumber yard. Don’t stop working on it. (Caddyshack)

8. That the mob needs therapy, too. (Analyze This)

9. A new philosophy: a $100 shoe shine on a three dollar pair of shoes. (Stripes)

10. That everyone cried at the end of Old Yeller. (Stripes)

11. As important as laughs are in movies, Groundhog Day taught us heart is equally important.

12. A family vacation that ends up with the main attraction being closed and members of the family descending into madness is more realistic than you think. (National Lampoon’s Vacation)

13. That Ramis’ death was a blow to our collective funny bone. We lost a man who played an integral role in the creation of our cultural identity. He will be missed.