When someone asks what some of my favorite movies are, without hesitation I start to rattle off Ghostbusters, Caddy Shack, Animal House, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. There are always others thrown in there, and a lengthy discussion follows as to how I rank movies, why I love these particular movies, and the inevitable friendly debates about why a certain movie didn’t make my list or my friend’s.
Today, Harold Ramis died at age 69. Typically, I have little, if any, reaction when some random celebrity dies. Today, my reaction was more of a visceral one upon hearing the news of Ramis’s passing. The only other time this has happened was the day I found out that director John Hughes had suddenly passed away from a heart attack in New York. No, I didn’t know either one of them, but unbeknownst to them, they formed my sense of humor. Today, it felt like a small part of my childhood died.
Unlike today, when you can get any TV show or movie at the click of a few keys on your tablet or laptop, waiting for movies to come on cable, during my childhood, was a true waiting game. After a movie hit the movie theater, it would take a year or year and a half to see it on pay cable. Once there, however, it would play in a seemingly endless loop for at least a month. As a child of a single parent, we can safely assume that I watched my fair share of a television screen. Because of this, Harold Ramis and his movies became integral to a part of my entertainment education.
Ghostbusters is one of those movies I have seen somewhere in the 1000’s of times. It’s a movie that is quoted in our household at least once a week. My boss and I throw quotes around from that movie to alleviate stress or boredom. My children insist on watching it every time it’s on television, despite the fact we own it. Egon Spangler is the quintessential geek on screen. His glasses and awkwardness are obvious, but the strange answers to questions and quirky side comments make Egon my kind of geek. Bill Murray in Caddy Shack still makes me cry with laughter every time I watch that movie. Animal House lead me to believe that college was supposed to be toga parties and having an amazing time with amazing friends while smashing guitars of pseudo-musicians on the staircase in your fraternity house. Stripes was one of the first “grown up” movies that I was allowed to watch. Harold Ramis either wrote, directed, produced, or was a featured actor in all of these, and often was performing more than one of these tasks.
I understand these movies are far from Oscar winners, and I enjoy a good intellectual thriller or drama anytime. But…these movies are my humor foundation. Like John Hughes, Harold Ramis taught me key elements of entertainment to which I still respond. His humor showed that funny could be quick, dry, and witty. It didn’t have to involve pratt falls and spit takes. My husband can attest that it takes a LOT to make me laugh out loud. I rarely laugh when everyone else laughs, and I often embarrass him laughing when no one else “gets it” in a theater. Very rarely do I laugh at a movie the second time, and we won’t even get into multiple viewings. Ramis’s movies make me laugh harder and longer the more I watch them. I get more out of the subtlety the more I watch. That’s what he was; he was subtle. Whether it was his writing, acting, or directing, he had a subtle, smart, dry sense of timing and humor that still speak to me as a viewer and a fan.
In 2007, Ramis played Seth Rogan’s father in Knocked Up. I thought that it was brilliant casting by Judd Apatow. Ramis wasn’t in the movie much, but he delivered one of his better lines. When talking to his Rogan, Ramis’s character reminds his son that “Life doesn’t care about your vision. You gotta deal. You just gotta roll with it.” It was a really fast delivery and subtle, but it stuck with me. Today, I was reminded of this quote when I heard the news of Ramis’s passing.
Thank you, Harold Ramis, for showing a young girl that it’s okay to be a little geeky and humor doesn’t have to hit you on the head to make you laugh.