Harold Ramis Remembered: The Original Revenge of the Nerd

Harold Ramis Remembered: The Original Revenge of the Nerd

As Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino did for leading men, Harold Ramis’ comedies championed a new kind of underdog hero

Earlier this month, we lost Sid Caesar, one of the key architects of American humor in the mid-20th century, and now comes the sad news of the death of Harold Ramis, who held at least as much, if not more, sway over making us laugh between Watergate and the turn of the millennium.

While comics-turned-filmmakers like Mel Brooks and Woody Allen, both alumni of Caesar's TV work, made names for themselves with films that unmistakably bore their brand (a brand they cannily cultivated off-screen), Ramis never seemed to be particularly interested in making the public know his name.

Also read: Harold Ramis, ‘Buddha of Comedy,’ Remembered By Rainn Wilson, Judd Apatow

But the audience knew his work: Over the span of a few decades, Ramis’ name was attached as writer and/or director and/or co-star of a generation of influential films: “National Lampoon's Animal House.” “Caddyshack.” “Stripes.” “Ghostbusters.” “Back to School.” “Vacation.” “Analyze This.” “Groundhog Day.”

As Tad Friend wrote in The New Yorker: “These comedies have several things in common. They attack the smugness of institutional life, trashing the fraternity system, country clubs, the Army – even local weathermen – with an impish good will that is unmistakably American. Will Rogers would have made films like these, if Will Rogers had lived through Vietnam and Watergate and decided that the only logical course of action was getting wasted or getting laid or – better – both.”

“Animal House,” which Ramis co-wrote, made the popular, conformist fraternities the villains while championing the free-thinking hedonists, and Ramis’ career reflects the importance of falling in with the right groups of open-minded, fearless people. He came up through Chicago's Second City troupe, and while many of his fellow players went on to form the original cast of “Saturday Night Live,” Ramis went north of the border to become the first head writer for “SCTV,” a show that was, in many ways, “SNL”‘s hipper, weirder brother.

Writing “Animal House” put him in with another group of comedy legends, “National Lampoon” mad geniuses Chris Miller and Doug Kenney. And even though Ramis took solo script credit on “Meatballs,” “Stripes” and “Caddyshack,” it was Bill Murray who got the lion's share of the credit, even though Ramis would go up to Murray and prompt him with suggestions like, in the case of “Caddyshack,” “When you're playing sports, do you ever just talk to yourself like you're the announcer?”

That one prompt led to the legendary “Cinderella story” scene in a moment that was originally meant to be mere comic filler.

See photos: Hollywood's Notable Deaths of 2014

Being the guy behind the guy was what Ramis wanted; when a 1984 Vanity Fair profile wanted to dub him “the Godfather of the new comedy wave,” Ramis countered that he was actually the Tom Hagen, Robert Duvall‘s behind-the-scenes consigliere character.

In the way that Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino redefined the culture's idea of what a leading man should look like, Ramis played a key role in reshaping American comedy to champion the geek, the trouble-maker, the smart-aleck and the slacker; his films offered the original revenge of the nerds.

It's easy to connect the dots between Ramis’ mouthy stoners to Judd Apatow's — the latter acknowledged the connection by casting Ramis as Seth Rogen's deadbeat-ish dad in “Knocked Up.”

While Kenney and “Animal House” star John Belushi lived fast and died young, Ramis always maintained a sense of perspective about his life, despite the party-hearty gonzo spirit of many of his protagonists.

Also read: Harold Ramis, Comedy Great Behind ‘Caddyshack,’ ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Groundhog Day,’ Dead at 69

In a 2000 chat with Playboy, a magazine for which he once edited the Party Jokes page before interviewing the likes of Dick Cavett and Tiny Tim, he mentioned wishing that he could be 21 again, only knowing what he now knew. When pressed as to what he knew, Ramis replied, “What to worry about and what not to worry about, that's for sure. I feel I've already fulfilled the big desires and sampled enough of the things a lot of people might wish for. I know what it's like to have money – more money than I ever thought I would have, though not as much, obviously, as some people have. And I'm well known enough to understand what that's all about. And I indulged myself in lots of, uh, fantasy behavior when I was younger.”

After a pause, he deflected: “I wish I could fly unaided.”

His career as a filmmaker didn't maintain the extraordinary altitude it achieved between “Animal House” in 1976 and the philosophical laugh riot “Groundhog Day” in 1993, but he continued to make films that struck a chord, from 1995's “Stuart Saves His Family” (a bomb that nonetheless became a cult hit among 12-steppers) to 1999's “Analyze This,” a mobster-in-therapy comedy that had the bad timing to hit theaters two months after “The Sopranos” debuted on HBO.

(Personally speaking, one of my great moments of discovery in writing a book on Christmas movies came when I saw Ramis’ darkly hilarious “The Ice Harvest,” a bleakly funny film overdue for rediscovery.)

See photos: Remembering Harold Ramis – 13 of His Most Iconic Contributions to Comedy

If Harold Ramis isn't more of a household name, perhaps it's because he was too generous for that, happy to let his protagonists get the laughs, even when he was appearing on screen with them. (His cool-nerdy Dr. Egon Spengler remains one of the subtle pleasures of “Ghostbusters,” with Ramis putting a unique spin on lines like “I collect spores, molds and fungus” and the chillingly prophetic “Print is dead.”)

His movies will continue to make audiences laugh for generations to come, yes, but there's something to be learned from his gracious spirit of collaboration. As Ramis once told interviewer Manohla Dargis, “There's nothing more fun than sitting around a room with the funniest people you know.”

  • Burphelson AFB

    thank you for all your brilliant work, but especially for gifting us with Caddyshack. I hope you achieved “total consciousness”, you deserve to. RIP.

  • Benjamin Roussey

    Do not miss those movies. Caddyshack was hilarious.

    • orygone

      Do not miss those movies. Caddyshack was hilarious.
      thats the only thing you got right. this was about harold ramis not your twisted rant. go to the blaze or some other bat crazy site.

      • WillB2

        It would appear you've just come back from The Blaze and as yet not recovered.

  • Benjamin Roussey

    No one really knows what
    happen between Zimmermann and this child but the real question is is there something
    wrong with the black culture of America? At least about 70% of it; the Obama
    supporters. Well, when you have so many broken homes and your main idol is
    Snoop Doggy Dog, do think there is going to be a problem in society and in
    cooperating and being cordial with others? The broken homes, high school
    dropout rates, unemployment rates, are much higher than they are with whites.
    There are a number of reasons for this but I am not going to speak about that
    here.

    How come a 17 year young
    man cannot just respond with some simple answers to a security guard? Why does
    a 17 year old black teenager respond with rage and aggression when someone is
    just asking him some simple questions? The conversation should have just lasted
    about 1 minute.

    “I live over there. I live
    in apartment 185B. I have lived here for 10 years. I went to buy some candy for
    my sister. I am not doing anything wrong. I am going home now and you can
    follow me if you want.”

    This could probably take
    about 45 seconds. Because of this simple skill that his teenager did not seem
    to grasp, we have this case. Where did his parent(s), teachers, coaches,
    counselors, priests, fail? It is not Zimmermann’s fault. What is wrong with the
    black family, or what has become of it?

    • koolkat_1960

      Martin owed fatboy no answers. Fatboy was not a “security guard.”

    • Pat

      I thought this comment thread was about Harold Ramis, I hate it when idiots troll these kinds of discussions and turn every subject into some political poison bullshit!

      • Brian

        Right on Pat you know what you are talking about

    • ju

      Haha I'd like to see your racist opinion on this topic if the kid in your picture was shot by an overweight pyscho woman beater walking home from getting a snack.
      And you post the same lame shit over and over on entertainment articles, no one cares, just go jackoff to gay porn as usual because you are clearly harboring a lot of pent up anger from being in the closet, and that's the only way you feel better.

      • Benjamin Roussey

        Holder
        Says He May No Longer Be Attorney General – he should be in jail – stop killing
        Mexicans. Guilty of Fast and Furious.

        • Benjamin Roussey

          Russia's
          Putin, Iran's Akhmenejob, pedophiles, Al Qaeda, and North Korea's iron fist
          leadership all are Obama’s supporters because Obama is a wimp and the world
          knows it.

          • Benjamin Roussey

            Apparently the American woman would rather have the right to
            kill their child (rather than giving it up for adoption) than get a job. Well,
            since many American woman are childless and poor, that is what they get.

          • Benjamin Roussey

            You are the racist.

          • Benjamin Roussey

            The debt was $10.626 trillion on the day Mr. Obama took office. The latest
            calculation from Treasury shows the debt has now hit $17.4 trillion.

            It's the most rapid increase in the debt under any U.S. president.

            The national debt increased $4.9 trillion during the eight-year presidency of
            George W. Bush. The debt now is rising at a pace to surpass that amount during
            Mr. Obama's four-year term.

          • Benjamin Roussey

            Stop calling people names, stick to the issues. But you know on the issues you lose.

          • Benjamin Roussey

            1993
            – WTC Bombing – 50,000 people would have died because of no escape from the
            stairwell (18 people actually died) ; 2 African embassy bombings around 96/97 –
            many people died, mainly Africans ; USS Cole attack in 2000 – Clinton did
            nothing about any of this accept fire tomahawks from 800 miles out (that is all
            he would ever do) – several sailors dead. Al Queda was emboldened because of
            Clinton’s weak responses – this led to 9-11 and Bush hammered them unlike Al
            Gore would have ever done.

          • Benjamin Roussey

            “Give
            a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for
            a lifetime” New White House Proverb: Give a man a welfare check, a free
            cell phone with unlimited free minutes, cash for his clunker, food stamps,
            section 8 housing, free contraceptives, Medicaid, 5 years of unemployment
            checks, free meds, and they will vote for Democrats the rest of their
            life…even after they are deceased.

          • Benjamin Roussey

            This country became the
            greatest in the world because of 4 things: limited government, limited
            regulations, low taxes, and Christianity. Since you do not believe in either of
            those principles, you are not American. You and Rosie O'Donnell and Janeane
            Garafalo and about 40 million others can leave this country at any time. You
            have brought nothing but sorrow and you do not believe in American
            fundamentals.

  • Benjamin Roussey

    It is called “personal
    responsibility”. We know liberals hate those two words when they are together
    because they do not want to take responsibility for their actions. It is not
    rich people’s fault you or your kids dropped out of high school. It is not rich
    people’s fault that they decided to study in high school and had the guts to
    start their own business and work at it until they had a winning product and/or
    service. It is not rich people’s fault that you chose to have a child out of wedlock
    and not listen to good advice when it was being handed to you. Most rich people
    were not born rich, they worked hard and did not spend all their spare time
    watching MTV or waiting for something to happen. They made it happen and they
    employ millions of Americans in jobs that matter. Your government job does not
    matter, most likely. And union members kill jobs but that is another story. It
    is about personal responsibility which liberals do not want to acknowledge
    because then they would have to realize their failure and stagnant professional
    is their fault and on one else’s.

    • koolkat_1960

      Seek help as soon as possible.

    • pat

      Mr. Roussey,
      You demonstrate your complete lack of depth and intelligence along with all the others who simply think that all problems are the result of politics and therefore must be fixed with politics. Get a Life! The Bush haters and the Obama haters all need to realize that the world, it's 7.5 billion inhabitants and all of the problems that they create, are far more complicated than the Republican/Democratic divide in a country that comprises only 5% of the human population. You are a fucking stooge and need to crawl under a rock!

  • Benjamin Roussey

    I woke up this morning
    and realized 10,000,000 black people are unemployed, 7,000,000 Mexicans, and
    4,000,000 young people out of college who mainly supported Obama and this is
    largely because of Obama's tax and spend agenda, Sarbanes Oxley, Dodd/Frank (do
    you even know what this is?), EPA, job killing regulations (see jobs migrate
    from California to Texas), high taxes, lack of tort reform which inflates
    medical costs, and so on – I laughed for about 2 minutes. Keep on being suckers
    people, the Democrats take your vote for granted. Hey, but at least gays can
    marry each other and woman can murder their own babies. Hooray, hooray….

    • koolkat_1960

      Seek help immediately.

      • Benjamin Roussey

        Get out of this country immediately.

        • Benjamin Roussey

          By
          every metric the Obama stimulus failed (no shovel ready jobs, high unemployment
          still remained, more money wasted). It did help America though reach
          $18,000,000,000,000 in debt faster though. It did smash the next generation of
          Americans. So in those horrendous regards, it was a stunning success.

          • Benjamin Roussey

            It is called “personal
            responsibility”. We know liberals hate those two words when they are together
            because they do not want to take responsibility for their actions. It is not
            rich people’s fault you or your kids dropped out of high school. It is not rich
            people’s fault that they decided to study in high school and had the guts to
            start their own business and work at it until they had a winning product and/or
            service. It is not rich people’s fault that you chose to have a child out of wedlock
            and not listen to good advice when it was being handed to you. Most rich people
            were not born rich, they worked hard and did not spend all their spare time
            watching MTV or waiting for something to happen. They made it happen and they
            employ millions of Americans in jobs that matter. Your government job does not
            matter, most likely. And union members kill jobs but that is another story. It
            is about personal responsibility which liberals do not want to acknowledge
            because then they would have to realize their failure and stagnant professional
            is their fault and on one else’s.

          • Benjamin Roussey

            “Do you realize that since prayer was removed
            from your schools in 1962, teen pregnancy has increased by more than 500
            percent? SAT scores have dropped 80 points, teen suicide has tripled, the
            divorce rate has tripled and violent crime has increased sixfold? Who convinced
            you that teaching my little ones to pray or learn about who I am would be
            harmful? The opposite if true. The less someone’s heart depends on me for their
            life’s purpose, comfort and love, the more likely they are going to commit a
            crime.

    • statingthefacts

      How many of them ACTUALLY want to work? That's the real problem..

      • ju

        Woah! you're a genius I guess no one thought of that.
        It's not that there aren't a lot of jobs to begin with, and then most jobs available are low paying and demeaning and sometimes even dangerous;
        No it's that no one wants to work what a genius you are!
        People love living month to month wondering if they'll get a job before their benefits run out, why would anyone want the security a good job offers?

        • Benjamin Roussey

          You believed the Obama lying machine.
          You believed you could keep your doctor and your insurance plan. You believed
          you would have lower health care costs. You believed the website would be
          working and would work. These idiots cannot even set up a website! Hilarious!
          Just like the Germans did in the 1930s who believed an egotistical liar, you
          believed the Obama who continues to lie and earn a Pinocchio every week.

          • Benjamin Roussey

            Stating the facts – you are right – there are many pathetic Americans out there.

  • Docscholl

    Actually, yes: Will Rogers could have written those movies.
    The fact is, Harold Ramis was a big fan of Rogers.
    In 1989, I met Ramis when he came to Claremore, Oklahoma to celebrate the 110th birthday of Will, at the Will Rogers Museum.
    Ramis was friendly, funny, could quote Rogers easily and a joy to be around.

    RIP, Harold.

  • Bowserb

    I do admire the work of Harold Ramis. I've now seen in two articles his line from Ghostbusters misquoted. He does not say “Print is dead”. He crawls out from under the desk and says “The printer is dead” referring to the printer on the desk. Talented writer, director, and actor. We'll miss his work.

    • yo

      Negative – Janine says “I bet you like to read a lot too,” and he replies “print is dead”.

  • Benjamin Roussey

    TEN
    POOREST CITIES (over 250,000 population)

    City,
    State, % of People Below the Poverty Level

    1.
    Detroit , MI

    32.5%

    2.
    Buffalo , NY

    29.9%

    3.
    Cincinnati , OH

    27.8%

    4.
    Cleveland , OH

    27.0%

    5. Miami
    , FL

    26.9%

    5. St.
    Louis , MO

    26.8%

    7. El
    Paso , TX

    26.4%

    8.
    Milwaukee , WI

    26.2%

    9.
    Philadelphia , PA

    25.1%

    10.
    Newark , NJ

    24.2%

    What do
    the top ten cities (over 250,000 population)

    with the
    highest poverty rate all have in common?

    Detroit, MI (1st) hasn't elected a
    Republican mayor since 1961.

    Buffalo , NY (2nd) hasn't elected a Republican mayor since 1954.

    Cincinnati , OH (3rd) hasn't elected a Republican mayor since 1984.

    Cleveland , OH (4th) hasn't elected a
    Republican mayor since 1989.

    Miami , FL
    (5th) has
    never had a Republican mayor.

    St. Louis , MO (6th) hasn't elected a
    Republican mayor since 1949.

    El Paso , TX (7th) has never had a
    Republican mayor.

    Milwaukee , WI (8th) hasn't elected a
    Republican mayor since 1908.

    Philadelphia , PA (9th) hasn't elected a
    Republican mayor since 1952.

    Newark , NJ (10th) hasn't elected a
    Republican mayor since 1907.

    Einstein once said:

    ‘The
    definition of insanity is doing the same thing over
    and over again and expecting different results.’

    It is the poor who habitually elect Democrats yet they are still
    POOR!

    “You
    cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.You cannot strengthen the weak by
    weakening the strong. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging
    thrift.You cannot lift the wage earner up by pulling the wage payer down.You
    cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.You cannot build character
    and courage by taking away people's initiative and independence.You cannot help
    people permanently by doing for them, what they could and should do
    for themselves.”

  • Benjamin Roussey

    I like Dan Akroyd and John Candy camping movie.

  • Benjamin Roussey

    Capitalism has created the
    highest standard of living ever known on earth. The evidence is
    incontrovertible. The contrast between West and East Berlin is the latest demonstration,
    like a laboratory experiment for all to see.

    ["Theory and Practice," Capitalism: The
    Unknown Ideal]

  • runbot

    Catch one of Harold's movies called “STEALING HOME” (Jodie Foster & Mark Harmon) – he played the consumate wise guy best friend!

  • Tim Barber

    “I collect spores and fungus”. Brilliant! Egon will be missed.