My role models came from the movies. I grew up your typical ’80s child of divorce with a healthy distrust of adults. So I turned to the movies to meet the people I wanted to be. Han Solo. Indiana Jones. Axel Foley. Ferris Bueller. I dreamed big.
I remember seeing a film I was definitely too young to watch. The movie was “Stripes.” It was a comedy about a bunch of misfits who joined the Army. I loved it. There was army stuff and a shower scene (I had no idea what a “loofah” was, but I wanted to be it too) and Bill Murray was the breakout star. But when it came to role models, I liked the other guy.
He was the straight man. The sidekick. The second banana. But he was smart. Quick. Funny. But not in an obvious way like Murray. He had an open, friendly face and those writer’s eyes–you could see the gears turning in those eyes as he listened. He was real. I could be that guy.
The other guy.
That other guy was Harold Ramis, who passed away Monday at the age of 69. Most know Ramis as the deadpan Egon Spengler from “Ghostbusters.” Most don’t know that this writer, actor and director was responsible for some of cinema’s most influential comedies. A legendary Second City alum who was overshadowed by Murray, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, he was a distinctive comedic voice behind the scenes.
Paul Wintergarten of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “Harold Ramis has shaped this generation’s ideas of what is funny.” Here are five of my favorite Ramis films:
The gopher. The Baby Ruth. Be the ball. Ramis co-wrote and directed this endlessly quotable, comedy essential. Ramis once said, “We represent the underdog as comedy usually speaks for the lower classes. We attack the winners.” So he’s got that goin’ for him. Which is nice.
National Lampoon’s Animal House
Before “Revenge of the Nerds” or “Old School” there was “Animal House.” Ramis co-wrote the alpha dog of Frat-boy, institution-snubbing, men-behaving-badly comedies. Ramis actually wrote the part of “Boon” for himself but director John Landis cast Peter Riegert instead.
Ramis wrote and directed “Groundhog Day,” the most existential comedy ever made. Murray stars again in one of his most memorable roles. It’s a film about life, death and love. It shows that anyone can change and discover their best selves… if they had a millennium of days to get it right.
Ramis co-wrote this comedy blockbuster with Dan Akroyd. What is there to say about this film? It’s perfect. If you don’t love this film, we can’t be friends.
True story. I caught “Stripes” on cable a few months back. I watched the climactic drill scene and inexplicably… I teared up. Maybe it was seeing the transformation of these lovable losers. Maybe my childhood nostalgia for this film–co-written and starring Ramis–overwhelmed me. Maybe I was in a weird place. Either way, it’s my favorite Ramis movie on a fully-loaded list. Watch the scene. Maybe you’ll get in a weird place too.
Yesterday, Dan Aykroyd said, “My brilliant, gifted, funny friend… May he now get the answers he was always seeking.” Thank you, Mr. Ramis. Here’s to immortality on film. Here’s to the other guys. And here’s to you.