In a series of events that I hope begins to change in the immediate future, once again I turn to this page in remembrance of a cultural luminary whose light on earth has gone out.
Over two years writing this column for The Post, I have only covered death twice, and unfortunately it has been in two consecutive articles, the first appearing just a few weeks ago when I lamented upon the sudden and tragic loss of an icon of American acting, and the second and I hope final time for a long while being thus.
Last week when Harold Ramis passed away, not only did Americans lose a man who successfully devoted his entire life to making people laugh, but also we unarguably lost more than 30 years of our own sense of humor.
As a lover of movies, comedy has always been my first vice. Like any human being with a pulse, I find that there is no greater source of a cure for any sickness than a laugh, and Ramis was easily the greatest practitioner of said cure that film has to offer.
When Ramis began his film career, and allow me to use the word began in the same breath as any scholar of stage would refer to Shakespeare’s first play, he wrote Animal House, which could stand alone as a monument to hilarity.
Shoot through his canon, and therein lies Ramis’ Shakesperian nature. “Caddyshack,” “Stripes,” “Ghostbusters,” “Groundhog Day,” “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” followed by anything he touched. His thoughts turned into America’s laughter.
My dear friend Zack Stovall, who is a writer and comedian mused, “Ranking (Ramis’) varied and prolific work is as difficult as it is arbitrary.” Indeed it is, Zack. How does one pick a favorite among favorites and why would we try?
What I have continually found most incredible about Ramis is that after studying through the deluge of online content that featured the man in the wake of his passing, was how much he realized what was funny and how that could unify everyone.
If you were in a fraternity, you quoted “Animal House.” If you have ever played golf, you and 15 other people on the golf course were quoting “Caddyshack.” His first movies were born of the rebels defeating the landed gentry, as our country did fighting the British. The underdogs became the leaders, not with a sense of deluded victory, but with an identity of their own and the win, to boot.
What makes a person indelible to a society is when they define themselves in their work. Ramis easily kept within those bounds by generating what were often crude laughs, but those laughs were the one of the everyman instead of that of the overlord.
In an article for the New York Times, A.O. Scott posited that “If you’re a 13-year old with a crude sense of humor or an adult who has retained their 13-year old self, you’re going to get a laugh out of Ramis’ films.” Therefore if laughter is youth, then youth be laughter.
When I sent my first submission to The Post almost two years ago, I wrote that when I was 4 or 5 years old, my parents would wake up on Saturday mornings to find me sitting in front of the television, staring at nothing but the test patterns until programming would begin.
I could tell you that my only hopeful similarity to Ramis was that I loved his films, but I’d be lying. Ramis’ mother Ruth would find him doing the exact same thing when she woke up on weekend mornings.
In fact, as a young boy growing up, my family would take long road trips to various amazing places, and upon one such trip my father painted “Wally World or Bust” on the back window of our station wagon as he drove us to some Griswoldian locale, as if Ramis’ vision of a road trip was just as our own. Ramis made us laugh because he was one of us, even if he was better at pointing out our follies.
In 2014, when one uses the term prolificacy as it relates to what we see as being an inherently American, we are constantly provided idols of the screen that make us cringe via their idiotic and unscripted actions or political parties arguing who we should be instead of who we are.
The death of Harold Ramis only deepens that void, but at least we are still left with not only the films he made, but also the laughter that our entire country has shared because he graced our senses of humor, and will continue to in our hearts, minds, and laughs. Ramis neither made us red nor blue, he made us laugh.
Rest in peace, Mr. Ramis.