BRONX, NY – We’ve been losing a hell of a lot of talented people lately and it’s starting to piss me off. On Monday Harold Ramis passed away at his home near Chicago at the way-too-young age of 69. It seems for the past four years he’d been battling something called autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis. I don’t even know what that is, but I now know that it can kill you. Anyway, it came as a shock. These aren’t the sorts of things that Us and People magazines keep you apprised of, mostly because they are too busy glorifying teen pregnancy and those moron Kardashians. Anyway, Ramis is a name that I’m sure a lot of kids today are not too familiar with, though they should be. As far as I’m concerned, the guy was a comedy legend.
Growing up in the late ’70s/early ’80s, I first became aware of Harold Ramis from his work on SCTV. Yeah, while everyone was pretty much obsessed with Saturday Night Live, there was this other subversive and hilarious sketch comedy show which appeared on New York’s WOR Channel 9. It was only a half an hour long, but what a half hour. In the talented cast along with Ramis were such names as John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, and Catherine O’Hara. It was a great ensemble and a great show, and Ramis was its head writer for three years.
After his run with SCTV (which later moved to NBC and became 90 minutes long), Ramis took his shot at Hollywood. Yeah, he could act, but he knew that writing was his true “in.” He was right. Man, was he right. A quick review of his early writing credits include, Animal House (1978), Meatballs (1979), Caddyshack (1980), and Stripes (1981). Jesus! Look at that four year run! Without those four movies I’m not even sure that I exist… at least not in current form. Animal House blazed the trail for every single college cut-up comedy that followed. Meatballs made summer camp almost seem palatable and championed hot dog eating contests before Joey Chestnut was even born, Caddyshack is the greatest sports film ever made (more on that later), and Stripes made the Cold War not so cold – by way of mud wrestling, the Aunt Jemima treatment, and the urban assault vehicle. Were those four of my favorite movies from that time? That’s the fact, Jack.
Oh yeah, he also had a hand in writing Ghostbusters, Back to School, and Groundhog Day. He directed too. How about National Lampoon’s Vacation and the aforementioned Groundhog Day, for starters? If you’re ever looking for a dark-yet-funny Christmas movie check out The Ice Harvest, which he also helmed. And then, of course, there’s Caddyshack which he co-wrote with Doug Kenney and Brian Doyle-Murray and directed.
You can argue with me all you want, but Caddyshack is the greatest sports film ever. Can you think of a single sports movie that would be the first one associated with its corresponding sport 100 times out of 100 (ok, maybe Slap Shot), and one that has become so ingrained in our culture that you hear people reciting lines from it not just on a golf course, but everywhere? This is the movie that gave us Judge Smails and Carl Spackler and Rodney Dangerfield in rainbow-striped pants spouting one hilarious line after another. It gave us, “Nnnnooonan! Miss!” It gave us “Gunga Galunga” and the “Billy Baroo.” It gave us Dr. Beeper, Lacey Underall, Spaulding and Chuck Shick. It gave me my friggin’ avatar for this site fer crissakes! “Hey Wang, don’t tell ’em you’re Jewish.” Even characters that didn’t work – Maggie, D’Annunzio -worked. It was made almost 35 years ago and it still holds up. Best. Sports. Movie. Ever.
Now, I’m not claiming to know that Harold Ramis was responsible for every hilarious moment in all these movies I’ve mentioned, but the mere fact that he worked (in some major capacity) on all of them, cannot be written off as coincidence. He may have not been a talented comedian or great comic actor, but the guy clearly knew what was funny. I thank him for all the laughs he provided and will continue to provide for years to come. It’s one hell of an inheritance.
Come back tomorrow for something on Meet The Matts Radio that will most likely be funnier than Caddyshack 2. I think.