Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Crossing the Streams

One particularly crappy part of getting older is loss. Friends, family members, memories...and even inspirations. This week, we learned of the death of Harold Ramis, a writer/director/actor who contributed mightily to some of my favorite comedic endeavors over the last 40 years or so. Ramis was 69, but I'll always remember him as the skinny bespectacled wisealeck from his stint on SCTV and of course, from Stripes and Ghostbusters. But he also co-wrote and/or directed comedy classics like Animal House, Groundhog Day and Meatballs. 

The guy had a huge role in shaping my sense of humor at a young age, something I'm sure an entire generation of smartasses can agree with. The thing with Ramis was his comedy wasn't all empty laugh calories; there was a genuine warmth and intelligence driving all of his work. Even fratboy favorites like Caddyshack, which has been quoted endlessly for 34 years now, have an underlying humanity beneath the Baby Ruth jokes and Carl Spackler shenanigans.

His crowning achievement was Groundhog Day, which is about as good a movie as you're ever going to find. When it was released in '93, it was kind of shrugged off as just another goofy Bill Murray comedy, but there's so much going on and it's so perfectly put together, it's really a classic film in every sense. And it's Harold Ramis, through and through.

For me, though, it's Ramis as Russell Ziskey in Stripes that will forever be his quintessential performance. As a kid, Bill Murray's performance was the flashy one and he was the guy that me and all my dorky buddies wanted to be. But ultimately, I think I grew up to be more like the Ramis character, which is fine by me.


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