Harold Ramis Tribute – Take it Easy Francis!
You could technically say that my relationship with the comic genius of Harold Ramis began with my Ghostbusters obsession that began in my pre-adolescent years, however that wouldn’t really be accurate because I honestly couldn’t fully appreciate the wit behind it until I became older. Honestly, Harold Ramis indirectly helped me change my life with a movie he helped write called Animal House. I was twelve years old and I was recently placed in a group home in northern California. I was a bit of an easy target to the insecure bullies that occupied the halls after they served time in juvenile hall, and my introvertness and tendency to lean towards escapism in entertainment did not do much to help my cause. The counselor that ran the home was a paradox, a fascist hippie with a smug goatee grin and a self righteous god complex. I was frustrated, confused and lonely, not to mention the volunteers that came in and out to supervise us would turn a blind eye to a kid getting his ass kicked, if it meant it wouldn’t disturb them. A guy and his girlfriend moved in a week later and they had this vibe about them I wasn’t quite familiar with. He wore a leather jacket but didn’t have a chip on his shoulder, he just seemed to constantly want to amuse himself. The girl gave off that vibe too, though she had nerd interests like comic books and Star Trek which definitely wasn’t as acceptable to people as it is now. The goatee grinning counselor had it in for them from day one and since they for some reason decided to stick up for me, when one of the college kids that supervised us wanted to ridicule me in front of the other kids, it became guilt by association for me as well.
The fascist granola muncher used the “no in-house relationship” rule to send the girl packing and the now heartbroken kid in the leatherjacket had another week before he would be sent away to a different place, far away from her and myself. Later that evening before we went to the video store for movie night, he told me how important it was for me to know how to deal with these people in this house and no let them have power over me, he was going to show me a movie that perfectly illustrated his point. Everything in National Lampoon’s Animal House fit my situation like a glove and it was if it was my calling to see it and find my place in the world. Before I met the leather jacket kid, I was Flounder but after watching Animal House I became D Day to his Bluto. Mr. goatee was like Dean Wormer and Neidermeyer wrapped into one, this kid’s last week became the counselor’s worst nightmare and he would refuse to leave his office in fear of what horrible prank awaited him. That week inevitably changed my life in many ways and I never saw either one of those kids again after that, but little did I know that more work penned by Harold Ramis would continue to help mold me into the man I became. Stripes, Vacation, Caddyshack and Ghostbusters all spoke to the underdog in me and not only showed me how to embrace my reality but actually laugh at it. Before Ramis began writing with Second City, he worked in a mental institution which clearly helped develop his sense of humor about life’s sour apples.
Before I understood what counterculture subversive humor was, his work spoke to me and it’s no accident that comedy and punk rock both hit me at the same time. As much as I credited John Belushi and Bill Murray back then for being comedic gods, Ramis should have gotten equal credit. The interesting thing about Ramis in Stripes or Ghostbusters, is him showing the genius of his comedy by letting the other actors mug and hit the right beats when needed. The sloppiness and improv quality of his work were not only important and intentional but perfectly reflected his attitude against the institutional lifestyle that his characters also rebelled against. I hadn’t thought about that group home in years but losing this comic icon stirred up all of these moments in my life that until now I couldn’t fully appreciate the substantial role Ramis indirectly played in it. Whenever the odds get stacked in the future, I’ll have the work of Harold Ramis to remind me to laugh at life, and like a swift kick in the ass, I’ll need it often.