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Harold Ramis (1944-2014): Comedy's Underdog Champion

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The casual movie-goer knew him simply as Egon, the tall and nerdy scientist from the Ghostbusters films. But true film buffs that served their “residency” during the ‘80s and ‘90s know that Harold Ramis was nothing short of a comedic genius.

That term, “genius,” gets thrown around far too liberally today, diluting its effect when someone is actually deserving of the moniker. For Ramis, “genius” at the full power of the word is the only suitable adjective when describing his contribution to annals of cinematic comedy.

Acting was a mere fourth of his talents, and perhaps even the weakest faction of his repertoire. He not only wrote iconic comedy classics like Caddyshack (1980) and Groundhog Day (1993), he directed them as well. His screenplays also include many Bill Murray signature vehicles like Meatballs (1979), Stripes (1981) and Ghostbusters (1984), and Ramis is even responsible for the script that is most identified with the career of comedy legend Rodney Dangerfield, Back to School (1986).

As if writing, acting and directing were not enough to keep someone busy, Ramis also wore a producer’s hat, getting his start with the cult-classic sketch show SCTV that launched the careers of “hall of fame” caliber comedians like Martin Short, Dave Thomas, Eugene Levy, Rick Moranis, Catherine O’Hara and John Candy. Though perhaps among all his accolades, the one that will leave the longest lasting footprint on the world of cinema and popular culture is his contribution in writing the film Animal House (1978). Anytime a piece of work morphs into a marker to compare any and all future titles of a similar ilk, you know it has a special place in history. Since 1978, there have been multitudes of “party” type films that have been heralded as “the next Animal House” or “a modern-day Animal House,” but even more than three decades later it’s still the screenplay that Ramis worked on that is the “gold standard,” not just for “party” films, but the entire R-Rated comedy genre.

His style of comedy, always subtle, understated and usually funneled through a main character that thought he was the cleverest guy in the room, has permanently woven itself into the “DNA” of today’s “underdogs” of comedy like Apatow, Rogen, Carell and Jonah Hill just to name the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps this stemmed from a deep well of humility that Ramis seemed to wear like an anti-Olympic medal on the characters he portrayed, too modest himself to ever take center stage.

But the honest truth was that 10 times out of 9, Ramis actually was the cleverest guy in the room. He will not only be remembered for his iconic work, but also the type of person that people loved to work with.

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