The Following was the Editorial Letter published in The Annual #008
Growing up, comedy was a forbidden fruit in my house. Not to say that laughter was forbidden—jokes were fine. It was the movies you had to watch out for—heaven forbid someone make light of sex! But for as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated by comedy, even when I lacked a basic understanding the whole thing. I was eight years old when my mom decided I was old enough watch Ghostbusters (fast-forwarding through the scene where Dan Aykroyd gets a supernatural blowjob, of course). At this point, I was so entrenched in the theories that surrounded the supernatural and too young to get half of the jokes that I had interpreted Ghostbusters to be a serious dramatic film. But I loved it. I watched it over and over. I watched it when my parents weren’t home, and I still didn’t understand why that ghost was undoing Dan Aykroyd’s belt.
Years later, in high school, I would come to appreciate the film as a comedy and readily recognize Bill Murray for the comedic force he was. But as I went from Murray movie to Murray movie, I realized that one man was always on the sidelines: Harold Ramis.
It wasn’t hard to notice him in Ghostbusters or Stripes. But as I ventured into Groundhog Day and Meatballs I realized that he was constantly there, as a director and more often than not, a writer. Ramis was my introduction to the concept of the comedy writer. He broke down the wall that said all the funny people were riffing for an hour and a half. He was the first time that I took notice of the concept of a script. And his films were consistently a riot.
Sitting down to watch Meatballs for the first time, I had a notebook in hand. I hadn’t watched the film because it was my father’s favorite. I hadn’t watched it because Bill Murray was sure to delight. I watched it because I had gone on IMDB, looked up Ramis and was about to embark on some self-imposed studying. I sat there as a news reporter interviewed Tripper (Bill Murray) who was pretending to be the director of the rival camp, Camp Mohawk. Tripper explained that the real highlight of the summer would be sexual awareness week, when Camp Mohawk flew in two hundred hookers from around the world; the camper to “visit” as many countries as possible would be named “King of Sexual Awareness Week.” The concept took me by such surprise that I leapt for my notepad and jotted down “Go for the unexpected.”
Of course, the great thing about Ramis was that the wit was unexpected but the characters were real. In an original draft to Ghostbusters Dan Aykroyd had the Stay Puft Marshmellow man scheduled to appear at the half hour mark. Ramis told Aykroyd to tone it down and tell the story from the beginning, allowing us to meet the Ghostbusters as a group of down-on-their-luck academics. Ramis knew you could take a story to an unbelievable place but knew the story needed a grounded start.
Ramis’ talent wasn’t exclusively shared with Bill Murray (considering the two stopped speaking after Groundhog Day). Ramis worked with some of the greatest comic actors—from palling around with Gilda Radner at The Second City to writing John Belushi’s motivational speech in Animal House to directing numerous episodes of The Office.
Harold Ramis had a talent for taking slackers and turning them into heroes. He taught us that we could talk back, we could question authority and that we didn’t have to be particularly motivated to give a motivational speech. This issue of The Annual is dedicated to Harold. As Egon Spengler once said, “Print is dead”—but let’s hope Ramis got that one wrong.