Harold Ramis & Sid Caesar

By Dale Angel

Famous words: Dying is easy ... Comedy is hard. Harold Ramis, actor, writer and director has died. He was 69. His films include Animal House, Stripes, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day and Analyze This.


Earlier in the week the great Sid Caesar also died. In a strange way its fitting that Sid went first, he was always the ground breaker, the inventor and mentor. He was best known for his work on TV's Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour, both groundbreaking sketch comedy shows that created an entire new comedy form leading to such shows as Saturday Night Live. John Belushi's samurai sketch was directly drawn from Caesar's " gibberish man" sketch. The influence of Caesar must be also credited to his writing team. Writers for the series included Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Danny Simon, Mel Tolkin, and Carl Reiner. Larry Gelbart wrote for Caesar's Hour, and Woody Allen worked on several Sid Caesar TV specials.

sid caesar 2002 ap 606

Your Show of Shows was the inspiration for The Dick Van Dyke Show. Your Show of Shows also inspired the great Peter O'toole 1982 movie My Favorite Year, produced by Mel Brooks, and the play Laughter on the 23rd Floor written by Neil Simon. Saturday Night Live is almost a clone of these shows. Especially in the early years.

Enter Harold Ramis. There was no direct connection with Sid Caesar. Perhaps Ramis knew nothing of Sid Caesar, perhaps he never even heard of him. Yet Sid Caesar was the foundation of the comedy style Ramis so perfectly practiced.

Ramis, and many of the Saturday Night Live cast, were veterans of the Second City comedy troupe in Chicago, He was a writer for SCTV and wrote or co-wrote the scripts for the films he directed like National Lampoon's Animal House , Caddyshack, "Stripes, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day and Analyze This.

His films often stared veterans of the National Lampoon comedy recordings, Saturday Night Live and Second City TV. And quite often stared Ramis' old Second City colleague Bill Murray. 

He also directed the strange and dark The Ice Harvest. And Ramis was a ground breaker as well directing several episodes of the cutting edge TV show The Office.

He acted as well. He played Bill Murray's friend in Stripes,  and a doctor in As Good as It Gets. But, he is best known for playing 'Dr. Egon Spengler' in Ghostbusters.

The classic Animal House remains a favorite film discovering a new audience with each generation. Frat houses still throw toga parties. (Ramis insisted it was a more or less true story from his collage days) Caddyshack also remains a classic with a devoted following. But Ghostbusters has achieved cult film status. Costumed fans turn up at screenings, conventions and perhaps police stations.

While Ramis is one of the kings of silliness, Groundhog Day has a thoughtful theme, forces the audience to think, to examine their own lives, and laugh their but off. Ramis was able to work both sides of this street while never being pretentious, never a dull moment, and is even able to make attempted suicide fodder for funny. Bill Murray played the part perfectly, and the union between actor and writer is like a dance. Ramis and Murray were almost a comedy team. This is also true in Analyze This. Murray was at his best when Ramis's words were coming out of his mouth.

So its been a tough week for comedy. Or not. After all, it will always come out fine in the end, as long as we never, ever cross the beams.  May both these comedic geniuses rest in peace.


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