He made the movies funny

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Everyone in my generation who likes to laugh owes an enormous debt to Harold Ramis. The challenge of putting that debt into words is very daunting, but I’m going to take it on, anyway.

When Ramis’s classic work was produced in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was too young to see them in the theaters. The R rating that Caddyshack, Animal House, Stripes, and Vacation carried made them into the forbidden fruit, but cable TV and VCRs eventually saved the day.

The subversive nature of these movies was an invitation to find some way around that restriction, anyway. “So you aren’t 17, big deal,” these movies seemed to say. Watching them anyway felt like thumbing a nose at that repressive barrier. It was the equivalent of smoking a joint after school or drinking beer at a keg party in the woods. Experiencing his movies was a rite of passage, whether any of us realized it or not.

But they never really felt like Harold Ramis movies, even when he was actually on screen. Belushi owned Animal House, but Ramis was the one who wrote the script. Ramis had some of the funniest lines in Stripes because he also wrote that script, but he played it straight while Bill Murray stole the show. Without Harold Ramis, though, those movies would have never come to be. And don’t get me started about Caddyshack, either. A more significant movie hasn’t yet been made, at least in my eyes.

I love the movies that Harold Ramis had a hand in bringing to life. To the extent that life is funny to me, it’s due to his influence. His death today makes me grateful for all of the laughter he brought into the world. And I’ll be sure to remember him anytime one of his films is shown on TV, beginning with this evening’s showing of Stripes, once my daughters have gone to bed. It’s a generational thing, I’m sure.

From one Chicago guy to another, thanks. Thanks a lot.

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