EDITORIAL: We all need to laugh more

Feb. 26, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

When actor and filmmaker Harold Ramis passed away Monday, the reaction from many of those who heard the news was:

Who?

But for a generation of audiences who appreciated a particular brand of smart (sometimes goofy, sometimes downright slapstick, and yes, sometimes raunchy) humor, Ramis’s work is not just well known, but revered.

Ramis, who died at age 69 from complications of a rare autoimmune disease, had a hand in some of the funniest movies in a decade-long stretch of classic filmmaking, starting with 1978’s “Animal House.” He earned success working alongside much better-known actors (such as frequent collaborator Bill Murray) and other fellow Chicagoans (home of the famous Second City comedy troupe) and National Lampoon and Saturday Live alumni, mostly as a writer.

In addition to “Animal House,” Ramis wrote or co-wrote some of the best-loved comedies in the 1980s: the golf misadventure “Caddyshack” (widely recognized as the funniest sports movie of all time), the military farce “Stripes” (in which he co-starred), the box-office smash “Ghostbusters” (and its sequel; he also starred in both) and his best-reviewed film, “Groundhog Day,” which played endlessly on television a few weeks ago, among others.

He also wrote lesser-known hits such as “Meatballs” (a coming-of-age summer camp farce), “Back to School” (a platform for comedian Rodney Dangerfield, whose career Ramis significantly boosted with “Caddyshack”), and “Analyze This,” which starred Robert DeNiro and Billy Crystal.

His work is cited as influence by a number of today’s top comedy filmmakers.

With the Oscars just a week away, it’s worth noting that Ramis wasn’t described as “an award-winning screenwriter” or actor, because other than a smattering of recognition for “Groundhog Day” and his 2001 entry into the American Screenwriters Association hall of fame, you won’t find his name on many awards. His films were better at capturing what’s truly funny (reflected in the box office success he saw) than getting kudos from critics. But what the critics missed, but audiences clearly loved, about Ramis was his ability to create humor — and rarely the obvious humor — as well as teachable moments from the hilarious.

Let’s face it, we all need to laugh more. Because of Ramis’s work (you’re certainly familiar with some of film’s best-known lines from “Caddyshack” or “Groundhog Day”), we can. If laughter really is the best medicine, then we are all that much healthier and able to cope with everyday struggles thanks to the stories and characters that will long survive him. 

That’s best reflected in something he once said in an interview: “The best comedy touches something that’s timeless and universal in people. When it’s right, those things last.”