Harold Ramis Once Called Me a Pure Soul, So…You Know, I’ve Got That Going For Me
I’ll never forget the moment I met Harold Ramis. It was in 1998 on the set of Analyze This. We had just wrapped for the day, a summer storm had sprouted up from out of nowhere and most of the crew was trapped on the front porch of the house where we we had been shooting. I looked over and there he was, my hero, in the flesh, right next to me. I imagine I must have grinned one of my giant grins (because I was just so geeky happy to be on his set) and he took one look at me, shook his head and just started to laugh.
I’ll never know what he was laughing at, it could have been my t-shirt (which had a line drawing on it, of a girl offering up her heart on a stick for all the world to grab – which if you know me, is ridiculously apropos) but in that moment it felt like he was laughing because he saw me in a way that few people ever do. It felt like he looked straight into my soul. Like he saw right past my exterior, to the total dork that resides within, and immediately enjoyed his own private chuckle over it.
From that moment on I was blessed to form a kinship with him. During the day he would allow me to sit beside him, learning from him while he directed, and at night I got to join in on his big family-style dinners. I had to pinch myself frequently because I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. How could I have gotten that lucky? I was actually hanging out with my hero. Making jokes with my hero. Seriously? It was, and still is, one of the most treasured moments of my life.
I mean, I had known he was my hero long before I had met him because he was the man who had had his hands on just about every piece of comedy that had ever been important to me (and comedy was VERY VERY important to me.) No kidding, I had watched some of his movies so many times I had memorized them.
But it wasn’t until I got the chance to witness him running his big Hollywood set with a quiet Buddha-like confidence, until I witnessed the special bond he had with his sweet wife (Erica), until I heard the way they talked about their children, until he shared with me some of his disappointments, and until I had shared with him an almost-conspiratorial-style giggle over the irony of him receiving letters from spiritual leaders of just about every major religion (explaining to him why Groundhog Day was the perfect demonstration of their particular faith) that it hit me.
I realized that this man was so much more than one of the great comedy writer/directors of our time: He was actually a very special spirit on this planet, flying intentionally under the radar and that he was someone who possessed enough intelligence, wisdom and kindness that he could have made a difference in this world through any path he might have chosen, but that he chose comedy.
We comedy lovers didn’t choose him. He chose us.
After that once in a lifetime experience on the set of Analyze This, I started writing like crazy. I was inspired and wanted to use comedy the way I suspected Harold used comedy: to enlighten, to show us ourselves. And for all of the years since I remained focused on that goal, offering myself as an incentive the dream that, if I worked hard enough, if I got good enough, I might get to one day work with Harold again. I was dying for that chance and knew I would have to earn it.
Over the years I sent him scripts and, like the generous man he was, he always responded back, telling me exactly what I needed to hear (not necessarily what I wanted to hear.) Sometimes I took it well, other times I would argue back (in my mind) but I knew that he was right, so I kept on keeping on, and with every bit of feedback, it made me stronger and more committed to earn my chance to work with him again. I was sure it was gonna happen.
In fact, just a year before his death, I had reached out to him again, naively offering him the opportunity to play the part of *gasp* a ghost on my show GG’s Java Joint. I just knew he was gonna like this one, but am now mortified at the realization that, unbeknownst to me he was actually sick at the time, and here I am offering the part of a ghost. Wtf??? (Clearly God has a sick sense of humor.)
So I was denied again, but far from giving up on the dream, when on that unsuspecting morning, I turned on my computer and read the headline that would immediately feel like a left hook to the jaw: Harold Ramis Dead at 69. Noooooo!!!
I was stopped in my tracks, and for a moment there I felt like my dream had just died right along with him. I was inconsolable. On the floor. Where do I go now? But luckily that sadness eventually came to an end.
How can you be so sad about someone who was made you so happy? And how can you honor the man who has inspired you so much, in any other way than by keeping on keeping on? And so, begrudgingly, I knew I would just have to let the dream grow and change shape.
He really did call me a pure soul once, a couple of years back. I don’t think he meant it as a compliment. I think it was a concern. I think he actually did have that ability to see straight through me and he was worried that I was too tender hearted to make it in Hollywood without getting eaten by the wolves (and I probably was, who am I kidding) but I wish I would have gotten the chance to tell him that, although it took me awhile, and a few hard knocks, thanks to him, I finally did get it. I finally figured out how to protect myself in this world, without hardening my heart. The answer was with me all along: Comedy.
Harold Ramis, you are and always will be my hero in every sense of the word. Thank you for making the world a funnier place.
Tags: Analyze This, Caroline Kim, Comedy, Comedy legends, Death of Harold Ramis, Dedicated to Harold Ramis, Erica Ramis, Fans of Harold Ramis, Ghost, Groundhog Day, Harold, Holly Payberg, Lisa Kudrow, Meeting Harold Ramis, Meeting your hero, Suzanne Herrington, The Second City, Tribute to Harold Ramis