I’ll never forget the moment I met Harold Ramis. It was 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 stick figure 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, 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. He let me sit beside him and learn from him while he was directing, and even let me tag along on his big family/crew dinners that he loved to have after a long day on the set (because that’s how great he was). I had to pinch myself regularly because I was actually hanging with my hero, and this was one of the greatest moments of my life.
I knew before I had even met him, that I loved and admired Harold Ramis. After all, here 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.) But it wasn’t until I witnessed 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 (telling him that 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, 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 experience I started writing like crazy. I wanted to use comedy the way I suspected he used comedy: to enlighten, to show us ourselves. And for all of the years since, I have had one private goal in mind: to write a comedy so good that Harold wouldn’t be able to resist it and he would grace me with his Directorial presence. Can you imagine? My script directed by Harold Ramis? I wanted that chance to work with him again more than anything in this world.
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.
In fact, it was just last year that I naively offered him the opportunity to play the part of *gasp* a ghost on my show GG’s Java Joint. I was so confident he was gonna like this one, that I had the nerve to just reach on out, but am now mortified at the realization that, unbeknownst to me he was actually sick, and here I am offering the part of a ghost. What??? (Clearly God has a sick sense of humor.)
The point is, even though he was sick, he still took the time to make sure his person got back to me.
It was a no for the ghost part, but I wasn’t giving up. In my unknowingness, I was still firmly committed to creating something that would entice him enough to make him want to work with me again, and then yesterday I saw the headline that felt like someone has just hit me with a left hook: 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. 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 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, 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.
So Harold, whether you are here anymore or whether you aren’t, I’m gonna keep on perfecting my craft until I finally create the kinds of comedies that would make you proud because “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me”. 🙂
You are and always will be my hero in every sense of the word. Thank you for making the world a funnier place.