Harold Ramis Interview
Our interview with comedic filmmaker, Harold Ramis. Plus listen to portions of our interview that didn’t make our pages. From his memories from Caddyshack and Ghostbusters, to what’s happening on Ghostbusters 3 !
Photographs by Jon Cancelino
As a director, writer, producer, and actor, Harold Ramis has given us some of the most beloved comedic films of our generation: Animal House, Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day, just to name a few. Considering his legacy of making us laugh, the least we could do is declare him a Chicago landmark.
In March, filmmaker Harold Ramis was honored as a Chicago cultural landmark at the Legendary Landmarks Gala hosted by Landmarks Illinois, a preservation foundation dedicated to maintaining historic architecture throughout Illinois. In his speech, he reflected on what the architecture of the city had meant to him growing up. It’s a landscape he’s well versed in, having acted as a messenger for the advertising department of the Tribune as a boy. But as he reminisced about the city staples of his youth, like the Tribune Tower, the Chicago Symphony Center, and the Prudential Building (“which at the time was the tallest at a whopping 40 stories!”), he made sure to pepper his speech with what the audience came to see: he kept them laughing.
“You want to be worthy of these things,” says Harold. “I’m flattered and thrilled that this is happening in my hometown and I owe them a performance. If I’m there to be the funny guy, I better get some laughs.”
Harold has delivered laughs for more than 40 years now. Before taking the director’s chair, he worked as the joke editor for Playboy magazine during the day, while entertaining Second City audiences at night alongside Bill Murray and John Belushi. When the group transitioned to the National Lampoon offices in New York, he co-wrote the script for Animal House, and Hollywood arrived at his door. The rest is history.
After moving to Glencoe 14 years ago and running his office out of Highland Park, Harold brought Hollywood to Illinois. Much of Groundhog Day was shot in Woodstock and Cary, and shooting for The Ice Harvest included locations in Glenview, Highland Park, and Northbrook.
“I want people to laugh because deeply embedded in that relationship is making them feel good,” says Harold. “When they feel good, I feel good. It diffuses tension. It’s a way of commenting on the world, of getting people to laugh at something that they wouldn’t ordinarily find funny, or getting them to laugh at their own opinions or prejudices. So if I’m in the room and there’s no one funnier than me, I figure it’s my job to lighten it up.”
With Harold constantly engaged as a speaker on serious subjects from film to philosophy as well as gearing up for Ghostbusters III, we thought we’d give him an opportunity to kick back and relax with us.
What is your favorite fruit and why?
Easy. Mango. Mango is the sexy fruit. The texture, the smell, the sweetness, it’s like sex.
What was your biggest childhood fear?
Dog bite. I was chased by a dog when I was little and he bit me. My brother recalls that I had rabies shots, but I can’t remember. That’s become family mythology. But I was scared of dogs for a while.
Also witches. [My parents] must have taken me to see The Wizard of Oz when I was very young.
So dogs and witches. But you don’t see a lot of witches, you see a lot of dogs.
Choose: money or respect?
Yes. [laughs] I guess respect translates to fame in my world. Apropos of the question, people always say they want to be rich and famous. But Bill Murray always hated his fame and he once said, “Why don’t you try being rich first and see if that doesn’t get about 90 percent of it for you?”
What do you like most about yourself?
I think my equanimity. My capacity to go with it, take chances, and not worry about the consequences; explore, experiment, and still maintain some modicum of integrity and psychological balance.
What do you like least about yourself?
Being overweight sucks. It just sucks.
Say you’re locked in the trunk of a car; that car is then driven into the river. What’s your escape plan?
Hey, I say lock me in the trunk, drive it into the lake, and let’s see.
What’s for lunch today?
I’m probably skipping lunch today. I’m going shopping. I’m going to Paris Thursday, and I’m told that the people there are better dressed than I am.
What’s your personal catchphrase?
You can never get enough of what you don’t really need.
Where’s your relaxation place?
My relaxation place is deep inside me where no one can get it.
What do you think is the best way to die?
Well, my father just died in November at the age of 94. I was with him the last 10 days of his life, and my brother was there for the last day. We were holding his hands when he died. That was pretty cool. Dying of extreme old age is a good thing. He was conscious and joking right to the last day.
If you had access to a time machine, when would you go and why?
I have a lot of fantasies about bringing people from the past into the present. I’d drive them around in my Lexus, “Oh yeah, that map? It shows me exactly where I am, you didn’t have that.” It’s always Ben Franklin I’m driving around. Or Mozart, “Hey, Mozart, listen to this.”
If you had to have a different occupation what would it be?
A surgeon or psychiatrist, one of those things I thought I was going to be as a teenager until I realized there was homework in medical school.