Thursday, February 27, 2014

Thanks, Harold

 You know by now that we lost a distinctive comic voice last week. By "we" I mean anyone who likes to laugh. By "lost" I mean he died. Much too soon.

Harold Ramis, as all the obits mentioned, was responsible in one way or another - actor, writer, director - for some of the world's funniest and most original movies. "Ghostbusters." "Animal House." "Caddyshack." And my favorite, "Groundhog Day." I have that on my DVR, and will keep it there as long as digitally possible. Plus I have the DVD backup.

What I want to talk about is not how much I liked his movies. It's before those. I didn't realize it at the time but Harold Ramis was one of the writers, early in his career, of what is probably my all-time favorite TV show. It was called "SCTV." Those letters stood for a fictitious TV station with a gang of incredible characters and hilarious situations. "SCTV" also stood for Second City TV, and it originated in Toronto, Canada. Yes, Canadians can be very funny.

The cast of that show, which varied a little over the years, included some incredibly talented people who to this day, many years later, still make me smile when I think of them. Some are still active in films, TV, and theater. Some we have "lost."

Andrea Martin. John Candy. Joe Flaherty. Dave Thomas. Eugene Levy. Rick Moranis.  Catherine O'Hara. And Harold Ramis.

(I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Martin Short, who joined the show a little later, with equally unforgettable characters and a brilliant career ahead of him.) 

I watched the show religiously (with utmost devotion) on our state-of-the-art Magnavox, a heavy piece of furniture more cabinet than screen. I sat on a plaid couch in the den with my young daughter Holly. She was as enthusiastic about the show as I was. Maybe more. Who knows? Maybe that's why Holly ended up a Groundling in L.A. and today runs a successful improv theater and school in NYC. (It's called Improvolution. You can check her out at Holly's Improv. Company)

To this day we still get a kick out of remembering the array of characters created by these men and women who honed their chops with Second City in Toronto and Chicago. The names may not mean much to you, but I've got to list a few just to brighten my day:

Johnny LaRue. Guy Cabellero. Dr. Tongue. Edith Prickley. Earl Camembert. Lola Heatherton. Gerry Todd. Perini Scleroso. Mel Slirrup. Sammy Maudlin. Count Floyd. Billy Sol Hurok. Sid Dithers. Tex and Edna Boyle. Libby Wolfson. Mayor Tommy Shanks. Dr. Sheryl Kinsey. Bob and Doug McKenzie. And there were more.

Okay. I feel better now. Thanks.

Back to Harold Ramis. This was sketch comedy, a difficult and all too rare form of humor that, when it works, is unparalleled in its effect and creativity. And it worked on SCTV.

Harold was a big part of this success. No, he didn't appear on camera as often as the others, but his ideas, his writing, his skill at turning a wild idea into an effective sketch, contributed much to the success of the show. Harold Ramis understood comedy.

If only for that, I will forever be indebted to him. He brightened my life.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to put one of the SCTV DVD's into my Blue-ray and get ready to hear those magic words:
                              "SCTV is on the air!"

Three links worth checking out:

NY Times Obit

Harold in action on SCTV

SCTV on DVD's (now quite rare)


  1. Big Jim McBob was Billy Sol Hurok's buddy on Celebrity Farm Blow Up. One of the most creative shows ever.

    1. How funny they were. I've got the DVD's, let's get together sometime and share some laughs. Maybe start a SCTV club!

  2. Thanks Gerry. I did not know Harold was a force behind SCTV. Working with Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis on Molson advertising is one of my favorite memories in the ad biz. Brilliant comedy writers and improv artists.

    1. Didn't know you worked with them, Rich. A great perk in the biz. Lucky guy. They're responsible for my license plate: U-HOSER.

  3. Gerry--We will certainly miss Ramis. (By the way, thanks for the link to your daughter's website. She is obviously a talented young lady.)