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Mixing Dark Comedy with Light : Harold Ramis

Director Harold Ramis brings his brand of dark -- and often silly -- humor to holiday audiences with The Ice Harvest. The irreverent film stars John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, and Randy Quaid.




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Other segments from the episode on November 21, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 21, 2005: Interview with Harold Ramis; Review of Mary Gaitskill's novel "Veronica."


DATE November 21, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Harold Ramis talks about his new movie and about his
work in general

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Harold Ramis, is one of the reasons why several early cast members
of "Saturday Night Live" made it big in movies. Ramis co-wrote "Animal
House," he co-wrote and directed "Caddyshack," he wrote "Meatballs," "Stripes"
and "Ghostbusters," which all starred Bill Murray, and he directed Murray in
"Groundhog Day." Ramis also directed and co-wrote "Analyze This." Harold
Ramis directed the new film "The Ice Harvest," which is based on a novel by
Scott Phillips. It stars John Cusack as a sleazy lawyer who, along with a
sleazy associate played by Billy Bob Thornton, embezzles $2 million. Then the
double-crosses begin. In this scene from early in the film, the two
characters are talking in a restaurant.

(Soundbite of "The Ice Harvest")

Mr. BILLY BOB THORNTON: (As Vic) Let me ask you something. Did I make a
mistake when I made you my partner in this deal?

Mr. JOHN CUSACK: (As Charlie Arglist) Hey, you didn't make me your partner.
I am the one who showed you how to steal $2 million worth of Bill Guerrard's
money. Then I showed you how to do it so he wouldn't know what you'd done
till it was too late.

Mr. THORNTON: (As Vic) What we've done, OK? Remember that: What we've
done. And here's the thing about what we've done.

Unidentified Woman: Mr. Arglist?

Mr. CUSACK: (As Charlie Arglist) Oh, thank you.

Mr. THORNTON: (As Vic) Thank you. Left to yourself, you'd still be on a bar
stool, thinking.

GROSS: Harold Ramis, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. HAROLD RAMIS (Director, "The Ice Harvest"): Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: The tone of "The Ice Harvest" is kind of a hybrid of film noir and
comedy, and at the end of the film, I will say, there are some violent scenes.
And when you're doing that kind of violence in a film that has a lot of comic
elements to it, what tone do you want to get with the violence? Like,
what--how did you kind of figure what--how much you wanted that to hurt or be
comic or what?

Mr. RAMIS: Well, I wanted it to be really painful. I mean, to say the film
is a comedy, which is kind of the way it's being sold, is somewhat misleading.
It's very funny, but it's not funny because people are telling jokes or doing
shtick or, you know, taking big falls that have nothing to do with the--with
what's going on in the film. All the big laughs come from the painful reality
of it all or from a really refined sense of irony that the characters have and
that the writers have.

So the violence is also a genuine and real part of the story, and I think both
comedy and violence should hurt in a certain way. The biggest laughs come
when people are kind of shocked or deeply humiliated by something that's said
or publicly embarrassed about something they feel and haven't been able to
acknowledge; it's acknowledged for them on the screen. So the closer you can
come to what's really on people's minds, the bigger the laughs are going to
be. And the closer you can come to making violence painful, I think that's
the only kind of justified violence in films. I have teen-age kids and I see
a lot of action films, and to me, that's a disturbing kind of violence--action
violence where you don't see blood and the victims are all strangers so you're
not supposed to care about them, 'cause there are lots of them. And it's kind
of us against them. And--but real violence in a film is not attractive to
young people. It's not attractive to anybody. The violence in "The Ice
Harvest" no one would want to experience. It's not fun and it's not cool.

GROSS: There's a scene where the John Cusack and Oliver Platt characters are
stopped at a street light, and John Cusack tells a story about his uncle and
his father to Oliver Platt. Would you tell us that story basically?

Mr. RAMIS: Well, that...

GROSS: You could do a short version if you'd like. Yeah, go ahead.

Mr. RAMIS: Sure. Well, that story's the real core of the film. You know,
the film is basically a--it's a existential riff, really, and the speech that
John gives--he tells Oliver Platt, his drunken best friend, that his father
had a twin brother. They were fraternal twins. And his father was a
straight, by-the-book kind of guy. He was a cop. He wanted his only son to
be a lawyer; didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't chase women, always paid his
taxes, voted in every election, not just for president, he says. And then
Oliver says, `And your uncle didn't vote?' And John says, `No, worse than
that. He was a total profligate, drank all the time, chased women, in and out
of jail, had lost part of a toe in a bar fight,' you know. And his father
died of a massive embolism in Wichita, and his uncle died the next day in
California in a car accident. So John says, `So what's the difference what
you do in life? Same outcome.' And that is the core of the movie. These are
characters who have lost all sense of meaning in their lives, and the film
kind of depicts what happens when you act without, kind of, a guiding set of

GROSS: Did that story have anything to do with why you wanted to make the

Mr. RAMIS: Yeah. Well, I've been kind of creating a hybrid personal
philosophy that's kind of a blend of existential psychology, Buddhism and a
progressive Judaism. And I kind of describe myself as an existentialist. And
in the sense that I believe that it's the essential task to leading a good
life is to discover meaning at all times. Meaning is not given to us. There
is no universal meaning to life that applies now and for always for each and
every person. That--our job, and it's a tough job, is to figure out what it
all means and to fulfill, you know, a personal destiny that we each figure out
for ourselves. And in a way, I think the film I did, "Groundhog Day," was
the--kind of the positive expression of that idea. Bill Murray plays a
character who's desperately searching for meaning because he's trapped in the
same day and doesn't know what it means or why. And in this film, also
trapped in one day--The whole film takes place Christmas Eve--this is the
downside. What happens if you don't discover meaning in your life?

GROSS: Yeah, and in "Groundhog Day" it leads to a kind of enlightenment.

Mr. RAMIS: Right, and a release, a redemption.

GROSS: Yeah. Now what you're talking about, you know, the dangers of living
life without meaning, without finding meaning or creating meaning, it makes me
think, too, of "Animal House" in a way because that's the kind of like comic,
and archaic version of the same point because, like, all the guys there are,
in a way, living life without meaning and it's just about getting, you know,
drunk or having sex or seeking the next thrill.

Mr. RAMIS: Yeah. And, you know, when you're young, you know, that's kind of
age appropriate. It's the job of youth to seek thrills and rebel against all
known authority and kind of make your own rules. And then you get a little
older and you get a little tired of that, and you start discovering a new
purpose to life, hopefully.

GROSS: Does...

Mr. RAMIS: And I--you know, I always think if I were still making films like
"Animal House" or "Caddyshack," my early stuff, or "Stripes," you know, people
would start to worry about me at this age, I think.

GROSS: Early in your comedy career, you were a joke editor for Playboy
magazine and...

Mr. RAMIS: Yes, I was.

GROSS: I'm wondering if that was a really odd experience for you, because by
that point, you were probably part of, you know, the counterculture, and I
think there was a kind of almost generation gap in humor then between, like,
the old school and the new school. And Playboy, I think it's safe to say,
represented the old school then. You know, kind of like titillating sex jokes
at a time when a lot of people were being so kind of up front about sex that
the titillating sex jokes just seemed so archaic.

Mr. RAMIS: Well, you know, it's funny. I came to Playboy not because I was
a reader or a huge fan of the magazine. Like growing up in Chicago, Playboy
was one of the major publishing enterprises in the city along with four daily
newspapers. So I started out freelancing for one of the daily papers writing
entertainment features and then I got hired at Playboy. So it was just like a
very good job for someone not long out of college. And I did the jokes for a
few months and then became an assistant editor and then an associate editor,
and I started doing other kinds of house copy. But, yeah, I was along with
one or two other editors, we were the young longhairs at Playboy. And they
kept asking us how the company could change and evolve to keep pace with this
new generation that was not like the Playboy generation that Hugh Hefner had
come from.

GROSS: Now your first television work, I think, was being head writer at

Mr. RAMIS: Yeah. Well, I came out of the--you know, I was on stage at
"Second City" in the late '60s, early '70s, in fact, overlapping at Playboy.
For a while I did eight shows a week at "Second City" and worked 40 hours a
week at the magazine. It was pretty intense but really kind of satisfying and

GROSS: And who was in the cast of "SCTV" when you worked on it?

Mr. RAMIS: Well, on the TV show it was John Candy and Eugene Levy and Joe
Flaherty, Andrea Martin, Catherine O'Hara, Dave Thomas, and then eventually
Rick Moranis and Marty Short joined the show. But on stage at "Second City"
it was me and Brian Murray and John Belushi were the most notable people when
I was on stage, and then John Belushi took a bunch of us to the "National
Lampoon" with him, and we all kind of got established in New York at that

GROSS: Is there a sketch or a character that you created for "SCTV" that you
could tell us about?

Mr. RAMIS: I played a character called Moe Green, which--Joe Flaherty gave me
the name based on the account--the hotel owner in "The Godfather." But I was
the kind of weasely accountant station manager at--assistant station manager
at the fictional SCTV network. I always played--I played a lot of weasels, a
lot of cowards; sweating cowards was my thing. I used to play, like, hippies
and counterculture guys, and Belushi kind of took that over. So I moved into
the coward role. Whenever there was a gang improv--if we would do shipwreck
improvs or the "Flight of the Phoenix," the downed plane and there was only
enough food to go--you know, for all of us to have a little bit if we rationed
it, I was the guy who ate all the food while everyone else was asleep, you
know. I kind of enjoyed that role.

The other thing I would always play was a character called Specs or the
professor. Whenever there was a--I played the brainy guy, which I ended up
doing, of course, in "Ghostbusters."

GROSS: That's right. And you were--like in "Ghostbusters" you're the kind of
like straight man...

Mr. RAMIS: Yeah.

GROSS: this crazy comedy?

Mr. RAMIS: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: And...

Mr. RAMIS: Well, we always said that my character was the brains of the
"Ghostbusters." Dan Aykroyd's character was the heart and Bill Murray's
character was the mouth.

GROSS: Did you ever feel like you were the straight man off screen as well as
on screen?

Mr. RAMIS: Yeah. I mean, people ask me if I was the class clown. I said,
no, I wrote for the class clown, which was kind of true.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. RAMIS: I have a strange imagination and some very odd desires, but I
don't have the courage to actually act them out. But there's always--I always
gravitated toward the person with very little impulse control who just
could--I would give them a suggestion and then that person would do it.

GROSS: The person with little impulse control, I mean, that's probably a
great definition of John Belushi.

Mr. RAMIS: Yeah. Yeah, although, you know, he was--he really knew what he
was doing. John was a very smart actor, not the most verbal actor, and Bill
Murray also, very brave. He would take--do things I would never consider

GROSS: Like what?

Mr. RAMIS: Just saying things to people, saying the most outrageous things
or saying the most truthful things in a context where people--where it was
impolite to actually say the truth.

GROSS: That could be awkward.

Mr. RAMIS: Oh, very awkward, more than awkward. It was almost like a
teaching in a certain way--just--just--not just puncture someone--the
propriety but shatter it, just explode it.

GROSS: Can you give an example of that?

Mr. RAMIS: Some of it was physical. We were walking down the street in New
York when we were shooting "Ghostbusters," and people always recognized Danny
and Bill from "Saturday Night." And someone--a stranger walked up to Bill and
said, `Hey, Bill, I love your work.' And I don't know why but Bill felt the
need to wrestle him to the ground, a total stranger. And, of course, you
know, the stranger wasn't expecting that. He was just a fan, you know, but he
got a lot more than he expected. And I don't know what that said to him
but--or what it says about Bill, just that he was always defying people's

GROSS: Is it because he felt his privacy was violated, or is it something
more oblique than that?

Mr. RAMIS: It wasn't even angry. It was more like, you know, you want to
talk to me? OK, you know, this is what you get when you talk to me.

GROSS: More intimate than just `Hello.'

Mr. RAMIS: That's why I say like a teaching. You know, some gurus teach by
their actions, others by their words. Bill acted.

GROSS: So you see something as oblique as that as almost being like Zen
cone(ph). Like, you figure out what that means.

Mr. RAMIS: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, sometimes it was clear what it
meant. Sometimes if it was hostile or angry it was, you know, get away from
me or, you know, this is intrusive. But, you know, he went around like the
great avenger, you know, kind of challenging illegitimate authority whenever
he could or attacking people that he thought deserved it.

GROSS: My guest is Harold Ramis. His new film is "The Ice Harvest." He
directed it. He also co-wrote "Animal House" and "Ghostbusters" and directed
"Groundhog Day." He wrote and directed "Analyze This." We'll talk more after
a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Harold Ramis, and the new film
that he directed is called "The Ice Harvest."

We were talking a little bit about you being like the straight man or the
adult figure in...

Mr. RAMIS: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...sketches but also in life sometimes. And let's go to the set of
"Animal House." Now you were one of the writers of the film.

Mr. RAMIS: Yeah, I wrote it with Doug Kenney and Chris Miller.

GROSS: And the film is so much about, you know, ids unleashed, you know,
particularly the Belushi character himself.

Mr. RAMIS: But that's how we--that's how we thought of college. You know,
college is--you go away to college and there's no parental authority and
you're living alone with other not-yet-adults, but, you know, you're more than
teen-agers. It's an amazing sense of liberation, at least the way I
experienced it.

GROSS: OK. So this is like an early film in everyone's career. Was it--was
there a party atmosphere on the set that was similar to the one in the movie,
and did you feel like you had to kind of maintain order to get--to help get
the job done? Yeah.

Mr. RAMIS: Well, the fact is, having written the film I actually harbored
the desire to direct it, as did Ivan Reitman, who produced it. But John
Landis got the job. And then I auditioned for a major role in the film, the
part that was played by Peter Riegert, and he was great in the film. I have
no problem with Peter Riegert, but I didn't get the part, and having already
been a professional actor for several years, I didn't want to be an extra in
the film I'd written. So I actually went off--I returned to Greece where I'd
spent a lot of time--I spent a lot of time on a Greek island, and I went to
Greece to actually write another screenplay for John Landis to direct to
follow "Animal House." So I wasn't even there. I wasn't even sure that the
movie had started shooting till I got a letter from Chris Miller saying that
the movie was being shot and was going very well. Then I returned to the
States to see one of the early edits of the film, and I thought John had
actually done a very effective job on it. So I missed the whole experience of
shooting it, but I felt like I'd lived that somehow. So I didn't feel I'd
missed much. And it would have killed me to stand around all day watching
John Landis direct.

GROSS: That's interesting. So you weren't even there. I note there were
three writers on the film, so can you choose a scene that you wrote or rewrote
that we could then play a clip of?

Mr. RAMIS: Well, we all wrote together pretty much. But the way we did it
was we sat down and debriefed ourselves totally on our college experiences.
Each of us said everything we remembered and everyone we remembered from
college that seemed funny to us or outrageous or just horrible and shocking.
And then we said everything that our brothers had told us or our fathers or
uncles or everyone we knew. And then we threw in all the college apocrypha
that we knew, all the stories that circulated, you know, forever about things
that happened or might have happened on other campuses. So from that,
characters started to emerge and story lines started to emerge. And we
did--so we divided the script in thirds, and each of us wrote a third and then
we swapped. Each of us rewrote a third we didn't write and then we swapped
again. So each of us had input on each section of the film.

I think I worked hard on the--John Belushi has a rallying speech where the
Deltas are really down. They've sort of been kicked out of school, and
there's a key line. He said, `Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl
Harbor? No.' And so I worked on that speech. And it's--people sometimes
quote that speech.

GROSS: Oh, often.

Mr. RAMIS: Yeah.

GROSS: Why don't we play that rallying cry?

Mr. RAMIS: Feel free.

GROSS: Here it is.

(Soundbite of "Animal House")

Mr. JOHN BELUSHI: (as John `Bluto' Blutarsky) Hey, what's this lying around

Unidentified Man #1: Well, what the hell we 'sposed to do, you moron?

Unidentified Man #2: The war's over, man. Wormer dropped the big one.

Mr. BELUSHI: (as John `Bluto' Blutarsky) What? Over? Did you say over?
Nothing is over until we decide it is. Was it over when the Germans bombed
Pearl Harbor? Hell, no.

Unidentified Man #3: Germans?

Unidentified Man #4: Forget it. He's rolling.

Mr. BELUSHI: (as John `Bluto' Blutarsky) It ain't over now, because when the
going gets tough, the tough get going. Who's with me? Let's go! Come on!

GROSS: So if the stories in "Animal House" were based on stories that
actually happened to you and the other writers or your brothers plus some
apocryphal stories, which of those stories actually happened to you?

Mr. RAMIS: Well, we all had the experience when we compared notes of going
to an all-girls school to find dates. So there's--they go to Emily Dickinson
College to look for girls. And they've read in the Dickinson newspaper a
story about a--it said: Sophomore Dies in Kiln Explosion, and they pretend

GROSS: (Laughing) Excuse me.

Mr. RAMIS: ...Tim Matheson pretends that he had a date lined up with the
deceased girl--Fawn Liebowitz I think was her name.

GROSS: There's a scene where several of the collegiate frat members go to a
bar to hear a band, and they realize when they get in, they're the only white
people there.

Mr. RAMIS: That was our...

GROSS: Whose experience was that?

Mr. RAMIS: That was our real experience also. Both Chris and I had that
experience and maybe every college student had that experience. But I went to
school at Washington University in St. Louis. We used to go to a place
called Leo's Blue Note Club in East St. Louis, and the guitarist with the
house band was Benny Sharp & the Sharpies. And he was a really great guitar
player, almost B.B. King kind of great. And we were often the only white
people in the bar. And the actual line `Can we dance with your dates?'
happened to me, not at that club but at another club.

GROSS: And what did you say?

Mr. RAMIS: Of course, sure. We abandoned our dates in a moment. But, you
know, that was all conceived as kind of--I mean, it was perceived as being
right on the edge of being racist, but we just thought it was kind of a
realistic portrayal of race relations in the early '60s.

GROSS: Harold Ramis directed the new film "The Ice Harvest," which opens this
week. He'll be back in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Well, you know you make me want to...

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Shout.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Take my hand, move up and...

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Shout.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Throw my hand up and...

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Shout.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Throw my hand back and...

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Shout.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Come on now...

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Shout.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Don't forget to say you will. Don't forget to
say yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Say you will.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Say it right now, baby.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Say you will.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Come on, come on.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Say you will.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Say that oooh, oooh.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Say you will.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Say that you love me.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Say.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Say that you need me.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Say.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Say that you want me.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Say.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) You want to please me.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Say.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Come on now.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Say.


GROSS: Coming up: How John Belushi unintentionally convinced Harold Ramis
that he wasn't cut out to be an actor. Also, book critic Maureen Corrigan
reviews "Veronica," the new novel by Mary Gaitskill.

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Harold Ramis. He
co-wrote "Animal House" and co-wrote "Meatballs," "Stripes" and
"Ghostbusters," which were each directed by Ivan Reitman. Ramis also co-wrote
and directed "Caddyshack" and "Analyze This" and directed "Groundhog Day." He
directed the new film "The Ice Harvest," which stars John Cusack and Billy Bob

How well did you know John Belushi?

Mr. RAMIS: I knew John very well. When I made my first--took my first
sabbatical and went to that Greek island, I was--my first wife really wanted
to be there. We had read that Leonard Cohen lived on the island of Idra in
Greece. It said that on the back of his novel, and she really wanted to meet
Leonard. And I was into kind of indulging all of her fantasies. So we went
to Greece to find Leonard Cohen. This was in, like, 1970. And while I was
away--we spent about six months in Europe, and while I was there, I got a
letter from Joe Flaherty saying that they had replaced me on stage with a
little Albanian guy, and he was really funny. And when I got back to "Second
City" there was John kind of taking my place, not--literally just doing the
scenes that I used to do but also standing in the place on stage that I used
to like to stand. And I had been the long-haired zany guy, and now he was the
long-haired zany and--but together we kind of forged a really good working

GROSS: So did you want to come back and retake your spot?

Mr. RAMIS: Yeah, but he was already there, and he was so funny. The audience
responded to him so quickly and easily that the--I realized at that moment, I
might never be the actor I want to be because I don't have his courage or his
magnetism. I--you know, I had skill and I had the technique and I had wit,
you know, but I didn't have that kind of instant connection to the audience
that he had. He would get laughs before he even said a word. He'd walk out
on stage and people would start laughing, and it's not because they knew him
or expected anything. It was just the look on his face, the shape of his
body, the way he moved. I...

GROSS: He always had that look, `Isn't this ridiculous?'

Mr. RAMIS: Yeah. Well, he had--and he practiced looks. John would go home
and practice--John could raise each eyebrow independently and not just--he
could raise either corner of each eyebrow. And he would practice looking like
Brando or looking like Napoleon or looking like Dishear Mafoney(ph). So we
worked together all through the early '70s, and then he got cast at the
Lampoon in New York for a show called "Lemmings." And then he brought us to
New York and we worked through the Lampoon period. And then we kind of
drifted apart when he started doing "Saturday Night," and I--he asked me to
come work on that show, but I was already doing "SCTV," and I didn't want to
jump ship. And then the movie thing started happening with--we were writing
"Animal House," and I thought I was pretty much done with sketch comedy and
that we'd meet again on the films, you know. But before that happened, he was
already gone.

GROSS: How come you became such good friends and collaborators as opposed to
you hating and resenting him because he'd taken your spot and you felt
performed even better than you did?

Mr. RAMIS: Well, I had that with a lot of people. You know, when I first
saw Bill Murray work on the stage, he was amazing and I knew I could never do
that. And, of course, I resented it a little bit. But I say this to students
now when they ask how you get successful--film students. And I said--I would
say find the most talented person in the room. And if it's not you, go stand
next to him, you know. That's what--just hang out with him. Do--try to be
helpful, you know. And so, you know, those are--a lot of the creative
alliances I formed are with people who were just bolder and braver. You know,
directing Chevy Chase in the early days in "National Lampoon's Vacation" and
in "Caddyshack," you know. I--Chevy did things I could never do. I--as a
writer, I could write for him. I could imagine great things for him to do,
but I could never have done them myself. So I had that relationship with
John, with Chevy, with Bill and later with others.

GROSS: Now you were one of the writers for the "National Lampoon Show,"

Mr. RAMIS: Yes.

GROSS: The traveling show?

Mr. RAMIS: Yeah, we toured a little bit.

GROSS: OK. I'm going to tell you one of the most obnoxious things I've ever
done in my life, and it relates to the "National Lampoon," which is why I'm
going to tell you. In 1973, maybe--my guess is that...

Mr. RAMIS: Yeah?

GROSS: was '73--in Buffalo, New York, where I was living at the time, I
went to see the "National Lampoon Show." And I was sitting on an aisle and
Chevy Chase, in one of his sketches played this biker, maybe at the Woodchuck
Festival--the parody...

Mr. RAMIS: Right, right, right.

GROSS: ...of the Woodstock Festival?

Mr. RAMIS: Yeah, this would be the show, "Lemmings," yeah.

GROSS: That was "Lemmings"?

Mr. RAMIS: Yeah.

GROSS: Did you wok on "Lemmings"?

Mr. RAMIS: Yeah--no. I worked on the--its successor...


Mr. RAMIS: ...the "National Lampoon Show."

GROSS: OK. OK. So he comes up the aisle, you know, in his kind of biker
drag and looks at me, points to me and starts going, `Hey, four eyes,' and
starts doing this whole riff, and I forget exactly what the riff was. But,
like I said, this is the most obnoxious thing I've ever done in my life. For
some reason I was offended, and I didn't think it was funny. And I went
back stage when the show was over--This is so horrible--and I did this whole,
`How dare you talk to me like that!'

Mr. RAMIS: I think that's OK. I do.

GROSS: Oh, I just think it's so awful. And how humorless I must have been.
But for some reason I was really annoyed...

Mr. RAMIS: I don't...

GROSS: ...with the whole thing.

Mr. RAMIS: Well, let me tell you my story. You know, when we were doing our
show, the "Lampoon Show," in New York--we had done the "National Lampoon Radio
Hour," which--and we had a lot of freedom. A lot of the pieces were very
imaginative and fanciful and satirical and a lot of good things. When we
started doing our show on the stage, it was very kind of abusive of the
audience, and it was rude and it was crude and very hostile in a certain way.
And that's not me. So after a couple months on that show, I thought, `You
know, this doesn't feel good to me. I don't like abusing the audience in this
way. I don't know what we're saying to them, and I don't know why we're
saying it.' And I left the show, and that was in--that was in, like, the
spring of '75 and that's when Lorne Michaels came in and picked John and Gilda
Radner for "Saturday Night." So I'm not saying he would have picked me had I
stuck around. But, you know, being in New York on stage was a good thing for
all of us, but I just didn't like the show, and I didn't want to be associated
with that energy in a certain way.

GROSS: Oh, that's really interesting.

Mr. RAMIS: And so I get it. I see how you feel, you know.

GROSS: So that...

Mr. RAMIS: And I'm sorry for...

GROSS: Is that why you left?

Mr. RAMIS: That is...

GROSS: You left because of that?

Mr. RAMIS: Yeah. Well, no, I was also offered the chance to be head writer
and director of a serial on public television in LA. We made it for KCET.

GROSS: Huh. Well, I still to this day feel very stupid about that. I think
there was also this kind of implicit insult that he was doing, like that--like
an anti-feminist thing or something that...

Mr. RAMIS: Well, that was the character.

GROSS: ...really rubbed me the wrong way.

Mr. RAMIS: I remember him--well, I remember him staggering around with a beer
in his hand and splashing beer on everybody, doing that character.

GROSS: Right. And I remember when I went backstage he said to me, `Don't
cramp my style.'

Mr. RAMIS: He said that?

GROSS: That's how--what I remember.

Mr. RAMIS: Oh, man. Well...

GROSS: But--yeah.

Mr. RAMIS: And where is he today?

GROSS: He's right at--and what did he become? Oh, I showed him a thing or
two. Yeah.

Mr. RAMIS: Well, part of the "Lampoon" philosophy was that there were no
limits. You could say anything. And, you know, they did a lot of, you know,
sacrilegious, anti-religious material and, certainly, a lot of political stuff
and, you know, nothing was sacred, not even death. I remember in that
"Lampoon Show" we did, Gilda Radner played a blind Mary Tyler Moore. I think
it was a sitcom parody called "Rhoda Tyler Moore(ph)." And John played a
literal blind date, a guy who came over and when he realized she was blind, he
started taking advantage of her in ways that were not very nice, you know.

GROSS: My guest is Harold Ramis. He directed the new film "The Ice Harvest,"
he co-wrote "Animal House" and "Ghostbusters" and directed "Groundhog Day."
He also co-wrote and directed "Analyze This." We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Harold Ramis, and he was the
head writer on "SCTV." He co-wrote "Animal House," co-wrote and co-starred in
"Ghostbusters," directed and wrote "Groundhog Day," directed "Analyze This"
and "Analyze That" and now he's directed the new film "The Ice Harvest," which
stars John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton.

So in "Ghostbusters"...

Mr. RAMIS: Yeah.

GROSS: did a rewrite of the script? Is that--or you co-wrote it? How
did that work?

Mr. RAMIS: Danny had written several things for--that he wanted to do with
John Belushi. And then when John died in, I guess, '81, he didn't want these
projects to just die with John. So around--it was in '83, I guess, he took
"Ghostbusters" to Ivan and said, `Let's get Murray to play, you know, the
other Ghostbuster,' and Ivan read the script and said, `Oh, well, let's get
Ramis to play the third Ghostbuster, and he'll rewrite it with you.' Danny's
script was very ambitious and very abstract and kind of weird compared to the
movie that got made. And Ivan knew me very well as a writer from both "Animal
House" and "Stripes" and wanted me to give it shape and give it more edge and
more character. But the actual comedy kept getting better and better as we
shot the film.

GROSS: So what's one of the changes that you made?

Mr. RAMIS: Well, Dan's script began with the Ghostbusters already being an
established kind of business in New York. In fact, there were lots of
Ghostbusters. Kind of like pest removal services, like the Orkin man. You
know, there are lots of different Orkin men running around. So there were a
lot of Ghostbusters. There were already a lot of ghosts in New York, and
that's why there were Ghostbusters. And I thought, `Well, it might be more
interesting to take the audience through the process of how the Ghostbusters
evolved, the idea of starting with us as paranormal academics, you know, at
Columbia University and showing our first contact with the supernatural.
Because I think, to me, it was a good way to bring the audience to that place.
Because I thought, `Well, a lot of the audience will start from a place of
skepticism, and if we start the film from a place of skepticism and then bring
them to belief, you know, then they'll take the trip with us.' And I think
that's kind of the way it worked.

GROSS: I want to ask you about "Groundhog Day," which you wrote and directed
and, of course, starred Bill Murray. How did you come up with the idea of
somebody--you know, of a weather man who goes to see Punxsutawney Phil on
Groundhog Day to see if he's going to come out of, you know--see his shadow or
not when he comes out of his hole, and he keeps reliving the same day over and
over and over again? What made you think about that?

Mr. RAMIS: Well, it was easy. I came up with it when I Danny Rubin's
original script, which...

GROSS: Oh. Oh, you're a genius.

Mr. RAMIS: ...and that's what it was. Yeah. Yeah. Well, Danny Rubin,
who--he lives now in Santa Fe, New Mexico--lived in Chicago for a while. I
think he grew up in Florida. He was a screenwriter, somewhat of a Buddhist
himself and had written this script with that exact, you know--that was all
part of his original script. And I read it and I thought, `Wow. This feels
like "It's a Wonderful Life," you know, but with kind of a ver--more
contemporary kind of spin.' And I really wanted to work on it and--but, you
know, I wanted to give it more shape, more comedy. I wanted to change the
narrative structure somewhat and also change the character for Bill. So
that's the way we did it. I rewrote it myself and again got writing credit
from the Writers Guild and then brought Danny back and rewrote it with Danny
again. And then, on the set, of course, Bill Murray makes invaluable
contributions, which would be credited if the Guild rules were not so strict.

GROSS: So it's only because of Guild rules that Bill Murray doesn't have a
co-writer credit?

Mr. RAMIS: Yeah. I think when an actor improvises that brilliantly, you know,
the Guild should have a way to recognize that. But they don't because there
are these quantitative measures that they use.

GROSS: So do you--is there a scene you could describe that you wrote for
"Groundhog Day" that you particularly like?

Mr. RAMIS: Oh, it's a--there's nothing I--I don't think I'd take full credit
for anything I can think of off hand. I love the montage of where you really
see the repetition working. When Bill's trying to seduce Andie MacDowell, and
it starts in a bar where he figures out what her favorite drink is. And then
next time, he orders her favorite drink, which surprises her. And then he
finds out what her favorite toast is. And so, he keeps repeating till he gets
it right, basically, and ends up almost seducing her till her own natural
goodness stops him. But that whole run of him repeating over and over is so
nicely done, and I think Danny and I share that one pretty nicely.

GROSS: Why don't we hear that?

(Soundbite from "Groundhog Day")

Mr. BILL MURRAY: (As Phil Connors) So what are the chances of getting out

Ms. ANDIE MacDOWELL: (As Rita) Van still won't start. Larry's working on

Mr. MURRAY: (As Phil Connors) Wouldn't you know it. Can I buy you a drink?

Ms. MacDOWELL: (As Rita) OK.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Phil Connors) Jim Beam, ice, water.

Unidentified Waiter: For you, Miss?

Ms. MacDOWELL: (As Rita) Sweet Vermouth on the rocks with a twist, please.

(Soundbite of ice dropping into glasses)

Mr. MURRAY: (As Phil Connors) What are the chances of getting out of town

Ms. MacDOWELL: (As Rita) The van still won't start. Larry's working on it.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Phil Connors) Oh, wouldn't you know it? Can I buy you a

Ms. MacDOWELL: (As Rita) OK.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Phil Connors) Sweet Vermouth, rocks with a twist, please.

Unidentified Waiter: For you, miss?

Ms. MacDOWELL: (As Rita) The same. That's my favorite drink.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Phil Connors) Mine, too. It always make me think of Rome
the way the sun hits the buildings in the afternoon.

Ms. MacDOWELL: (As Rita) Wow. Well, what should we drink to?

Mr. MURRAY: (As Phil Connors) To the groundhog.

Ms. MacDOWELL: (As Rita) I always drink to world peace.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Phil Connors) Can I buy you a drink?

Ms. MacDOWELL: (As Rita) OK.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Phil Connors) Sweet Vermouth, rocks with a twist, please.

Unidentified Waiter: For you, miss?

Ms. MacDOWELL: (As Rita) The same. That's my favorite drink.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Phil Connors) Mine, too. It always make me think of Rome,
the way the sun hits the buildings in the afternoon.

Ms. MacDOWELL: (As Rita) Well, what should we drink to?

Mr. MURRAY: (As Phil Connors) I like to say a prayer and drink to world

Ms. MacDOWELL: (As Rita) To world peace.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Phil Connors) To world peace.

(Soundbite of glasses clinking)

GROSS: The scene from "Groundhog Day," and my guest, Harold Ramis, co-wrote
and directed the film. His new movie is called "The Ice Harvest." He
directed it.

Most of your movies are so much movies of your generation, like "Animal
House," "Ghostbusters," you know, "Stripes," even, you know, "Groundhog Day."
But "Caddyshack," which kind of fits into that, also stars Rodney Dangerfield,
who's very much of an older generation of comics. And I'm wondering what it
was like to work with him and if it had any kind of surprises or any
miscommunication because you were of different generations.

Mr. RAMIS: Well, Rodney was the hippest person of his age you would ever
meet. He as fully as young in his head as the rest of us, maybe even hipper
than the rest of us. You know, he was an old hipster. You know, he came up
with Lenny Bruce and--standing around on the streets of New York when there
was a very active nightclub scene, and he maintained that through his whole
life. He never really aged in his mind. He had completely adolescent
appetites and very little self-control and a great imagination and outrageous
sense of humor. I had--I didn't know him before we cast him, but we'd seen
him be hysterically funny on "The Johnny Carson Show." And we had thought
about Don Rickles for that part originally but ended up with Rodney, and I
think it was a really amazing choice.

For me, he was my point of entry into that story. I was the Jewish kid who
stood outside country clubs trying to, you know, peek in through the fence to
see what was going on in there. And Rodney came in as this kind of ethnic
force of nature, you know, who didn't belong there but, you know, was just in
there by virtue of his personal power and his money. You know, he represented
the crass nouveau riche element that so offended Ted Knight in the film. So
that's how, you know--that's who Rodney was for me. Also, I had this notion
of "Caddyshack" being like a Marx brothers movie, and Rodney was--he was the
`Groucho' of the team. You know, he was the one with the funny lines.

GROSS: Well, Harold Ramis, it's really been great to talk with you. Thank
you so much.

Mr. RAMIS: Well, my pleasure.

GROSS: Harold Ramis. He directed the new film "The Ice Harvest," which opens
this week. Here's Rodney Dangerfield in the field from "Caddyshack," which
was directed by Ramis.

(Soundbite from "Caddyshack")

Mr. RODNEY DANGERFIELD: I think this place is restricted, Wang, so don't
tell me you're Jewish. OK? Fine.

Hey, kid, I'm Al Czervik. I'm playing with Drew Scott today. This is my
guest, Mr. Wang. No offense.

Oh, give me--I'll have a half a dozen of those Hogan B-10s(ph) and hook my
friends up here with the whole schmeer. You know, clubs, bags, shoes, gloves,
shirt, pants. Hey, orange balls. I'll have a box of those. Give me a box of
those naked lady tees and give me two of those, give me six of those.

Oh, this is the worst-looking hat I ever saw. When you buy a hat like this,
they'll let you get a free bowl of soup, huh?

GROSS: A scene from "Caddyshack."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: Remembering guitarist, Link Wray

We learned today that the rock 'n' roll guitarist Link Wray died earlier this
month of heart failure. He's been described as the father of the power chord.
His best known record, "Rumble," was a hit in 1958.

(Soundbite of music from "Rumble")

GROSS: Link Wray. That record was also used in Quentin Tarantino's film
"Pulp Fiction."

Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews Mary Gaitskill's new novel. This is

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Commentary: Maureen Corrigan reviews Mary Gaitskill's latest book,

In her second novel, "Veronica," Mary Gaitskill explores an unlikely
friendship between two women; one, middle-aged, ugly and dying, the other
young and beautiful. Book critic Maureen Corrigan warns readers not to bother
to get out their handkerchiefs because this is a Mary Gaitskill story, not a
Hallmark card or a movie of the week.


Mary Gaitskill is a proponent of the everything-is-crap school of writing. In
the opening pages of her new novel "Veronica," a minor character dives into a
canal described as `filthy with gas and garbage and turds.' Welcome, reader,
to the world you, too, will be diving into when you begin Gaitskill's novel.
And it's a long, foul swim. A hundred pages later, the main character,
Allison, moves into a New York City loft apartment, but it's in the
meat-packing district, so the view across the street at night is of a
warehouse where cow carcasses with slit throats jiggle on a giant conveyor
belt. A hundred pages or so after that, Allison looks at a snapshot of her
just-born niece in the delivery room and sees not the glory of new life but
her sister's extruded red flesh and the bloody cord.

Gaitskill's world view is so insistently focused on contaminants, a truckload
of chlorine could be dumped into this novel and it would still be toxic, but
not just for the sake of being toxic. That's the crucial thing about
Gaitskill. She's not zeroing in on blood and bone and feces for shock value
alone. Images like these are Gaitskill's conduit to thoughts and states of
being that are almost beyond words. The swim through slime is her route to
the ineffable.

"Veronica" is one of those novels where plot summaries don't convey much
because its striking achievement is its mood, not its story. But here goes.
Our heroine, Allison, is a middle-aged woman sick with hepatitis C. When she
was young in the 1980s, Allison ran away from her family in New Jersey. Her
boring younger sisters, her adulterous mother, her father always lost in his
opera records. Here's how Gaitskill, through Allison, captures teen-aged
aimlessness of a certain '80s vintage. `I wanted something to happen, but I
didn't know what. I didn't have the ambition to be an important person or a
star. My ambition was to live like music. I didn't think of it that way, but
that's what I wanted. It seemed like that's what everybody wanted. I
remember people walking around like they were wrapped in an invisible gauze of
songs, one running into the next. Songs about sex, pain, injustice, love,
triumph. Each song bursting with ideal characters that popped out and fell
back as the person walked down the street or rode the bus.'

The wild card here is that Allison is beautiful and she gets discovered on the
streets of San Francisco and becomes a big-time model in Paris. It's a world
of cocaine and sadomasochistic sex clubs that she grows accustomed to,
learning to detach and to see herself and other people as objects. Then,
abruptly, she's dumped by her powerful model agent lover, and she returns to
New York to make her living as a temp, doing word processing on the night
shift in office buildings.

That's how Allison meets Veronica, a frumpy, fortyish, terribly affected
proofreader who's in love with a bisexual man. Veronica is described by other
people as a fag hag and a model hag, but she and Allison strike up a deep if
sporadic friendship that last until Veronica dies of AIDS. This is the
intense period of her life that Allison is remembering in the present time of
the novel now that she herself is middle-aged and sick.

"Veronica," the novel, is about the deep stupidity of youth, a stupidity that
sometimes can be fatal. It's about the cultural stupidity of the 1980s, that
decade's recklessness and frivolity. And ultimately, "Veronica," the novel,
is about nick-of-time redemption. I shudder to say that, because the one
thing Gaitskill's story is not is sentimental. Her kind of redemption is
contained in a small yet emotionally raw moment.

Like other works of Gaitskill's that I've read, "Veronica" makes me feel
overly squeamish, as though Gaitskill is out there on the edge as a writer and
I'm the reluctant reader reaching back for the comforting pieties of the
middle brow. But middle-brow literature is comforting precisely because it
safely circumscribes the emotions--grief, regret, joy--that Gaitskill's
shimmering toxicity ignites.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University and is
the author of the memoir "Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading." She reviewed
"Veronica" by Mary Gaitskill.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

We'll close with Dianne Reeves singing a song from the soundtrack of "Good
Night, and Good Luck." We'll talk with her tomorrow on FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite from "Good Night, and Good Luck")

Ms. DIANNE REEVES: (Singing) I've got my eyes on you. So best beware where
you roam.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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