I just finished listening to an interview with Stephen Tobolowsky, famous for his role as Ned “Needlenose” Ryerson in the movie Groundhog Day.
Here’s what he had to say about working with Harold Ramis and why he knew Groundhog Day would be an instant classic:
“The audience craves meaning. Don’t talk down to me. I get it. I want to put the pieces together and I can believe in the poem, if you give me a poem.
“Harold Ramis said ‘Stephen, you are the spice in the stew. Bill Murray is the stew. The stew has to play it straight, but if you are the spice in the stew, you can be bigger.’ … you’re talking to somebody [Ramis] who knows comedy … Here’s an important rule out there for young actors or comedians: comedy does not exist without meaning.
“It isn’t about being goofy, it’s about meaning, and the irony that we find in our lives. I’ve worked with directors who remove the meaning from a comedic scene because they think being goofy is what it’s about. … Bill Murray can be the straight man in the scene with me on the street, and then when he goes into the scene with Andie MacDowell in the diner … Bill can be stuffing his mouth with all sorts of cake, because Andie is the source of the meaning.”
This might not be as poignant outside of the context of the interview, but it was the smartest thing I’ve heard anyone say about comedy and comedy writing in, well, pretty much ever. I think I’ll add The Tobolowsky Files to the growing list of podcasts I subscribe to but can’t keep up with.