Before Harold Ramis wrote Animal House, directed Caddyshack and starred in Ghostbusters, he toiled as a Playboy editor. From roughly the late 1960s until the early 1970s, he screened the 20,000 party jokes sent in by readers every month and conducted three Playboy Interviews—with falsetto freak Tiny Tim, vaudevillian sketch-comedy kings Rowan and Martin and Johnny Carson's main rival Dick Cavett. "When I interviewed Dick Cavett I thought, Gee, I want Dick Cavett to interview me," Ramis told the magazine in 2000. "Years later, when he had a show on CNBC, he did. I reminded him of the Playboy Interview and he remembered my somehow driving him crazy. But I suppose being interviewed for eight hours would drive anyone crazy."
Punching up the reader-submitted jokes was an equally all-consuming task. "I used to yell at him that his jokes weren't funny enough," remembers David Stevens, Ramis's boss during his tenure at the magazine. "I saw him about a year ago at Binny's Beverage Depot and yelled at him, 'The jokes still aren't funny enough!' Without missing a beat, he said, 'Stevens, how are you?' Then we talked for a couple of minutes about the good old days when he worked nights at Second City and Playboy during the day. He was always friendly like that and never let his fame and fortune go to his head."
As for how Ramis turned up on our doorstep, he relayed the following story to Film Journal International a few years ago:
FJI: How did you get to be the jokes editor of Playboy magazine?
HR: I was a full-time substitute teacher—this was '67, '68—in the Chicago public schools. Michael Shamberg right out of college had stated freelancing for newspapers and got on as a stringer for a local paper, and I thought, "Well, if Michael can do that, I can do that." I wrote a spec piece and submitted it to the Chicago Daily News, the Arts & Leisure section, and they started giving me assignments [for] entertainment features. I took my first published stories and I just grabbed a Playboy—which, truthfully, I would look at it if someone else had it, but I never bought a copy of Playboy…
FJI: That's what they all say!
HR: It's true! When I began to work for Playboy, I learned every issue went through seven people usually. So I looked at the masthead and I thought, "If I was gonna apply for a job, who would I call?" And I started at the top—"Publisher. He'll never take my call. Managing editor. No. Senior editor. Maybe not." And so I got down to the associate editors, and I thought, "This guy will call me back." So I called a guy named Michael Lawrence just cold and said I had written several pieces freelance and did they have any openings. And they happened to have their entry-level job, party jokes editor, open. He liked my stuff and he gave me a stack of jokes that readers had sent in and asked me to rewrite them.