Yesterday Chris paid homage to the comedy genius of the late Harris Wittels, a co-executive producer on NBC’s Parks and Recreation who invented the humblebrag and wrote for some of this website’s favorite TV shows over the years: The Sarah Silverman Program, Eastbound and Down, Secret Girlfriend, etc. The world lost Wittels on Thursday at the way-too-young age of 30 and tributes from his friends in the comedy world, co-stars, and the many, many Phish fans who loved him started pouring in on Twitter.
— Danny Tamberelli (@dtamberelli) February 20, 2015
I wish Harris could know how many of his friends sat together tonight to listen to Phish and talk about his sexual exploits — joe mande (@JoeMande) February 20, 2015
He was my baby. I just keep thinking of superman flying backwards around the earth. I wish I could do that. I’m so mad at you Harris
— Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman) February 20, 2015
You should know that Harris was brilliant beyond compare. That his imagination was without limit. That he loved comedy more than anything. — Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman) February 20, 2015
That his heart was big and he FELT hard. That he was someone who would reach out to tell you he was thinking of you for no particular reason
— Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman) February 20, 2015
That he was honest even if it was gonna piss u off or make him look shitty. He told the truth. Even when it was ugly. Even when he lied. — Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman) February 20, 2015
One of the most powerful tributes came from his Parks and Recreation co-star, comedian Aziz Ansari. His character, Tom Haverford, is Harris’s brainchild. Harris was largely responsible for Tom’s character development on on the show. Last night on Tumblr, he wrote this tribute to his friend:
There are so few people that you meet in life that give you that feeling that you’ve found a real unique, original person. Harris Wittels was one of those and we lost him yesterday. He was 30 years old. I’ve been devastated.
I’m still waiting for the other phone call to let me know that Harris is okay and this was all a horrible misunderstanding. I don’t know when my brain is going to be able to process the terrible feeling that fills my heart with dread and my eyes with tears every 20 seconds when I realize this very special person is really gone.
So, I wanted to write something to share my stories about Harris and what he meant to me.
I first knew Harris as a standup. I’d have him open shows quite a bit, and he was always fantastic. As his career as a writer took off, he got busy. He’d say that he didn’t have time or wasn’t working on standup at the time. Sadly, he had just started back working his standup, which made me thrilled as a fan. His standup, like he his real life personality, was open, honest (way more honest than how most people refer to “honest” in their standup) and hilarious.
He then launched into three wonderful stories about his comedy genius:
Remember the Obama-Galifianakis Funny or Die video?
Galifianakis: So are you gonna run a third time?
Obama: I don’t think that’d be a very good idea. That’d be like making a third Hangover movie.
I thought that was by far the best joke in that thing and maybe any thing I watched last year. I found out today that it was a Wittels original. Of course.
Harris was also known as “the chuffah king.” Chuffah is the random nonsense characters in a scene talk about before getting to the meat of it that leads to story. Here’s one of the best chuffah moments from Parks from the “Hunting Season” episode:
Tom: Your favorite kind of cake can’t be birthday cake, that’s like saying your favorite kind of cereal is breakfast cereal.
Donna: I love breakfast cereal.
Harris excelled at coming up with hilarious, random nonsense like this. It was a tool that no one else seemed to have.
And this tremendous story of a joke he made in a “reply-all” e-mail chain to serious NBC suits:
He really seemed to relish getting laughs out of other comedians. Last night, the Parks writers staff and other friends shared Harris stories. One of my favorites was there was a serious email from NBC about a big sexual harassment seminar. Serious execs are CC’d along with Harris and the writers. Harris writes back, REPLY ALL, with this gem — now keep in mind EVERYONE is on this email, all the crew, so many higher level producers and execs, here we go:
You’ll never look at bagels the same way again.
Aziz continues, launching into some treasured memories of just how funny Harris was on a day-to-day level:
He was also kind of an odd ladies man in a way. Not blessed with a tall stature and traditional handsome guy stuff, he was able to transcend it all by being charming in an adorable/silly way. He was a romantic at heart. He once had a really big date. Someone way out of his league. His move – show up with a box of Russell Stovers chocolates. You know, the brand of chocolates of you get when you really want to impress a girl. He also once sent an e-vite to a girl’s heart. She declined. He once proposed to a woman on G-Chat. Genuinely.
Here’s some other random things I loved about him: He loved 311 and knew that the bassist’s name was P-Nut. He once had dinner with my parents and I in New York at a fancy restaurant and showed up in a suit that was 5 sizes too big. He looked like a kid dressing up in his dad’s clothes. Afterwards he turned to me and said, “Hey man, can you help me get a suit that fits?” His Tinder profile said, “I make money. I’ll buy you a couch.” We asked him why and he said, “Girls love couches.” He would always order the most unabashedly unhealthy, grossest thing at lunch. The most legendary being a burger he once ordered at Parks that had fried egg, bacon, avocado, onion rings (these are ON the burger FYI), BBQ sauce, and monterey jack cheese. He would take 4 things of mozzarella string cheese, line ‘em up, and melt it in the microwave. And then he’d eat this with a fork for a snack. I would always try to order healthy. Once I suggested a vegetarian place. After the email went out, I got a text from him “Guys this vegan place is an atrocity. Please reconsider.” He once left the writers office for lunch to eat at his house and texted my brother Aniz that he was “making Chili’s leftovers at home.” It really made me laugh that he chose the word “making” to describe heating up disgusting leftovers. He loved Chili’s but could never get anyone to join him. He would often go on solo missions. He once went to Chili’s by himself in Encino and Joe Mande asked him why Encino and not the closer one in Inglewood. He said, “The good one’s in Encino, you gotta go out to Encino.”
Seriously, just go read the entire thing over on Aziz’s Tumblr.
As someone who has a profound love for the band Phish, enjoys a hearrt, goofy laugh, and is pretty much the same age as Harris, everything about losing him just sucks so much. The first time I listened to his “Analyze Phish” podcast, I laughed so hard because Harris was cracking the same type of jokes I crack with my friends about a silly band from Vermont who sings about taking care of your shoes that we love so much. When I look in the mirror and see how close his likes and dislikes are to mine, it hits close to home. It kinda guts me and chokes me up, existentially.
Last night I was grokking about Harris’s life and death after reading Andrew Husbands post on Aziz’s tribute at Uproxx. Here’s our Twitter exchange, in which I think so perfectly nails why a lot of people are taking his loss so personally, as compared to other celebrity deaths:
I left that spam tweet to Andrew in there, just because it’s so cosmically absurd given the subject matter being discussed. There’s no doubt someone like Harris would have gotten a chuckle out of it. It’s the everlasting spoof.
What a guy. RIP, Harris. Gone too soon.