On February 19, comedy and television writer/producer Harris Wittels passed away. I don’t even want to use the word tragedy to describe this situation, out of fear that you will look away. Harris wasn’t a household name, but what I can guarantee you is that he was the future of comedy.
By the way, I know I just referred to the subject of this article by his first name. This isn’t a technically correct thing to do, but it felt wrong to be so impersonal and refer to him as “Wittels.” So for the sake of my feelings, he was Harris.
Come to think of it, he probably still is the future of comedy. I’m curious how many of you are familiar with the television program Cheers. What the show was about isn’t even important. But what you should know is that it was hilarious, ran through the ‘80s, and influenced an entire generation’s sense of humor and taste in television.
Parks and Recreation, which recently ended, is basically our generation’s Cheers. Harris was a staff writer, executive story editor, co-producer, and eventually executive producer on the show that—whether you have ever seen it or not—you will probably show your kids when they ask what old people watched back in the day.
Harris Wittels was 30 years-old and spoke very candidly about his problem with drug abuse. Details on Harris’ death won’t be released for the six to eight weeks it will take for a toxicology report to be put together, but one is free to assume.
Harris had been sober for about a month after attending rehab for heroin addiction. If it was indeed overdose that took Harris, one cannot help but make the devastating connection between the end of Parks and his death.
Harris spoke on the podcast You Made it Weird with Pete Holmes in November and said that his addiction was mostly based on stress—of working on pilots, a very negative relationship, and writing a book. I can’t help but think that the end of Parks and Rec was too much for Harris to handle.
That reminds me. The book. You may have heard the term “Humble Brag” before. It referred to celebrities who spoke on their accomplishments and then tried to downplay them. Harris coined the phrase and in 2012 wrote the book Humble Brag: The Art of False Modesty. You can thank him for that.
There isn’t a huge overarching point to this article (that’ll come next week, when I continue my now three week stretch of telling you about sad things). But if you are reading this, there are a few main points that I want you to take away from this.
- Harris Wittels was an irreplaceable talent and a genuinely sweet human being. Both of these points can be proven by listening to his various podcast appearances. I highly recommend Comedy Bang Bang. The segment “Harris’ Foam Corner” will make you laugh and cry.
- In spite of his success, Harris struggled. He lived a very difficult life. Just meditate on that.
- Every year, we lose at least one genius comedic mind to suicide or overdose. I don’t want to suggest anything too dark, but if you have a friend or know somebody that seems exclusively to make jokes, it might be good to let them know that their sense of humor isn’t the only thing you appreciate about them.