Harris Wittels

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Harris Wittels
Harris Wittels.jpg
Birth name Harris Lee Wittels
Born (1984-04-20)April 20, 1984
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S.
Died February 19, 2015(2015-02-19) (aged 30)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Medium Stand-up, television, film, music
Relative(s) Stephanie Wittels (sister)

Harris Lee Wittels (April 20, 1984 – February 19, 2015) was an American comedian, actor, writer, producer, and musician. He was a writer for The Sarah Silverman Program, a writer and executive producer for Parks and Recreation, and a recurring guest on Comedy Bang! Bang!. He is credited with coining the word "humblebrag" in 2010.[1]

Early life and family[edit]

Wittels was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the son of Dr. Ellison Wittels and Maureen (née Davidson) Wittels, and raised in Houston, Texas in the Jewish faith.[2] He celebrated his bar mitzvah at Temple Emanu-El, across the street from Rice University.[3][4]

His elder sister is voice over actress Stephanie Wittels.[3] He described his father as "the funniest dude alive".[5]

Wittels attended High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston. In 2006, he graduated from Emerson College, where he was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, with a degree in television and video production.[5]

Career[edit]

After performing stand-up comedy in Los Angeles, Wittels met Sarah Silverman and became a writer on The Sarah Silverman Program in 2007. He also wrote for the 2007 and 2008 MTV Movie Awards.[5] When The Sarah Silverman Program ended in 2010, Wittels became a staff writer and executive story editor for Parks and Recreation during the show's second season, then later co-producer during the third season and executive producer during the fourth. His writing credits included the episodes "Media Blitz", "94 Meetings" and "Dave Returns". He also appeared on the show as Harris, a dim-witted animal control employee. He wrote for Secret Girlfriend and Eastbound and Down.[6]

In 2012, Wittels was cast as a co-star in Sarah Silverman's NBC pilot Susan 313 along with June Diane Raphael and Tig Notaro, which was not picked up. In 2012, Wittels was hired as a consulting producer for the TV series Eastbound & Down during its third season. He consulted throughout the season, as well as co-writing two episodes.[6]

Wittels was a frequent guest on the Earwolf podcast Comedy Bang! Bang! and was known for the recurring segment "Harris' Foam Corner" (originally titled "Harris' Phone Corner", which debuted on Episode 31 of CBB), during which he read jokes and observations saved on his phone that were deemed to be not good enough for his act. The jokes were typically lambasted by host Scott Aukerman. Also on the Earwolf network, Wittels hosted the Analyze Phish podcast, where he attempted to convince friends to enjoy the band Phish. He was also part of the popular series of CBB episodes entitled "Farts and Procreation" along with fellow Parks and Recreation alumni Adam Scott and Chelsea Peretti.[6] The episodes would usually devolve into nonsensical improv sessions. There were four "Farts and Pro" episodes, the final one being recorded very shortly before Harris' death and released days later, posthumously.[7][8][9]

Wittels was a member of the band Don't Stop or We'll Die, along with comedians Paul Rust and Michael Cassady. He was the band's drummer and provided backing vocals. DSOWD performed a number of times on Scott Aukerman's Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast and played Los Angeles venues such as Largo and writer/director Rob Schrab's wedding. Notable songs include "Lisa," "Once in Awhile," and "She Got Titties (In All The Right Places)". In 2010, Wittels coined the phrase "humblebrag" on Twitter.[1][10] He wrote for Grantland on the subject of notable "humblebrags", the act of boasting about one's life and then downplaying it.[11] The popularity of the feed led to a book, Humblebrag: The Art of False Modesty, published in 2012. Humblebrag was designated the "most useful" word of 2011 by the American Dialect Society.[12]

In August 2013, NBC picked up an untitled Wittels sitcom, about a slacker still living with his parents while dealing with his whiz kid younger brother, a multi-millionaire entrepreneur in high school.[13]

Personal life[edit]

In a November 19, 2014 interview on the podcast You Made It Weird, Wittels openly discussed his personal life and history of drug addiction with host Pete Holmes. He said he had done drugs recreationally since he was 12. He said his drug usage got "out of hand" because of a breakup with a woman he felt was "perfect" for him in every way, except that she and her family were Scientologists, which he described as a "deal-breaker." He said he began to rely on oxycodone to deal with his stress over the relationship, his work on various television pilots, and writing the Humblebrag book. "It was easier just to take drugs and do it all. I wrote that entire book on so much drugs," Wittels said. "That's a humblebrag."[2]

During the podcast, Wittels told Holmes he had gone to rehab for a second time after becoming addicted to heroin, and had just gotten out of rehab a month earlier. "Sobriety is still fresh. I haven't figured it all out", he said.[2]

Wittels addressed his struggles with addiction on Analyze Phish, citing his second stay in rehab as one of the reasons for the delays in releasing the episode where cohost Scott Aukerman went to Phish's 2013 live show at the Hollywood Bowl. During the episode, which was released nearly a year after the show, Wittels touched on the impact his addiction had on his personal and professional life, as well as the use of recreational drugs as part of his Phish fandom.[14]

Death[edit]

The final frame of the series finale of Parks and Recreation, which aired on February 24, 2015, featured a message to Wittels.

On February 19, 2015, multiple news outlets reported that Wittels was found dead of a possible drug overdose in his Los Angeles home. The Los Angeles Police Department said Wittels' assistant found his body around noon on a couch with no signs of trauma and unspecified drug paraphernalia in his house. On February 18, during his stand-up set at The Meltdown, he had talked about living sober and said he was in "a good place".[15][16] A toxicology report was expected to take six to eight weeks.[17]

On July 28, 2015, the official cause of death was confirmed to be a heroin overdose.[18]

Following news of his death, Wittels' friends and colleagues, including Aziz Ansari, Amy Poehler, Dan Harmon, Sarah Silverman, Doug Benson, and Scott Aukerman paid tribute to him.[19][20] Ansari wrote on his blog that the two had been planning to move to New York City together in March,[21] and he shared his favorite memory of Wittels during an appearance on Conan.[22]

The final episode of Parks and Recreation, "One Last Ride", aired a final frame with the message, "We love you, Harris."[23]

Similarly, a frame, "Dedicated to the Memory of Harris Wittels", appears before the closing credits on the Aziz Ansari: Live at Madison Square Garden comedy special that was released March 6, 2015 on Netflix. In the first season finale of Ansari and Alan Yang's show Master of None, on which Wittels was a writer, an intertitle states "This series is dedicated to the memory of our dear friend. Harris Wittels 1984-2015".[24]

Legacy[edit]

Harris' sister, Stephanie Wittels Wachs, used funds her brother left her in his will to set up a multi-discipline performance and communal space for creative people in Houston. Called the Rec Room, the 82-seat theater and adjoining bar opened in June 2016 near Minute Maid Park. On April 20, 2017, the first 420-themed "Harris Phest" was held, with comedy, Park and Rec sketches and a Phish cover band to mark what would have been his 33rd birthday. The Harris Phest benefits the Harris Wittels Scholarship Fund, which provides grants to students at his alma mater, Houston's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.[25]

Publications[edit]

  • Harris Wittels (2012). Humblebrag: The Art of False Modesty. New York: Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 978-1455514182. 

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Casey Newton (February 19, 2015). "Harris Wittels, Parks and Rec writer who coined 'humblebrag', dies at 30". The Verge. Retrieved February 19, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c "You Made It Weird: Harris Wittels Returns". The Nerdist Podcast. November 19, 2014. Retrieved February 19, 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Greater Houston Jewish Genealogical Society, The Houston Jewish Herald-Voice Index to Vitals and Family Events, 1908-2007.
  4. ^ John Nova Lomax (August 3, 2014). "Not to Humblebrag... But ignoring our calls won't get rid of us.". houstoniamag.com. Retrieved February 19, 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c David Dean (March 15, 2011). "Harris Wittels: Girls Want to Be Him, Guys Want to Date Him". Serial Optimist. Retrieved May 15, 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c Harris Wittels on Internet Movie Database
  7. ^ "NOT Farts and Procreation 4". Earwolf. February 22, 2015. 
  8. ^ "A Tribute To Harris Wittels, episode #221 of Who Charted? on Earwolf". Earwolf.com. February 25, 2015. Retrieved June 14, 2017. 
  9. ^ ""Horrible and wonderful and figuring it out": The Death and Mourning of Harris Wittels". mediacommons.futureofthebook.org. 
  10. ^ Humblebrag (@Humblebrag), Twitter.com; retrieved May 15, 2012.
  11. ^ Harris Wittels Stories, Blogs, Podcasts. Grantland. Retrieved on May 15, 2012.
  12. ^ ""Occupy" is the 2011 Word of the Year". American Dialect Society. January 7, 2012. Retrieved April 14, 2017. 
  13. ^ Nellie Andreeva (August 12, 2013). "NBC Buys Comedies From Writers Harris Wittels & Dan Mazer". Deadline.com. Retrieved February 21, 2015. 
  14. ^ "Analyze Phish: Hollywood Bowl". Earwolf. June 25, 2014. Retrieved January 20, 2016. 
  15. ^ Alex Stedman. "‘Parks and Recreation’ Producer Found Dead of Suspected Overdose". Variety. Retrieved February 19, 2015. 
  16. ^ "'Parks and Rec' Exec Harris Wittels Dies from Overdose". Retrieved February 19, 2015. 
  17. ^ "'Parks and Recreation' Executive and Actor Harris Wittels Dies at 30". NBC News. February 19, 2015. Retrieved February 19, 2015. 
  18. ^ "Parks and Rec producer Harris Wittels died from heroin overdose, coroner confirms". Entertainment Weekly. July 28, 2015. Retrieved July 28, 2015. 
  19. ^ Amanda Michelle Steiner (February 20, 2015). "Parks and Recreation Co-Executive Producer Harris Wittels Dies: Amy Poehler and More Pay Tribute". People. Retrieved February 21, 2015. 
  20. ^ Rob Schrab (March 15, 2015). "The Sarah Silverman Program Remembers Harris Wittels". The Sarah Silverman Program. Retrieved March 16, 2015. 
  21. ^ Ansari, Aziz (February 20, 2015). "RIP Harris Wittels (1984-2015)". Retrieved April 9, 2015. 
  22. ^ Ritzen, Stacey (March 3, 2015). "Aziz Ansari Shared His Favorite Memory Of Longtime Friend Harris Wittels On ‘Conan’". uproxx.com. Retrieved April 9, 2015. 
  23. ^ Alessandra Stanley (February 24, 2015). "'Parks and Recreation' Finale Ends Show's Run, Sunny as Ever". New York Times. Retrieved March 3, 2015. 
  24. ^ Primeau, Jamie (September 19, 2016). "Aziz Ansari Pays Tribute To Harris Wittels After Emmys Win With Heartwarming Posts". Bustle. Retrieved Feb 19, 2017. 
  25. ^ Abramovitch, Seth (April 12, 2017). "Harris Wittels Lives On in Houston Theater and a 4/20 "Harris Phest"". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 14, 2017. 

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