RIP Harris Wittels, Comedy Wunderkind
The comedian and "Parks and Recreation" executive died in his home on Thursday, and the comedy world is still reeling from the sudden loss.
On Thursday night, Twitter was possibly the funniest it had ever been.
That was when the comedy world went into mourning following the shocking news that Harris Wittels, an executive producer and writer for NBC's Parks and Recreation, had died in his home of an apparent drug overdose. Those who knew and loved him and his work immediately started honoring his memory by retweeting and sharing their favorite jokes of his. Within a few hours, my entire feed was filled with Wittels's masterpieces and the churning knot of sadness in my stomach transformed into cathartic belly laughs.
Wittels was a wunderkind who had the drive, the talent, and the career that so many—myself included—only dream of. He started out in the LA stand-up scene and made his name with acerbic one-liners like "Looking for a girl who hates to laugh" or brilliantly groan-worthy puns like "I hate smoking sections. Unless we're talking about The Mask with Jim Carrey, in which case the 'smoking' section is my favorite part!"
Wittels cut his teeth as a writer on The Sarah Silverman Program before landing his staff writer and executive story editor position at Parks and Recreation. Wittels, along with his friend and colleague Chelsea Peretti, stealthily snuck in the all the far-too-hip-for-a-network-sitcom jokes that made P&R beloved among comedy nerds.
But Wittels was more than just a brilliant sitcom writer. He invented the term humblebrag, which captures the barely-disguised narcissism of most of what winds up on social media. Then there were his appearances on podcasts, particularly those on the Earwolf network—and it's when I think about the podcasts that his absence really hits.
I've mourned celebrity deaths before. I loved Phillip Seymour Hoffman as an actor and was gutted when the world lost him, but he was not someone who had been mumbling jokes into my ears as I drove to work in the morning, or folded laundry, or jogged around my neighborhood. The intimacy of the podcasting medium is still a relatively new phenomenon, and as odd it sounds, it really feels like you know the person speaking to you through your earbuds, week after week. Wittels was one of these people. I felt I had a full grasp on who he was as a person every time he appeared on Comedy Bang Bang to essentially read tweet drafts in an awful-on-purpose recurring stand-up feature called "Harris's Phone/Foam Corner." When he dragged Scott Aukerman to Phish shows in an effort to convince Scott to like the band (which never happened), I was taken back to high school, where my own brilliant and hilarious druggie best friend would blast Phish in his room and I would moan about how godawful it sounded.
Can you be friends with someone you've never had a conversation with? That's the one-sided relationship I had with Wittels. I liked that he wasn't afraid to wear his personality or taste on his sleeve, and that he was confident enough to take shit from people who didn't share his loves. He was young—only 30!—he seemed to know himself, and I can't imagine not having his voice in my ear.
Wittels unquestionably had decades of side-splitting work still in him. His death marks an incalculable loss for comedy, and he will be missed by more people than he could've ever imagined.
Creak. Slam. Cry.
Wittels is survived by his fucking hilarious jokes.
Follow Justin Caffier on Twitter.