This week’s funny human bummed me out in a pretty unique way this week by doing something no one previously featured in this column, as of this writing, has done before: he died. While I did not know him personally, I, like many other comedy writers, performers, and fans, was pretty upset to hear of his passing last week. Harris Wittels was not only a huge asset to the television shows he wrote on (Eastbound & Down, The Sarah Silverman Program and, of course, Parks and Recreation), he was also reliably the best guest on perhaps the most well-known comedy podcast, Comedy Bang! Bang!, and the co-host of perhaps the best comedy podcast, Analyze Phish. He also always seemed like a totally easygoing, likeable dude, you know?
Putting together a top ten “Who mourned him best” list. Get your votes in now!
— Harris Wittels (@twittels) August 14, 2014
So, we’re going to be eschewing the usual light-n-breezy, charmingly tossed together tone usually taken with this column. Sure, there’ll be a bunch of YouTube videos embedded and some Hot Tweets, but we’ll be enjoying these pieces of comedy with a heavy heart, knowing that the weird, brilliant mind that birthed them is no longer with us.
I can’t find much footage of Harris doing standup, which he did fairly regularly, when he wasn’t busy writing. Though he’s opened for Aziz Ansari and Louis CK, there’s hardly any record of his standup act in any traditional sense. What’s most readily available is the many editions of Harris’ Foam Corner, a recurring segment on Comedy Bang! Bang! which featured raw, undercooked, shaggy observations/thoughts/joke nuggets (“I’m not gay, but my asshole is!” “Wifi? BecauseFi” etc. etc. etc.). Here’s my favorite one, featuring distraught, monosylabic commentary from Annie “St. Vincent” Clark.
Harris had a series of cameos throughout the seven seasons of Parks and Rec as one of the two animal control employees in Pawnee. With these appearances, Harris was responsible for countless small moments of comedy that helped elevate the show to its status as a comedy nerd classic. Someone cut together all of the animal control bits from over the years, and it’s great!
Harris played drums for Don’t Stop or We’ll Die, a three piece mostly comedy band rounded out by Paul Rust on vocals and bass and Michael Cassady on vocals and keys. While most of their songs are joke-y novelty-type stuff, they had a few bona-fide classic tracks, including the one below, that has been getting stuck in my head regularly since I first heard it on Comedy Bang Bang in 2012.
If your feed is anything like mine, Twitter’s been a constant stream of @Twittels retweets since the news broke late last week. The dude really excelled at left-field one liners, be they pervy, idiotic, or nonsensical, few people were better (or more immediately recognizable) at doing Twitter jokes than Harris. Here’s some of my favorites:
“Chickpeas? Chick, please! Check please!” – guy who hates garbanzo beans complaining to waitress about how she brought him garbanzo beans
— Harris Wittels (@twittels) August 12, 2011
I wonder what vibe I carry when I walk into a room. Lord I hope it’s chill.
— Harris Wittels (@twittels) October 19, 2014
Wheat Thins? Call me when they’re Wheat THICKS! Gimme that wheat!
— Harris Wittels (@twittels) August 10, 2011
Just heard Pizza Hut is merging with Sunglass Hut. Know what they’re calling it? Sunglass/Pizza Hut.
— Harris Wittels (@twittels) November 29, 2014
I’ll never not be surprised at how far back the vagina is.
— Harris Wittels (@twittels) November 18, 2014
I just blew a 0.28. His name was Frank.
— Harris Wittels (@twittels) September 8, 2014
I know a great web designer. She’s a black widow. And a great human woman.
— Harris Wittels (@twittels) July 30, 2014
Judging by the delight with which is real life friends have been sharing this coverage, Harris would have been totally flattered to have had the Westboro Baptist Church protesting his death outside the offices of LA Weekly. Their “Harris in Hell” sign is done with the same flair and disregard for good taste or common decency that we’re used to from these professional trolls. Here’s a vine of Joe Mande attempting (sort of) to buy the “Harris in Hell” sign from the protesters, ℅ Chelsea Perretti.
Goddammit Harris the Westboro Baptist Church just called you a “fag enabler” and you’re not here to see it
— joe mande (@JoeMande) February 20, 2015
Just yesterday, the folks at Comedy Bang! Bang! the final edition of their Farts and Procreation series, each of which features guests Adam Scott and Chelsea Perretti doing really, really stupid goofs with Harris and Scott Aukerman, the show’s host. The first installment of Farts and Pro. remains the best episode of CBB ever, but this most recent one is also very good, and features a pretty heartbreaking introduction from Scott. Go back and listen to all four F&P eps if you haven’t already!
This one last thing that has been shared around quite a bit is almost too perfect of a snippet to close things out. It’s a voicemail he left on a friend’s phone that was posted to Soundcloud a few days ago and has taken on an unexpected poignancy in the last few days. I’m gonna miss hearing this dude in my earbuds and I hope everyone who knew him personally is doing okay.