Monday, 23 February 2015

rest in peace harris wittels

I often use this blog to write/gush about people, music, and comedy I love. Harris Wittels fit all of those criteria. Unfortunately, I am writing about Harris after his death last week. My boyfriend, Eloy told me the news on my way back to work from the DMV, and I pushed through the next few hours until I left, got into my car, and immediately broke down, sobbing.

I'd always been a fan of comedy television as a kid. As a teenager I discovered stand-up albums and TV specials, and in college I discovered the alt comedy scene. I started going to live comedy shows at venues like Rififi and Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York City around 2006-2007, when I still lived on the east coast. That's where I first learned about comedians like Harris' friends and future co-workers, Chelsea Peretti, Noah Garfinkel, Joe Mande, and Aziz Ansari. After college I moved to Los Angeles, and fortunately so did most of my favorite New York comedians. As a fan, I felt lucky to be able to follow their careers so closely and watch them blossom over the years.

While Harris came up with the comedians I mentioned, I didn't know about him until Eloy and I moved to LA in October 2010. I toured a lot during that time, and Eloy spent most of his first year here alone at the UCB Theater in LA. Eloy was the first person to tell me about Harris. Every show Harris was on, Eloy would come home and tell me all about his set and try to retell me his jokes. He would go to the UCB 4/20 show mostly to see Harris, and still mentions it at least annually.

I think I first saw Harris do stand up on Comedy Death Ray/Bang Bang/whatever, before Scott Aukerman stopped doing the live show. He was one of those comedians I only knew by name, just from how often Eloy mentioned him. I'd ask "Who is Harris Wittels again?" and he'd remind me, "You know, the guy that writes for Parks and Rec and Eastbound and Down." Eventually Harris became a name I'd make sure to go see on any show.

Then I came to know Harris as the #humblebrag guy. He wrote about Best Coast in his book, Humblebrag: The Art of False Modesty. I was thrilled Harris was a fan of the band I used to be in. We started following each other on Twitter and exchanged numbers and tweets. Some time after that, Harris was talking outside UCB with my friends. I assumed he wouldn't recognize me or remember me from twitter. Instead he hugged me and called me by name. I was elated. He was the kind of person you felt cool for knowing, and he didn't make you feel inferior. That's rare.

I loved that Harris loved the same "shitty" bands I love, like 311 and Everclear. When no one wanted to see The Counting Crows and Toad the Wet Sprocket with me at the Greek last summer, he said he'd love to but he didn't know if he had a "sober Crows concert in him yet."

Harris was open about his opiate abuse. He and I talked about our respective compulsions and the possibility of going to meetings together. My brother and Harris had addictions of the same nature, so I used my brother (and his 2 years of recovery) as an example of hope for Harris. We also made plans to play music together, and then we fell out of touch for a few months. He was a busy guy, so I didn't think much of it.

It wasn't until listening to Harris on his most recent episode of You Made it Weird, did I learn that, like my brother, he too had moved on from prescription opiates to heroin. When I finished the podcast, I texted Harris. I decided to reach out to him more often. I knew he had closer friends than me he could go to, but loneliness is one of the worst things for addiction, and being a writer and comedian usually means lots of busy friends and lots of time alone. I invited Harris on a hike on November 30th. He politely declined because his parents were in town visiting. That was the last time we talked.

When Eloy told me Harris died, first I felt denial. He was our favorite. I thought it had to be a sick joke or a mistake, but it was real. Then I thought "Why? Why him? Why someone who brings so much joy to so many people in an otherwise depressing world? Why someone so bright?" He was only 30 and had written for some of my all-time favorite TV shows, tweeted the tweets that made me laugh the loudest, had coined a word AND written a book about it. I'd search "Harris Wittels" in the podcasts app on my phone, just to find any episodes he was a guest on so I could listen to him talk. He was too good. He had so much left in him.

That's what I'm having the hardest time with. As far as his career went, this guy could seemingly do anything. I thought for sure he would survive his addiction and continue to be more and more brilliant. Unfortunately that was not his story, and it is so hard to accept and it is so fucking unfair. That's the cruel thing about losing people to drugs. It feels unfair, because there is hope. Addiction is not necessarily a death sentence. It's not a freak accident or a terminal illness. Instead, drugs slowly rob you of the beauty and ideas and laughs you have left to bring to the world. They get in the way, and sometimes they take you away. I wish Harris could have made it out the other end of addiction alive. I wish he wasn't taken away. I wish we would have finally followed through on our plans and I wish I got to tell Harris all of this. I hope he knew I cared about him and how magnetic he was.

I know it's cliche, but don't wait to tell your friends, family, and acquaintances you love them. Tell them all the time, even if they'll think you're weird for it. Be honest with your feelings and let people know you think they're special. If you love an addict, let them know you care, even if it seems they no longer can. In Harris' words: "We are all horrible and wonderful and figuring it out."

I got to watch Harris and his friends go from making people in tiny alt comedy clubs laugh to writing jokes that would make people all over the world laugh. Sadly, now I am watching those friends mourn him. But, I am grateful to live in an age where I can be part of that mourning process for someone I didn't know very well, but was still deeply affected by. I love reading everyone's stories about him, because I get to know Harris better, even if it is posthumously. Everything he made was so distinctly him.  I wish I could text him and let him know I am thinking of him, but instead I will just have to tell all of you that I am thinking of him. Since I heard the news last Thursday, the first thing I think every time I wake up is, "Harris Wittels is gone." Today I am trying to focus on how lucky we are that he left so much behind. I've gathered some of it here for you. Please, do yourself a favor and make yourself familiar with Harris Wittels. Read, watch, listen. Your life will be richer for it.

P.S. This is article about Harris is a great read. --> The Comedy and Good Conversation of Harris Wittels

And so is Aziz's tribute to Harris. I will forever think of "pussy holes" anytime I have a bagel.

Thanks, Harris.

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