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Saying Goodbye to a Bright, Young Comedic Voice

Harris Wittels, a rising star in television and comedy, dies at 30

Esther C. Werdiger
February 20, 2015
Parks and Recreation's Alan Yang (L) and Harris Wittels (R) on January 13, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for AFI)
Parks and Recreation’s Alan Yang (L) and Harris Wittels (R) on January 13, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for AFI)

I was sitting on the couch late last night, watching Seinfeld, mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed, when a post caught my eye. “Really really sad about Harris Wittels,” someone had written. She’d linked to an old tweet of his; hilarious and dorky wordplay, impossible not to smile at.

“Chickpeas? Chick, please! Check please!” – guy who hates garbanzo beans complaining to waitress about how she brought him garbanzo beans”

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Harris Wittels should not be dead. A 30-year old Jewish kid from Houston, with an astounding career in comedy and television just beginning to unfold; he joined NBC’s Parks and Recreation as a staff writer in 2010, and was quickly promoted to executive story editor, and then an executive producer, working alongside Amy Poehler on the hugely successful series. Before that, he wrote for the Sarah Silverman Program and HBO’s Eastbound and Down.

Not long ago, I heard him interviewed on Marc Maron’s podcast. It was sort of strange to reconcile his success with how he sounded on the show—modest, mellow, friendly, but so sharp. He felt familiar. He talked candidly about his history of recreational drug use, but not in a way that left you concerned. But a few months later, on Pete Holmes’ podcast, he talked about it more, and it did sound like things had escalated.

I didn’t know Harris Wittels. But there’s that feeling these days, when you can follow someone’s career closely, when they’re your age, when you know some of the same people, when you can hear them speak so openly and thoughtfully—that they really feel within reach. That they really feel like a living, breathing person, working, struggling, laughing, wanting—just like the rest of us. I didn’t know him, but I was really proud of him. He was so smart, and so funny. I wanted to see him do amazing things. And now he’s gone.

Esther C. Werdiger, Tablet’s art director, is a writer and artist from Melbourne. Her essays, comics and illustrations have appeared at The Awl, The Hairpin, Saveur, the Forward and in Lilith. She lives in Brooklyn.