'Parks and Rec' Boss Mike Schur Pens Tribute to Harris Wittels: "He Was Basically a Human Teddy Bear"
The NBC comedy's showrunner recalls his years in the writers room with the brilliant, infuriating Phish head, who died Feb. 19 at age 30 following a suspected heroin overdose: "I even kind of loved yelling at him."
This story first appeared in the March 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The only time I ever yelled at anyone in the Parks and Rec writers room, I yelled at Harris. The argument was over the loose ethics of reality TV, and while the details of the fight now seem impossibly unimportant, at the time I was truly upset. I don't remember the argument very well. I do remember that about four minutes later, I had my arms around him, hugging him and refusing to let go as he giggled and said, in his peculiar, nasal, slight-Texan drawl, "All right, well, I guess the argument is over."
I loved hugging Harris because he was basically a human teddy bear. I also loved writing with him and hearing him tell stories and listening to him try to defend an indefensible position about something he hadn't thought through — at all — but had decided to argue anyway. (He once confidently declared that the Silversun Pickups would've been as good as The Beatles had they lived in Liverpool in the early 1960s. His evidence for this amounted to: "Because, think about it.")
Schur (left) and Wittels
I even kind of loved yelling at him because he could be utterly infuriating. Once he asked me if he could leave work several hours early to see a Phish concert in Long Beach. It should be noted that: (A) He had seen more than 75 Phish concerts at that point, and (B) He asked me on the day he turned in an outline, meaning that the next step was for him to work all day with the entire writing staff. Which is hard to do when you're at a Phish concert.
I told him I didn't think that would be possible. He then copied and emailed to me, without irony, the dictionary definition of "religion." Because Phish was his religion, you see, and I, by implication, was persecuting him. I was stunned. I was, honestly, furious. And then it made me laugh. Because he always made me laugh.
I loved trying (in vain) to figure out how his brain worked. I loved making fun of him for his insane eating habits. I loved watching him do stand-up and listening to him on podcasts and hearing him lazily pitch brilliant jokes while laying half-asleep (sometimes actually asleep) on our writers room couches. I loved knowing him. And I will miss him every day.