Julie Klausner chats with Harris Wittels, a standup comic, a TV writer, and the inventor of #humblebrag. He's also Julie Klausner's interview subject.
Julie Klausner: We've never met in real life. Is it weird that I've seen a photo of your penis?
Harris Wittels: It’d be weirder if you hadn’t seen a photo of my penis. There’s a ton of ‘em floating around out there.
JK: Pictures? Tee hee. Anyway, I must mention—I was so flattered that you read my book and you had the kindest thing to say about one of the smaller jokes in it. What prompted you to pick it up? I'm not fishing for a compliment (though if one falls in the boat, I wouldn't throw it back)—I'm just bemused you read it since you're not exactly the target audience? The target audience is ladies.
HW: I think growing up with an older sister made me a de facto lady at heart. I have seen every Sex and the City episode (was profoundly disappointed when Berger turned out to be a jerk). I had heard a lady friend of mine talk about how good the book was and I was in. It was a biography about someone loosely connected to me AND it was all about relationships?? Where do I sign!? … oh at the bottom of the receipt. Of course. Anyway, I completely enjoyed every dang word of it. So fun/sad/hilarious/real. I know you weren’t fishing, but you reeled in a marlin.
JK: Thank you, Harris Wittels. Now, enough about me—back to you! Were you a fan of Eastbound and Down before you began writing for it? What is that writers' room like?
HW: Eastbound was my all-time favorite show before I got to write on it for season 3. It was one of those shows that I hated as a writer because of how jealous I was and how it was everything I wanted to do. The writer’s room is every bit as fun as you’d think. It was Danny, Jody, a couple of other new writers and me. The first day I heard Danny pitch a joke for himself as Kenny Powers it blew my fucking mind. What was also great, was that nothing in the whole world was off limits to joke about in that writer’s room. (Was that lame? Like I’m trying to sound hardcore?)
JK: No, it's fine! So, Harris. You do a lot of different things—you're a standup, a TV writer, you act, you dance, you have a beautiful singing voice. Tell me: what did you do today? A "day in the life," if you will.
HW: My day to day life varies wildly depending on if I’m on a staff or not. When I am at Parks and Rec, I am up at 8am everyday and at work until about 9pm. However, during our three month hiatuses, I am a disgusting piece of garbage. I drank a ton last night, chased that with some vicodin, slept til one today and woke up only to fry some chicken. Though I did write for about two hours after that, so it wasn’t completely tragic.
JK: Mazel Tov! You play the part of "Harris" in the Sarah Silverman pilot. Did other actors audition for that role, even though it was (I assume) written for you? Do you think that must have been weird for them?
HW: This is impossible to not answer in Humblebrag form, but fuck it. I’m not sure if it was weird for the actors auditioning to play me, but it was definitely weird for me to audition to play me. I was getting notes on how to act more like myself, and the notes were correct is the weird part. I don’t know who I am evidently. Also, we did end up changing the name from Harris to Lloyd for the pilot, so that it at least sort of seems like I am actually acting.
JK: Do you have a favorite Humblebrag of all time? What makes it perfect?
HW: I’m not sure if I have an all-time favorite at this point. There have been thousands. I can say that my most recent favorite is this Steve Nash one: “1 of my fears is that my children's privileged life won't allow them to feel the same triumphs I've felt. And I wasn't poor. Hmmm.” A bit of a two-fer here. He asserts that not only is he privileged now, but that he grew up with money as well.
JK: Who do you hate following on Twitter but continue to follow, for guilt or out of obligation or for other reasons?
HW: Way too many political ramifications to mention. But, yeah, a ton. Everyone always talks about this “mute” function on Twitter, but I cant seem to find it. It’s like dry land in Waterworld.
JK: Is Facebook the worst? What about Instagram, what the fuck is that? Tumblr? Any thoughts?
HW: Facebook is great in terms of dating because you can see things you might not have discovered until date number 5. Like if their quote is by Jack Kerouac or the bible or something. Bullet dodged! Tumblr and Instagram feel like work to me. Count me out.
JK: Have you ever seen a ghost?
HW: Never seen a ghost, but I have accidentally sent an email before I was done writing it, which is equally as terrifying.
JK: Do you like Jewish girls?
HW: Very much so. I went to a Jewish sleepover camp for all of my prepubescent years, so most of my earliest sexual feelings were about summer camp Jewish girls. That shit sticks with you. That being said, I’m also into the girls of other religions (looking at you, Rastafarians).
JK: Are you going to continue writing for Parks & Recreation? What are some of the things you learned writing for that show? It was your first sitcom writing gig, is that correct? Or am I a fat dumb liar?
HW: I don’t think you are fat or dumb, but you are a liar.
JK: Thank you!!!!
HW: My first staff job was for The Sarah Silverman Program. So I learned so much at Sarah’s show, like how to write for TV. Then on Parks we were doing 22 episodes a season and learning under Greg Daniels and Mike Schur so that was like comedy writing school/boot camp. I learned so much about story and arcs and character development. Them dudes mad smart!
JK: What TV shows do you watch?
HW: I watch the obvious ones: your Mad Mens, your Game of Thrones, your Breaking Bads. Then I watch most reality stuffs. I’ll fuck with some Bachelor, House Wives (Jersey and Bev Hills predominately), Jersey Shore (not the new Pauly D spin-off. That shit is straight up boring). I just finished rewatching Six Feet Under for the second time. I’m not a huge sports guy, but I do love falling asleep to Sportscenter. It’s comforting.
JK: Was there a point during your comedic journey when you realized that you were more of a standup/writer than a "Character guy"? Or did I just insult you by not calling you a character guy? Is it worthwhile to make that distinction and to decide what you're good at and focus on it? Or to do everything you can?
HW: I’m not insulted. I am profoundly lazy, and doing characters and stuff takes so much effort. It’s way easier to just go be myself. On the flipside of that, I did do a lot of sketch stuff for many years, so I don’t think I’m like, the worst character guy. I can do a southern accent!
JK: Ooh! I know you are a fan of the band Phish. Did you ever like The Spin Doctors? Do you like them now?
HW: Why, do Phish sound like the Spin Doctors to you?
JK: They seem to be in the same crunchy family.
HW: Frillz, my jamband in high school called “Pralines and Dik” (Wayne’s World ref) covered the song Two Princes by the Spin Doctors. That should tell you about all you need to know. And yes I still like that song. It’s catchy! Everyone else is wrong. Not me.
JK: Why don't you have a podcast? Is it legal for you not to have a podcast? It's like James Cromwell not being British, which my friend Alex pointed out was fucked up.
HW: James Cromwell isn’t British?!?? This interview is over. Okay, fine I’ll stay. I kind of sort do have a podcast actually. It’s called Analyze Phish where I attempt to get Scott Aukerman to like the band Phish. We only did 4 episodes, so I guess I don’t have that podcast anymore. Now, I don’t have one because I just found out James Cromwell isn’t British.
JK: I'm sorry I had to break that news to you. Anyway, please describe the first time you did acid.
HW: I was at a high school dance sophomore year. My friends and I left the dance early and drove around in my friend’s station wagon listening to Weezer’s Pinkerton album all night (our sober friend was driving. Chill out). I sat in the way back in the hatch staring at traffic lights and having epiphanies about Pat Wilson’s drums on that album. Also, when the acid first came on in the school parking lot, I had what was probably the hardest 45 minute giggle fit I have ever had in my life. The entire world was funny to me. Truly magical.
JK: What were you like as a teenager? What advice would you give teenagers today?
HW: I was a slightly rebellious type who didn’t think school mattered much. And I was right. And that is what I would tell a teenager today: school does not matter.
JK: Are you dating anybody right now? Please describe your dream date to me.
HW: I am not dating anyone, but I’m certainly not opposed to it. In the meantime I’m down to clown. My dream date definitely involves some degree of clowning. Do you know anyone?
JK: Oh, yeah-- just this one clown, but she's not your type.
This article was originally published May 2012