Harris Wittels ’06, Emerson alumnus and co-executive producer of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, was found dead at his Los Angeles home on February 19. He was 30 years old.
Wittels was a friend of the College who generously gave his time to guest lecture in classes. As recently as December 2014, he came to Emerson College Los Angeles at the request of his former teacher, Martie Cook, associate professor and associate chair of the Department of Visual and Media Arts. Wittels spoke to students about comedy writing.
“This is a huge and tragic loss both to the Emerson community and to the entertainment industry,” Cook said. “Harris had a natural gift. His writing was smart and edgy. He knew how to make people laugh.”
Wittels recently came to the Boston campus to screen an episode of Parks and Recreation to a full house at the Bright Family Screening Room of the Paramount Center.
“He was such a nice person. He achieved success so young,” said Cook. “He was a beacon of hope to our students who could picture themselves being like Harris one day, writing on successful shows.”
Harris Wittels '06 (center, kneeling) with a TV writing class taught by Associate Professor Martie Cook (standing, right) at Emerson College Los Angeles in December 2014.
Cook recently re-read a pilot that Wittels had written as an undergraduate in her pilot writing class.
“He was so talented and funny, even then,” she said.
In addition to Parks and Recreation, which ends its series run next week, Wittels also worked on series such as Eastbound and Down, and The Sarah Silverman Program. He is credited with coining the term “humble brag,” a type of boast disguised in modesty. He published a book in 2012, Humblebrag: The Art of False Modesty.
Steve Pinto ’06 was a classmate of Wittels.
“He was a defender of people’s work, mine included,” Pinto said. “He had storytelling clarity when a lot of people were fumbling around trying to find the basics out. It was no surprise he found the success he did, and it is so sad his life took the direction it did.”
Emerson student Gina Palmeri ’15 said, “I had the pleasure of meeting Harris this past semester in LA when Martie asked him to come speak to our class. I was so happy because Parks and Rec is one of my favorite shows. Parks and Rec has been a big part of my life throughout college and meeting Harris was a dream come true. I will always treasure his words of encouragement and advice about the TV industry. Watching the series finale is now definitely going to hit even harder.”