Rewind: Meet Stephanie, Meet Harris (With Sarah Silverman and Aziz Ansari)
Happy Thanksgiving! This week, we’re re-airing our very first episode of Last Day from Season One. In it, we meet host Stephanie Wittels Wachs, sister of the late Harris Wittels, comedian-writer-producer-actor, who died in 2015 of a heroin overdose. Harris’ close friends, Sarah Silverman and Aziz Ansari, also join Stephanie as she introduces the concept of the show and why it’s critical that it exists.
If you enjoy this episode, make sure to also check out:
- Everything Is Horrible and Wonderful: A Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, Love, and Loss, by Stephanie Wittels Wachs
- Humblebrag: The Art of False Modesty, by Harris Wittels
- You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes: Harris Returns (Parks and Rec! Comedy! Don’t Stop or We’ll Die!) returns to make it weirder!
If you suspect someone you know is overdosing, call 911 – it’s important they get medical attention immediately. You can also contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at1-800-662-HELP for a free, confidential conversation with a trained substance use counselor anytime.
To follow along with a transcript and/or take notes for friends and family, go to https://www.lemonadamedia.com/show/last-day shortly after the air date.
Stay up to date with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @LemonadaMedia.
[0:32] Harris Wittels: Wassup? I’m Harris. I’m 33 years young. I have my cousin Jason’s truck for two more weeks. I have one testicle — whac-a-mole accident — And I’m down to clown.
[0:44] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: That’s my brother, Harris Wittels, playing a character named Harris, the animal control guy, on a show called Parks & Recreation. He wrote comedy for people like Aziz Ansari.
[0:58] Aziz Ansari: I would say he was a lovable, uniquely funny person amongst a group of incredibly, uniquely funny, lovable people.
[1:11] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: And Sarah Silverman
[1:13] Sarah Silverman: One of the really special things about Harris, not only that he’s so original and so funny, is his fucking audacity and his nerve. He comes to me and says I need four days off because I’m going, I want to go see a bunch of Phish concerts and I had already made the plan. I just look at him like are you fucking kidding me?
[1:40] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: And I’m Stephanie Wittels Wachs. This is Last Day. I’m a relatively normal person. I’m married to this guy.
[1:56] Mike Wachs: I unload the packages. I get the luggage. I’m a porter.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: [laughs] You are!
[2:07] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Every morning, I say sentences like “Brush your teeth” and “Put on your shoes” about 800 times before driving small people to school in my minivan. Best car I’ve ever had. Truly. I shamelessly love this cliche of a car. And the small people. There’s this one. She’s 5.
[2:32] Iris Wachs: We are here to celebrate that my birthday is coming up and we’re going to have a Ariel birthday. Yay for me Yay!
[2:36] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: And this one. He’s one.
Harrison Wachs: Dada dada [laughing]
[2:44] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: I don’t run a child taxi service – although why hasn’t this been done yet? It is necessary and useful and someone should do it – you’re welcome. So these small people are my children and I love them ferociously with every cell in my body and what naturally accompanies all of that love is a deep fear that something terrible could happen to them at any moment. Every day I take our kids to school I pass by this billboard that advertises a rehab facility. It says, in giant blue letters, “END THE ADDICTION” – all capitals. Which – I mean – just seems like false advertising. Because I read recently that opioids are killing more people now than car accidents. 70,000 people died of drug overdoses last year alone. 70,000. I mean it’s basically the average maximum capacity of an NFL stadium. So, a stadium’s worth of people were completely wiped out last year by drugs. And it gets worse. According to the CDC, we have lost over 700,000 people to overdoses since 1999. And nearly 400,000 of those were from opioids. And one of them was my brother.
[4:25] Harris Wittels: I wrote that entire book on so much drugs. (Humble brag?) Yeah that’s a humble brag.
[4:33] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: That’s Harris, on a podcast called You Made It Weird, hosted by Pete Holmes, and he’s talking about the book he wrote, called Humblebrag: The Art of False Modesty. He invented that word, Humblebrag – like, he just made it up – from his brain – and now it’s in the dictionary. Harris didn’t go from zero to opioids. Growing up, he did all the typical teen experimentation things. We did a lot of the things together. But the things changed pretty drastically after he got a prescription from a medical doctor. Oxycontin for back pain. Harris struggled for a while with that on his own and after a painful year of begging him to go to rehab and him resisting for every reason under the sun, he finally went in for 30 days. And it worked. It seemed awesome. He seemed like himself again. But then he relapsed, unbeknownst to us. And then he started shooting heroin because it’s cheaper and easier to come by. Here’s Harris again talking to Pete Holmes on You Made It Weird.
[5:59] Harris Wittels: So the first time I go home and shoot it. You, you put the needle in you find a vein you put the needle in, you draw back so the blood goes into the syringe so you can see that you’re in a vein, and within three seconds you feel like there are a thousand dicks all over your body and they’re all coming. Like I’ve never felt anything like it. I was like, OK I do heroin now. That’s it.
[6:27] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Then he went back to rehab. He finished another 30 day program. Relapsed again. And went back to rehab. He knew the stakes.
[6:37] Harris Wittels: I’m just taking it a lot more seriously now because I felt like I um, I can’t, if I go out again now that it’s shooting heroin, I could die. That’s it. It’s not fun anymore. It’s like life and death now and I don’t want to do that to my parents. I don’t want to do that to myself. So I’m taking it more seriously now. Um, and I’m in a good place.
[7:05] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: By the time that interview aired, he’d already relapsed. He went back to rehab a few months later. This was rehab number three. He was there for 6 weeks total. Detox first, and then into sober living. What we know is that he checked himself out. It was February 17th, 2015. He did stand up comedy the next night at Meltdown. It’s a club, in L.A. Came home, sent an email to my mom. He said he felt good. He even used an exclamation mark. That’s how good he felt. He said he felt fortunate. He told her that he loved her. And then he shot up, all alone in his house, overdosed, and died. That was it. He was gone. Permanently and forever gone from our lives and the lives of everyone who loved him, which was so many people.
[8:17] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: When my brother was alive, he made the rest of us look so bad. I mean, even dead, he still makes the rest of us look bad. He accomplished more in 30 years than most people accomplish in a lifetime. He had the most creative, limitless mind that was always working. His resume is the stuff of dreams. He got his first big break at 22 on The Sarah Silverman Program. He was a writer-producer-actor on NBC’s Parks & Recreation. He wrote on the show Master of None, which won an Emmy. His sense of humor could be crude, and raunchy. Not everyone’s cup of tea. But Aziz Ansari Ansari and Sarah Silverman and many other people who are objectively funny for a living really liked that tea. I did. I liked that tea. He made me laugh more than anyone else.
[9:15] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: But, more than that, he was my brother. He was my only sibling. He was like the Robin to my Batman. I’m definitely not a superhero, but you know. We were a team. He talked me off so many ledges over the years. Whenever I’d start to spiral, he’d be like, “Quit future tripping” – it was this gentle reminder – or maybe not so gentle – to just be wherever you are, right now. After Harris died, I honestly didn’t know how to do life without him. I was completely 100 percent consumed by grief.
[10:06] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: So I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. And it turned into a book called “Everything is Horrible and Wonderful,” which it is, and I’m fairly certain that the writing saved my life. And when it came out, people, all sorts of people came out of the internet woodwork to share their own stories of losing someone they loved. And it turns out that nearly everybody you know is either struggling with or loves someone or knows someone who is struggling with some really difficult shit. And for some reason, we continue to keep these stories hidden away, just eating at our insides.
[10:56] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: This is a show about that: the stories we hide, the shame we carry, the stuff that’s not supposed to happen. It’s about endings that are sudden and unexpected, ugly and worthy of Irish keening. If you don’t know what that is, it’s what some people – I guess some Irish people – do to express grief when there just aren’t words. It’s like a moaning, weeping, wailing thing. So I did that. I did a lot of that. And after the months of despair, this weird thing started to slowly happen. At some point after Harris died, I went from thinking, we’re all gonna die, what’s the point, to wait! Oh my god! We’re all going to die! THAT’s the point! I went from thinking everything was hopeless and meaningless to realizing that our time here is so short, so fast. And that was incredibly freeing. It made me embrace all the cliches. All the sayings written on pillows. Because life IS short. So, fuck it, I’d better do what I can with the time I’ve got.
[12:29] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: So this…this show, is that. This is Last Day, a new podcast from Lemonada Media about the things that are killing us. And by us — I mean all of us. People you know. People you love. People you interact with every single day. We’ll start with opioids. Obviously. And in future seasons, we’ll tackle other issues that are hard to discuss and getting worse every day. Because there are so many people like me who have lost people like Harris – or people who are currently agonizing over the possibility of losing someone like Harris or people who ARE currently feeling like Harris – and all of these people and their people and their people’s people have nowhere to put those big feelings. They don’t know what to do or where to go or how to stop the bleeding.
[13:31] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: It’s time to figure out how we, as a society, have gotten here. So, naturally, we’ll start with a comedian. Her name is Sarah Silverman.
[13:45] Sarah Silverman: Oh my this is embarrassing it’s Silverstein.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Oh my God. Shit. I knew I was gonna fuck it up.
Sarah Silverman: Yeah everybody does that it’s fine. It’s fine.
[13:53] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: I’m so sorry. I knew that you were like, one of the tribe. I didn’t know which of the end it was.
Sarah Silverman: It doesn’t matter really.
[14:01] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Sarah gave Harris his first real job in comedy. He was a newborn baby. I mean he was 22, but essentially a newborn baby. And we always joked about how she was like a mom to him in L.A. She saw all this potential in him and she got to watch him grow into the comedian and the human that he was. So I decided to fly to L.A. to see if she could give me some answers about what happened to him. They first met after Harris did a set at a club called Largo, in L.A.
[14:31] Sarah Silverman: After the show I was smoking a joint in the alley in the back and invited him to join and you know didn’t know that ironically about Harris, not a big pot smoker.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: I know.
Sarah Silverman: Yeah. Never really took to it.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Or a beer drinker.
[14:47] Sarah Silverman: So we smoked pot and then, yes, I had him in my head. And you know, we had like spots for like five writers when The Sarah Silverman Program got picked up and I said, you know, this guy Harris Wittels, let me email him. And he, of course, really became one of our strongest maybe our strongest writer. So, um one of the really special things about Harris. Not only that he’s so original and so funny, is his fucking audacity and his nerve. So he’s a junior-
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: The chutzpah.
Sarah Silverman: The chutzpah on this kid.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: It’s fucking crazy.
[15:22] Sarah Silverman: That he’s a junior writer, he’s so excited to be here is- you know he it’s his first writing job and he comes to me and says, I need four days off because I’m going, I want to go see a bunch of Phish concerts and I had already made the plan. I just look at him like, Are you fucking kidding me? And I don’t know how it happened but I let him go.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Yes.
Sarah Silverman: Yeah, he just he puts a spell on you.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: He does.
[15:50] Sarah Silverman: Like, I remember hearing that your mother would take him grocery shopping and let him have a tiny shopping cart that he could put anything he wanted in. And I said that makes all the sense in the world.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Yeah, yeah.
[16:08] Sarah Silverman: This completely makes sense. And yet it’s so hard to be put off by it because he was such a comic genius and brought so much joy.
[16:18] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: I know, and I’m going to just blow your mind a little bit right here. It wasn’t a little cart, Sarah. It was a big cart.
Sarah Silverman: Oh!
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: He got his own big cart and he could fill it with whatever shit he wanted.
Sarah Silverman: What he put in his human body.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Was garbage.
Sarah Silverman: It’s crazy.
[16:36] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: I know. So you wrote these tweets after he passed.
Sarah Silverman: Uh huh – oh.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Can I show them to you?
Sarah Silverman: Sure.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Okay, so this is what you said:
[16:48] Sarah Silverman: He was my baby. I just keep thinking of Superman flying backwards around the earth. I wish I could do that. I’m so mad at you Harris. Yeah, that’s how, I was so mad at him for so long. You should know that Harris was brilliant beyond compare. That his imagination was without limit that he loved comedy more than anything. That his heart was big and he felt hard and he was someone who would reach out to you to tell you that he was thinking of you for no particular reason. That’s true. That he was honest even when it was going to piss you off or make him look shitty. He told the truth even when it was ugly. Even when he lied. Oh yeah. That’s so true
[17:32] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: It really is. I think you were so warm and loving to him.
Sarah Silverman: You know after the first time he went to rehab, I’m sad it took this but like I really shifted and realizing this kid is not OK. and I was able to kind of change my dynamic with him because I was like oh you know
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: He’s wounded.
[17:57] Sarah Silverman: Yeah. Yeah. And it just, it just worried me so much and I think I had to like shift at that first time because I was like, Oh he just needs tons of love. Like this kid that you just went, Oh he has all the love in the world and everyone adores him and he’s, you know what I mean, you know it was he needed to feel it, you know.
[18:19] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Yeah, he did have all the love in the world which is interesting
Sarah Silverman: He did. He was adored
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Yeah. And he always said, like, I had like I had a great childhood. I mean all the risk factors just didn’t apply to him.
[18:31] Sarah Silverman: No, it doesn’t make sense.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: So when he did go to rehab that first time, were you surprised?
Sarah Silverman: Yeah, I was shocked.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Was it shocking?
Sarah Silverman: I was shocked the first time he texted me and said, I’m in rehab. For pills, for Oxy. Of course, you just think well, that will be it. He’ll get better and then he’ll be better, you know?
[18:51] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Yeah. Oh, I do, I do know. I thought that, too.
Sarah Silverman: Yeah.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: That’s what you think. Then that summer is when he started shooting heroin. And then he went back to rehab. A second time after he started shooting heroin.
[19:05] Sarah Silverman: Yeah that was a text where he said, “You’re not going to believe this. I’m in rehab for shooting actual heroin.”
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: This is the text he sent you?
Sarah Silverman: Yeah that was a text I got and it was just you know even his text was funny but it was I was I couldn’t believe it. I just said, Oh my God I I love you and, you know.
[19:30] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: We were in Texas so he could conveniently not get on the phone. Text is such a great thing for addicts. I don’t think I’m supposed to say “addicts” for people who struggle with substance abuse. That’s not what I was supposed to say. Yeah. Apparently you’re not. You’re not supposed to say “addict” anymore. So, you know he could hide behind that and so I didn’t see him on any regular basis. So picking up on those warning signs was like, impossible.
[19:56] Sarah Silverman: Yeah, I mean he was writing on Parks & Rec and I never saw him. You know?
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Right.
Sarah Silverman: The last text I got from him I had just made a movie where I played a person struggling with-
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: substance abuse
[20:10] Sarah Silverman: –substance abuse. Thank you. And, the last text I got from him was just that, he said he heard about the movie and he was so proud of me and excited about it. And he said something very loving and, um, and, and you know, like when he died I, you know, I, I look to like the last contact with him and it was that like ugh – What could I have done, I could have said, that magic combination of words. I was really not involved in his life at all and but um, yeah. It was. Yeah, anyway.
[21:01] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: When he died, I got his phone and so I, it sat in my drawer for like two months. Cause I was just catatonic. And then one day, I was like, Oh shit I have his phone. So I plugged it into my computer. Because I wanted to keep everything and all the photos imported into my iPhoto.
Sarah Silverman: Oh, like all his penis pictures.
[21:20] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: So, I basically would have like, a picture of my baby. And then some girl’s tits. And then Harris’s dick. And then some girl’s ass. And it’s like, it’s literally like my iPhoto is like all naked body parts and then cute babies. It was just truly like a lovely parting gift from him.
[21:38] Sarah Silverman: I know it’s so awful because like, there was one picture, I had one penis picture of him in my book.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Oh my mother. My mother loved it. She was very proud.
Sarah Silverman: It was so funny. Well that was my favorite story. I have so many penis penises of his picture.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Penises of his picture.
[21:56] Sarah Silverman: But one is like he is his penis and balls are completely out of his pants and he’s dying laughing, like about something else. And it’s just like the most joyful picture you could ever see. you know, in the writers room we talked about all our sexual endeavors and he has really had
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: A long list.
Sarah Silverman: He had a good, he had some, some real experiences.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Exceptional.
Sarah Silverman: I’ve only seen in porn.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Exceptional.
Sarah Silverman: Yeah.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: This is how he would want to be remembered.
Sarah Silverman: He would. He’s here with us.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Not for the heroin talk.
Sarah Silverman: Yeah.
[22:33] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: So, I’m sure that coming into a booth and talking about your dead friend isn’t the most fun?
Sarah Silverman: I mean, but it’s up there.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: I mean, like top three. But like I appreciate you coming in. But why would you agree to this form of torture?
[22:52] Sarah Silverman: Well, I love Harris and I also get a little dose when I get to see you.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Yeah.
Sarah Silverman: And I see him in your face and in your words and in your way.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Oh, Sarah.
Sarah Silverman: Sorry. I love you, Harris. <music comes in>
[23:21] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: That probably inappropriately cheerful music is Harris’ band, called Don’t Stop or We’ll Die. In the video for it, Harris and his friends Michael Cassady and Paul Rust are on roller skates, delivering pizza. That’s definitely how Harris would want us all to be imagining him, geeking out playing drums, cracking up with his dick out, or picking up a girl.
[23:47] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: What was the thing that every girl had at least a 20 percent crush on him?
Aziz Ansari: Yeah, like that is that is an absurd statement. But you kind of you if you know him you’re like I guess I don’t know.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: You’re like sort of.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: When we come back, we will NOT be talking more about Harris’ penis. So, stick with us.
[26:28] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: We’re back, this is Last Day. I’m Stephanie Wittels Wachs. And this is Aziz Ansari.
Aziz Ansari: Yeah, I mean I can get you tickets. I know a guy. It’s me.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Aziz Ansari loved Harris. And Harris loved him. They worked together on Parks & Rec, and then again on Master of None. When Harris died, Aziz was a pallbearer at the funeral. And, he wrote an amazing tribute to him which was actually truly funny in a moment when it seemed like nothing would ever be funny again.
[27:06] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Your tumblr post that you wrote about Harris was single handedly like the thing that made my parents laugh for the first time after Harris died. Like 48 hours in. And I don’t know if I’ve ever said thank you for that, but that was amazing. So, thank you.
[27:25] Aziz Ansari: Oh, yeah. I’d never had to process the death of a friend like that and um the day that it happened a lot of people ended up at my house like people that wrote on were writing on Master of None at the time people that wrote with him on Parks, and we were all just talking about him and everyone was just sharing stories. And it was just so different than, you know, these random articles that were coming out. And I just wanted to write something to kind of, you know, share some of these really funny personal moments that we all had. And I’m especially glad that it made you and your family laugh.
[28:00] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Oh yeah. It was incredible. I remember we were all laughing and then I remember thinking like, Oh shit like shit we should stop laughing. You know, like this is this should be a serious moment. But it was just this really incredible medicine that that you gave us, so thank you.
[28:16] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: So the Master of None casting, Harris was so excited about that. I mean, that was a huge role to play your best friend named Harris.
[28:25] Aziz Ansari: Yeah, I mean I loved Harris as an actor. And when we were writing the first season of Master of None, we were just kind of figuring out who his this character’s friends are and stuff. And at one point we’re like well let’s just write a character that’s kind of based around Harris. And we had to tell Harris like, Hey like you kind of have to audition for this just because you know the higher ups, they want to see an audition tape. So he had to audition to play to play himself. And uh, and he was so good and he took it so seriously and like he was very nervous. I never really seen him like that nervous I could tell it was really important to him and, and he did a great job. And you know, I remember when we called him to tell him that he got it and he was so happy. And it’s like it’s so crushing to think about now. He was so excited, and so excited to go to New York. And Harris was a big part of the first season. You know like me and Allen were the show runners, but Harris was kind of the second-in-command and he was definitely a big architect of that show in this first season. And, and so we were all just really excited to continue seeing this through together. It’s like so sad to think about now but.
[29:35] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Yeah. I was talking to Mike Schur, your old boss do you remember him?
Aziz Ansari: Yes.
[29:43] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: And I was like, How did Harris keep his job? Because he I mean, from what I understand he was late constantly, you know, and like would just write ridiculous things to Mike. And I was like, How did he keep his job. And Mike was like, Because he was funny, like period. Harris was funny.
[30:03] Aziz Ansari: Yeah, I mean I would rather uh have Harris in a writer’s room and have him there for two hours than have some bozo that’s there all day showing up on time. And, you know, like he is a singular talent.
[30:15] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Didn’t you tell me once- I’m gonna I’m gonna botch this word- but it’s called chuffa? Chuffa? Chuffa. What’s the word?
[30:24] Aziz Ansari: Chuffa. Chuffa is so when you start a scene in in Parks or Master of None before you can get into what the scene is really about. There’s like one or two lines of just kind of silly meaningless conversation that’s like somewhat funny to get you into the scene. and that’s referred to as chuffa amongst you know comedy writers and, and Harris was exceptional at writing chuffa. And a lot of the kind of memorable chuffa that I remember from Parks or season one of Master was stuff he came up with. Like, there’s a scene where in Master of None where it’s me and Arnold walking around and we’re talking about the weather. He wrote the scene it was me saying like, why don’t they just keep the weather consistent everywhere like if it’s cold outside, it’s cold inside.That way you don’t have to like take off your coat and stuff. It is like a ridiculous idea. And he just wrote it with me like really committing to like, yeah, I mean that’s what it should be done like store owners everybody. So that way doesn’t inconvenience everybody.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Oh my God
[31:35] Aziz Ansari: There is one from Parks I remember. It’s me and Donna, it’s Tom and Donna. And Tom’s says, what’s your favorite kind of cake and, and Donna says birthday cake and he’s like what? You can’t. That’s not a type of cake. That’s like saying your favorite kind of cereal is breakfast cereal. And it was just that. And then like something else happens like a gunshot goes off or something like that. But that was just like, you know, just weird little couplets like that, weird kind of. It was weird kind of Harris logic thrown into these little quick conversations
[32:04] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Which is like essentially his logic. Like that, like he probably did think, Why don’t they just make weather standard. That was probably just a real thought that he had as a human being.
[32:15] Aziz Ansari: Yeah. There was there was probably a moment or two where he genuinely thought that was a good idea.
[32:22] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: I mean, it kind of is. So, we know Harris obviously but if you were going to describe him to somebody who didn’t know him or maybe like only knew him as the animal control guy in parks, what do you say to capture this human being to somebody.
[32:39] Aziz Ansari: Like, I know him in the context of the comedy community which is full of exceptional, uniquely funny incredible people and even amongst that group he stood out in a way. That was kind of like the feeling I remember having when he passed was like, man of all the shitty people that could have been taken away like, you’re gonna take this guy? Like out of everybody? Like, this incredibly funny writer that was kind of a prodigy of sorts that loved eating at Chili’s that, you know, had all these crazy notions about the world and about himself, and he was also a little bit mischievous. And, you know, things like you would be late for work and stuff like that, and you’d kind of be like, come on Harris, but then at the same time he was so lovable you could never really be mad at him.
[33:26] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: I know. As his sibling I feel that very strongly. There was many times where I’d be mad at him and then I’d be like but you’re just so adorable.
Aziz Ansari: Yeah
[33:36] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: And also maddening now like very frustrating too. But in a way that was acceptable. It’s very hard to try to articulate.
Aziz Ansari: Yeah, exactly.
[33:44] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: I haven’t talked to you about what you knew about Harris’s substance abuse and did you know Harris was struggling with with substance abuse.
[33:55] Aziz Ansari: Well, I think I had an incredibly naive view of what his addiction was like. I thought, Oh well he’s getting he’s going to rehab he’s getting help like that means he’s fine. He’s checked in. Everything’s fine. It just seemed like something he was on top of. And anytime you acted like it was serious at all around Harris, he acted like you were insane. He’s like, What are you. Yeah I’m fine. he made you feel like a complete fool for even bringing it up or being concerned at all. You know what I mean like he acted like-
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: -I do, yeah.
[34:30] Aziz Ansari: -It was not a big deal and I was like, Okay. I guess. And you know and was so adamant about it. I kind of just backed away. And whenever it happened, I mean, it was like I couldn’t believe it. It was not like oh yeah that week I’d been seeing him and he wasn’t doing well. Like, he was fine. Like, he was with me like two days before I think, you know what I mean? Like he was supposed to come into work that day and he didn’t come in and then, he must be sick or something. You know it wasn’t like, oh yeah, he’s like you know coming to work and nodding off every day or you know he’d seem you seemed kind of fine. So it really just came out of the blue. And you know I was just so ignorant about what heroin addiction is really like and how it’s kind of this endless struggle and how it – the story with Harris is, frighteningly, a-a trope. You know you read these stories every single person has the same story. Oh yeah. And the doctor gave me these pills for back pain. Then I started losing exorbitant amounts of money to get them. And then at a certain point I was like, Oh whoa heroin is the same high and it’s a lot cheaper. And I never would be the kind of person that would put a needle in my arm. But I was so addicted to this drug from the from the pills that I had to do it. And I cross that bridge and then I got addicted to heroin. And I’m just you know this normal person that you would never associate with this insane drug that has the worst reputation amongst drugs. But that’s how powerful the opioid addiction is. And it sucks all these people in the same way it sucked Harris.
[36:09] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Did he tell you that he had checked out of his sober living home?
Aziz Ansari: No, I had assumed he was there and the days that he was coming were the days that he was out. And then I went back and I listened to that podcast he did with Pete Holmes which is one of the most you know incredible documents about this crisis in a way because it’s him telling this story of, Oh this is this you know kid from a great family who’s having a great career and how the fuck does he start doing heroin? This is how!
[36:46] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: For me, when I when I heard it, it was crazy because he was, he was talking about being sober and how he was aware of the fact that if he used again he would die and that he couldn’t do that to his family. But by the time I heard it, he’d already relapsed.
[37:02] Aziz Ansari: Oh my God. I didn’t know that.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Yeah. And I remember texting him and being like, What the fuck man? Like, the only time in my life as a sibling to Harris that I can recall being legitimately full of anger. You know, where it was like nothing that you say will make me not angry right now because, you know, in my brain that is not addicted to something I’m like, like you said, there’s a 30 day program, you’re going in, you’re gonna get it taken care of. The end. It feels very. Here’s the problem. Here’s the solution.
[37:39] Aziz Ansari: Yeah. That’s what I thought. And clearly, a very naive view on what that addiction is. It’s a much bigger monster than I think any of us could ever understand. And it does not let up.
[37:56] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: I think about death a lot. I think about the day a person dies, how the morning is just a morning, a meal is just a meal, a song is just a song. It’s not the last morning, or the last meal, or the last song. It’s all very ordinary, and then it’s all very over. That space between life and death is, a moment.
[38:28] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: February 19, 2015 was an ordinary day. I took some photos of my baby flipping through a book called Lost Beauties of the English Language. I made coffee, drove to work, ate some lunch. I remember noting the beautiful day. I changed a diaper like I’d done a thousand times before. All the while, my little brother lay lifeless on a rug thousands of miles away, and I had no idea. Until I got the call that he’d died of a heroin overdose, I had no idea. In one moment he was alive, and in the next, he wasn’t. The Greeks called it a peripeteia: a sudden reversal of fortune or change in circumstances. A point of no return. I wonder what led up to his point of no return. I wonder about the first thing he thought when he opened his eyes that morning. I wonder what he ate for breakfast, and lunch, and dinner. I hope one of them was Chili’s nachos. Because he really loved Chili’s nachos. Or, or the chocolatey bottom of a Drumstick. Loved those too. I wonder what jokes were brewing inside of his head. There were always jokes brewing inside of his head. I wonder if he watched any adorable videos of his niece and which ones. I wonder what plans he made for later that day and tomorrow. I wonder what he thought about before he did that thing that changed all of us forever.
[40:29] Harris Wittels: Hey it’s Harris, calling from heaven. Uh, it’s pretty great up here. Uh, it’s beautiful for starters. Uh, Hitler’s up here, however, for the vegetarianism thing so, calling bullshit on that. But, other than that it’s pretty great. It is very cloudy. You sit on them, so that’s cool. Oh, gotta go, ice cream buffet.
[41:04] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: I can’t know what Harris was thinking that day. I’ll never know what Harris was thinking that day. But on our next episode, we’ll try to unearth what someone WAS thinking the day they overdosed. We’ll walk through the day they died, from start to the very end. That’s next time, on Last Day.
[41:34] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Last Day is a production of Lemonada Media. It’s produced by Justine Daum. Kat Aaron is our consulting producer. Jessica Cordova Kramer is our Executive Producer. Mix and sound design was done by Joe Plourde. Kegan Zema is our editor. Our music is by Hannis Brown. And I’m Stephanie Wittels Wachs. See you next week.