The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Harris Wittels keeps them laughing

Moving to Los Angeles with the hope of achieving success in the entertainment business is a dream that many have but not many fulfill.’ In fact, the many who travel to Los Angeles from out of state looking for opportunity will most likely encounter more parking tickets than job offers now that unemployment has reached double digits.’ ‘ ‘

Harris Wittels was one of those out-of-state dreamers who moved to Los Angeles with the hope of becoming a full-time comedian after he graduated from Emerson, a liberal arts college in Boston, in May 2006.’

After only a year’s time and maybe a few parking tickets, 22 year-old Wittels made his dreams a reality when he landed a staff writing position on Comedy Central’s ‘The Sarah Silverman Program”mdash;an opportunity that has bolstered his credibility to tackle even bigger projects.’ ‘

‘My love life is (expletive), but in terms of comedy everything worked out too easy for me.’ I only had to eat shit for a year being a nanny until I got the Sarah Silverman gig,’ said Wittels.

The working relationship between Wittels and Silverman began at the Largo in Los Angeles, where they performed on the same night.’ She congratulated Wittels after the show and the two shared some laughs.’ After that night he didn’t hear from her until two months later.

‘She sent me an email regarding an opening on her writing staff.’ I freaked out, but a ton of people go in for TV shows and I didn’t think my chances were great,’ said Wittels.

‘I gave them a script that was written in college along with a bunch of sketches that I wrote.’ She was interested and we met at Caf’eacute; 101 with Sarah and all of her producers.’ I was so nervous that I sat in my car for an hour before we were suppose to meet,’ said Wittels.

Following their meeting a lawyer from Comedy Central called him up asking for his address to fill in for some paper work.’

Wittels was confused to what paper work he was referring to, because he was never officially told that he got the job.

Since then, Wittels has performed stand-up on national TV debuting on Jimmy Kimmel Live as well as sharing the stage with stand-up favorites such as Louis CK and Todd Glass.

He received the Writers’ Guild of America Award nomination for ‘Best New Series’ for the work he did on ‘The Sarah Silverman Program,’ and he’s written for MTV’s sketch show, ‘Human Giant,’ as well as both the MTV Video Music Awards and the MTV Movie Awards.’

When he had time off from working with Silverman, he wrote a pilot that was recently picked up by Comedy Central titled ‘Secret Girlfriend.’

Totaling these many successes can make the life of Harris Wittels appear unaffected by economic woes that many Americans are facing today.

However, the entertainment industry is not far away from where the banking industry stands, considering the dire need for financial stability.

‘The economy now makes it hard to get money for a TV show. Advertisers are more careful because of things like TIVO and DVR,’ says Wittels.’ ‘

‘The Sarah Silverman Program’ was totaling a budget that Comedy Central could no longer afford.’ According to the Hollywood Reporter, each episode from last season was totaling 1.1 billion, a budget that Comedy Central tried to negotiate lower.

‘It’s an expensive show to make, and they asked Sarah to get the show’s cost down which included changing the location and other budget cuts.’ It was becoming a show that Sarah and the producers didn’t want to make anymore,’ said Wittels.

The show was rescued by a strong gay and lesbian following which triggered a bailout from another network.’ Comedy Central reached a deal with its gay and lesbian focused sister network Logo to co-finance a 10-episode third season under the condition that it could show reruns.
Prior to the bailout from Logo, Wittels and other union writers were up against an emerging media platform that allowed viewers to watch programs for free online with the support of paid advertisements.

Writers initiated a strike in response to their loss in online royalties, which they felt they deserved.’ During this time, Wittels had a few options to maintain his income, which included joining the strike that would pay each picketer a small wage, becoming a scab (writing under-the-table), or to do stand-up with headliner comedians he knew well.

‘After picketing for a little bit, I hit the road with Louis CK and Todd Glass.’ I was able to live off of the money that I had saved from the Silverman show and whatever I made from the road,’ said Wittels.

Although sketch comedy was his first love, he enjoys stand-up comedy and the freedom it allows through conversing with an audience directly, opposed to sketch comedy where the audience becomes a third party and characters help tell the story.

Stand up also gives Wittels a break from what he does during the week with the six other writers for Silverman’s show.’ He is the youngest writer out of the group which is comprised of writers over the age of thirty-five; however, he insists that they all share the same immature humor despite the age gap.

‘The most difficult thing writing with the group at first was me being terrified of saying an idea that didn’t go over well. Reactions would either include no laughs, or Sarah would say ‘well I like you as a person,” said Wittels.

Aside from the successes, the dark side of comedy for Harris is the struggle to write jokes when happiness seems to be a distant feeling.’
Although many comics have generated a lot of good material from being bitter or angry, Harris doesn’t feel that he can write his best when life has become an overbearing nightmare.

He explained how it is much easier for a musician to write a good song when they’re sad verses a comic to write a good joke when they’re sad.’

Much of the sadness can come from the failure to deliver solid stand-up performance in the midst of intense pressure.

‘Your big first TV appearance, you want to feel like you hit it out of the park, but I ended up walking away from the ‘Jimmy Kimmel show’ feeling horrible.’ The Kimmel crowd is an in-studio audience comprised of a bunch of Hollywood tourist.’ I hadn’t been on the road and I just think that I may have done the show too early,’ said Wittels.

After failing on a big TV show Harris quit comedy for a good two or three weeks until he could no longer resist what gave him purpose.

‘I wish my parents weren’t so supportive of my comedy career, because those are always the success stories–like the clarinet player whose parents won’t let them play,’ said Wittels.’ ‘And they have to sneak out to jazz clubs at two in the morning just to get there fix.’ Those people end up being the best.’ However my parents were very supportive, and they love the show.” ‘ ‘

According to Harris, ‘having success in comedy is best when everything is done yourself and being relentless about pursuing the craft.’ People aren’t going to higher someone that’s just funny, they want to see a funny piece of work.’

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