“Did you hear about Harris?”
A longtime fan of comedian Harris Wittels sits in the middle of a conference room at the Pearland Library on Monday night and recalls when he first heard about Wittels’ 2015 death. He says that he immediately texted his friend and deleted Facebook from his phone to avoid any unwelcome online discussions. “It was like I knew him.”
Wittels worked as a comedian, actor, writer, and producer—well-known for his work on The Sarah Silverman Program, Parks and Recreation, and his book, Humblebrag. “Comics don’t want you to see their B-material, let alone their D-material,” the fan said to Stephanie Wittels Wachs. “Your brother just showed a lot of himself.”
Wittels Wachs brilliantly bares all in Everything is Horrible and Wonderful, her incredibly smart, witty, and heartbreaking memoir about the life and loss of Harris, her younger brother, to a heroin overdose (Houstonia first covered the book as part of our February issue).
On Monday, she told the crowd that the gritty, gut-wrenching work is just how the sausage gets made, not unlike how her brother shared so much in his career with those willing to listen to him. “I think I mentioned it all. Yup, there was no stone unturned. Truly, I had no filter while I was writing the book.”
For this evening, Wittels Wachs joined forces with Hoopla Digital, the Brazoria County Library System, and the Bay Area Council on Drugs and Alcohol to present a program not only about her book, but about the struggles of addiction and the multitude of losses that come with the disease. “He was, and still is, and will always be my favorite human being that ever lived, or died,” Wachs said of her brother. “He was really flawed, like we all are flawed, and it was a book that talked about his flaws after he was gone.”
The warts-and-all approach tied into the evening's message, too. "We know from research that for people either going into recovery, or are thinking about going into recovery, personal stories and sharing is so important," a representative from BACODA said. "So, thank you for putting your life out there."
Still, that didn't mean Wachs didn't have her reservations. “I always felt scared about dishonoring him, 'cause that was the last thing I would ever want to do. But, when I hear from people, and they’re like you helped me, then that feels like...it’s okay to make him look bad,” she said, half-sighing, half-laughing after answering a question captured online.
In the book, she writes as if speaking directly to her brother while knowing that, in reality, she was documenting memories before her mind betrayed her and discarded precious details. She expressed that everything found in the pages of her debut publication “was happening."
“Writing it down was how I felt like I could breathe,” she said.
She also spoke about how encouraged and inspired she felt, after losing her brother, to truly “live.” In 2016, Wachs left her day job and co-founded Rec Room Arts, a non-profit organization committed to developing new works of theater for new audiences, located in downtown Houston.
The touching banter ended on a familiar tone when the fan in the audience continued: “You two write similar. In everything that he wrote, he would almost joke, but there was still something there.”
Wachs replied with, “About me putting it out there—Harris did that more.”
It was one of many notes on process—how "the sausage gets made"—she made before calling it a night.
“I think that’s probably the place to end," she joked in conclusion. "Talking about sausage.”