Harris Wittels: The Parks and Rec Writer Gets to "Analyze Phish"
Harris Wittels is a man of many hats: television writer, comedian, published author and musician. He’s also a very vocal supporter of the rock band Phish. From his work on Parks and Recreation to his podcasts, Phish seems to infiltrate most aspects of his professional and personal life. Last year Harris attempted to convince his fellow comedian Scott Aukerman to like Phish. The podcast called “Analyze Phish” followed the story of one man’s extremely comical journey into Phish and ultimately to MSG for one night of the New Year’s run.
Harris was kind enough to take a break from his busy work schedule to talk about the development of “Analyze Phish,” the musical tastes of the_Parks and Rec_ staff, closeted Phish fans in Hollywood and the inability of his own band, Don’t Stop or We’ll Die, to make it into SXSW.
“Analyze Phish” can be streamed and downloaded here.
I was listening to Analyze Phish and you said you were from Houston, I grew up there, did you ever make it out to The Last Concert Cafe?
Yeah I was in a jamband called Pralines and Dicks and we played at Last Concert every Wednesday on the jamband night. I Loved Last Concert, I still have a live recording of our last show that we ever played and it was at Last Concert.
We were pretty not great in hindsight. We just really liked Phish and String Cheese, and we were like, “Let’s start a band.” We were just a very shitty knock off. We would even do the same covers as Phish, “Good Times Bad Times,” “2001…” [chuckles] We had 17 minute jams and we weren’t awful but when I listen back to it I am like, “There is nothing fresh about this.”
I want to start with the how you first came to our attention here in the office, “Harris’ Foam Corner” on Comedy Bang Bang. Then “Analyze Phish.” Can you talk about “Analyze Phish” for the readers who are not familiar?
Well the basic premise is I have a friend [Scott Aukerman] who used to write for Mr. Show and he makes those “Between Two Ferns” videos with Zach Galifianakis. I met him when i moved out to Los Angeles just doing comedy. And he hates the Phish as a lot of people who have not listened to them do. That’s just the first opinion you have on them without hearing them, is a negative one.
Yeah we all have that one friend who pushed Phish on us. Some come back and some never make it back to give it a listen.
Exactly. I had my friend’s older brother push it on me, and I was like, “This sounds weird but there is something I like about it secretly.” So back to Scott, I would do his podcast Comedy Bang Bang and he would always make fun of me that I would follow Phish around and go see them. And we just thought it would be a funny idea for a show to have me convince him to like the band Phish. I said we’ll give him as many episodes as he needs to like them and if he likes them we stop doing the podcast, because I thought, “I know there is a way in. Everyone has a way into Phish.”
So I started the podcast and I asked for a list of his favorite bands and so he said Rolling Stones and Talking Heads and I found some covers. I think I played “Loving Cup,” “Crosseyed and Painless” and then that didn’t really take with him. He was like “This is just like listening to shitty versions of the songs”. I was like, “Ignore the first three minutes and listen to the ‘Crosseyed’ jam.” He actually kind of liked the jams and could get into them . By episode three I played him a “Hood” jam and “Slave” jam and he said, “Yeah I like this.”
Yeah it seemed like progress. But there is only so much you can do just listening to Phish, as you know. You have to go to a show and that’s when you can get the full experience. So he agreed to go see a show on the New Year’s run last year. At MSG he saw the 29th.
I thought those earlier nights were a bit better.
Yeah I thought the whole run was good but it seemed like Phish by numbers. There were no jams that stuck out. They didn’t do anything all that crazy
Not like that Dick’s Sporting Goods run at the end of the summer.”
What sucks about that run is that I am always working at Parks the Friday before Labor Day. And so I always go to Dick’s the second two nights. Last year I missed the “S” set and this year I missed the “Fuck Your Face” set.
But the second two nights were amazing. That “Light” jam I still listen to.
Where were we? He came to the show with me. He’s not a drug user but he said, “I’ll take whatever you give me to like this music.” I should say I don’t always imbibe at shows.
He ultimately he said he likes them but doesn’t want to go to another show. So it wasn’t a black and white conclusion but we stopped doing the show after that. Where do you go from there?
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