Harris Wittels and Armen Weitzman on Making Their Short Film Directorial Debut
A group friends going on a mushroom trip sounds like it would make for an uproarious comedy, but Harris Wittels and Armen Weitzman’s new short film The Badger’s Promise surprises with some pretty dark humor. Nonetheless, the pair’s directorial debut, which they recently put online and are entering into film festivals soon, is hilarious, and the writing partners hope to do more in the future.
The two both worked for The Sarah Silverman Program and have been busy since then. Wittels writes and produces for Parks and Recreation, but you might know him from his frequent appearances on Comedy Bang! Bang! or for playing the character “Harris,” one of the stoners in the animal control department on Parks. Meanwhile, Weitzman, who has appeared on Burning Love, Childrens Hospital, and Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous, will be on Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome’s upcoming Comedy Central show Another Period, a faux-reality series set in the Victorian era.
I talked to them about The Badger’s Promise, their TV shows, and getting nervous about name dropping famous people.
How are you guys?
Armen Weitzman: Great.
Harris Wittels: We’re doing fine. Are we on record now officially?
Yeah, it’s recording.
Wittels: Then we’re doing great all the time, and we’re always happy.
How did you two first meet and become writing partners?
Wittels: We met on OKCupid… I was in a sketch comedy group at Emerson called Fancy Pants and we needed a weirdo for a video and we asked Armen to do it. And he was sufficient, so we asked him to be in our troupe permanently. And then he left college early and would fly back just to do sketch shows and live in a hotel.
Weitzman: Yeah. It was very normal.
Wittels: And then I moved out to LA, and he was already living out here. We continued our relationship, and now it’s become the explosive…
Weitzman: …Lennon and McCartney of our time.
Harris: Yeah. We’re the Ringo and George Harrison of our time.
Who would be the Lennon and McCartney then?
Weitzman: I think Harris is John Lennon.
Wittels: We’re the Ringo and Harrison. I was going to say like Jonah and Channing.
Weitzman: Seth Rogen?
Wittels: Or like Key and Peele. [Laughs] Armen gets really nervous anytime, even if it’s not an insult, anytime he mentions a famous person he gets really nervous. I like to implicate him. Just saying the name like David Wain, that makes him nervous for some reason.
Weitzman: No, I love that guy. I love all the guys you just said.
Wittels: Me too. I’m not nervous.
Okay, I’ll try not to bring anyone up then.
Wittels: I love Splitsider.
Weitzman: No please do. Please bring up everybody.
Wittels: Put in all of this.
So what do you think clicked that you’ve been working together for so long?
Wittels: I think that we have a good partnership in that I think Armen has no filter and he’ll say like 20 weird things and three of them will be very brilliant. Some of them are just too weird, but I like to weed out the brilliance and put it into a script. And then I’ll add some jokes and stuff.
Weitzman: That’s very nice, Harris. Harris is also very talented and very strong.
Wittels: I’m very strong? Wow, thanks.
Weitzman: I mean strong talent-wise. Without him I would probably be in a gutter somewhere.
Wittels: I think we think each other are funny.
Weitzman: Yeah, and we both had like drama with girls so we related with that too.
Wittels: Yeah, one time, I left a note under this girl’s door in college that I was like upset that she was dating this other guy, and then I felt stupid that I left it. So Armen helped sneak into her room with me and take the letter back before she read it.
That’s a great story. So you then you worked together on The Sarah Silverman Program—
Wittels: Actually, he was on it before I was. He was cast as the guy that worked at the convenience store, and I happened to get hired as a writer later on. And then we started using Armen.
Weitzman: We pretended that we weren’t friends, so if he wrote something for me it wouldn’t be playing favoritism. Then they found out we were friends, and we were both punished.
Wittels: But now we write for Sarah still sometimes. We’re working on a show for JASH that she’s doing and we’re writing some stuff for it.
A web series?
Wittels: It might be a one-off. It’s unclear if there will be more. If it’s a resounding success, there might be more. If everyone can stop watching the fucking Bachelor or whatever the fuck. I watch The Bachelor, so I’ll admit that. I mean, it’s The Bachelorette now.
Weitzman: Don’t get nervous mentioning reality shows.
Wittels: I’m not.
Let’s talk about your new short film The Badger’s Promise. Where’d the idea come from?
Wittels: Well the truth is, we wanted to direct this feature film that we were making it. We had never directed anything, so it was suggested that maybe we make a sample to show people. We met one night and thought it would be funny to do a story about friends taking mushrooms and they think they see an alien and then they shoot it to protect the planet but it turns out to be a dog, which is a real buzzkill.
Weitzman: A lot of spoiler alerts.
Wittels: I imagine that they’ll have seen the video before. Oh no.
Weitzman: I saw a dog on mushrooms once and that was also a long time ago. We had discussed killing it because we thought it was some sort of thing. So that was partly inspired by that as well.
Wittels: Yeah. And then we cast all our friends. Paul [Rust] and Mitch [Mike Mitchell], some Birthday Boys, Mookie [Blaiklock], who went to Emerson with us, [Mike] Hanford. I think that’s it. So it was fun to get to direct. We had our craft services table and it was real cute.
Weitzman: We had a line producer and everything.
So you were already friends with or had you previously worked with the other guys in the cast?
Wittels: Yeah we didn’t do any casting. We should have done a casting couch, if you know what I’m saying. I’m just kidding. YesAllWomen.
Weitzman: Oh god.
Wittels: But we are friends with very funny people that do UCB stuff. We work together as much as we can. It’s fun to improvise with all those guys.
Was the film pretty strictly scripted or did you do a lot of improv?
Wittels: It was scripted, but it’s a conversational mushroom trip, so a lot of improv happens. When you’re tripping, you say weird stuff so we came up with a lot of stuff at the shoot.
And it shares a title with a live show you’ve done at UCB.
Wittels: Whenever we can’t come up with a name for something, we just call it “The Badger’s Promise,” so yeah.
It’s there a meaning behind it?
Weitzman: It’s a secret that will be revealed when we’re much more successful.
Wittels: We’re planning a murder-suicide next week and we’ll leave that in the note.
This probably isn’t being published until after next week…
Wittels: Okay, then we’ll wait.
Weitzman: Listen, there’s no rush to kill ourselves. It’s a beautiful world.
Wittels: We would like to trend on Twitter if we’re going to kill ourselves.
Alright. I have a question for Harris.
Wittels: Armen, earmuffs.
Are you still writing for Parks and Rec next season?
Wittels: I’m calling from Parks and Rec right now.
Oh cool. Will we see your character Harris get vengeful now that he’s lost his job?
Wittels: I offer a hundred bucks to any writer who pitches Harris and it gets in the show. So people do it on occasion. So you’ll probably hopefully see some Harris. It’s up to Mike [Schur], the showrunner, if he’ll put me in.
So you don’t ever really write for yourself?
Wittels: It’s kind of awkward to pitch yourself. I try not to do that. That’s why I offer money to other people.
Now a question for Armen: You were in the pilot for Comedy Central’s Another Period, which just got a series order. Can you tell us anything about that?
Weitzman: It’s very exciting. The costumes are very beautiful. Usually, costumes are regular clothes from the era we live in, so that’s the main draw I think that people will be drawn to.
Wittels: Splitsider exclusive!
Weitzman: Amazing costumes. Everyone looks nice, the girls and the boys.
What character do you play?
Weitzman: I play Garfield the butler, sort of the second-in-command of the butlers.
At one point you were working on a movie together about a music festival, is that still in the works?
Wittels: Yeah, you know, it’s a real drag, this film industry. It takes a long time to get something made. Hopefully, it’ll get made. Who knows at this point? We’re still sending it to people to see if they like it and will make it. We like it. I think our plan is to maybe make something else and then once we have some power we get to be like, “Hey, we have this passion piece.”
And the goal is to direct it?
Wittels: Yeah, the dream is to direct it. We both love Paul Thomas Anderson a lot, he’s a director.
Weitzman: Mention his name in the article.
Wittels: Also, Paul, if you’re reading this and want to direct it, we will meet with you for sure. We’re not guaranteeing it, but we would meet with you.
Weitzman: It’s got great producers, it’s got a great future.
Wittels: We worked on it with Scott Rudin. He’s been really awesome to us. So whenever we have ideas, we tell them to him. Hopefully, we’ll write a new thing soon.
Do you guys have any other projects coming up you want to talk about?
Wittels: We’re supposed to mention that The Badger’s Promise will be at the Nantucket Film Festival.
When is that?
Wittels: In a couple weeks, I think. Also we’re submitting to a bunch of other festivals and still waiting to see if it got in.
That’s really exciting.
Wittels: Well, we’ll see. Nothing is exciting anymore once you live in LA for a little bit.
Weitzman: It’s a good cop/bad cop relationship with hope that we have.
Wittels: The definition of cynical is that you can’t be surprised anymore. I think that I’m cynicial.
And Armen, you aren’t cynical yet?
Weitzman: I’m trying harder not to be. It definitely makes its way into my soul, but I’m trying.
Wittels: It’s hard to complain. We both are doing stuff.
Weitzman: We didn’t have a bad childhood or anything either.
Wittels: We’re doing all right. You always want to be doing more stuff.
Weitzman: I have to prove to my drama teacher in high school that I take care of stuff.
Emma Soren is a writer from Chicago living in Philadelphia.