or: How Shit my Dad Says Happens
An online definition of Shit My Dad Says states, "In 2009, Justin Halpern, an aspiring comedy writer, was dumped by his girlfriend and moved back in with his parents. He began using Twitter as a way of keeping track of the brutally funny, off-color things his father said around the house."
The popularity of Halpern's Twitter feed spread quickly. Soon, he had hundreds of thousands of followers. Today, almost two million people follow this feed to hear the shit Sam Halpern says. But this hardly tells the whole story.
The popularity of Halpern's Twitter feed brought in bigger offers, and helped him to land a book deal in September of 2009. Released in October to universally warm reviews, it quickly became a bestseller. But it still doesn’t stop there.
In November, Halpern signed a deal with Warner Brothers. Halpern and his writing partner, Patrick Schumacker, were paired with the creators of "Will & Grace" to write a pilot episode (“Bleep My Dad Says,” when spoken in polite company). Picked up by CBS, it stars none other than William Shatner. (Shatner!) It's part of the current Fall Line-up, and you can see it now airing on Thursday nights, prime time on CBS.
To say Justin Halpern has made the most of moving back in with his folks is a bit of an understatement.
No longer living at home these days, we were able to recently reach Justin for a few quick questions about his success.
When you chose Twitter, did you trim your dad's statements to fit the medium? Do you ever paraphrase him, or are his quotes always literal?
Sometimes I'll tweak a word here or there to get it to fit in to the 140. Other times I'll take the first sentence and the last sentence of a paragraph's worth of stuff and put them together to make the thought more concise, but honestly, it's basically just exactly what he says. I wish I could say I had more to do with it.
How long after you started posting did you start getting any feedback?
I would say about three weeks, after Rob Corddry tweeted it. Then it sort of went viral.
What made your Twitter stream so different?
Well, I wasn't giving updates about what I was doing, because I know I'm not interesting. And I wasn't linking to anything, or trying to sell anyone anything. It was just simply a voyeuristic look into my life with my dad.
When I found your twitter feed, I referred to it as the best use of Twitter I had seen. Do you think that it would have been as effective in any other medium? How responsible is the vehicle for the spread of your work here?
Oh, I think the vehicle was unbelievably vital to the success of this. Could it have existed somewhere else on the web? Maybe. Would it have achieved the same success? Probably not. Can I ask myself more questions and then answer them in a paragraph? Yes, but I won't.
It's been widely reported that Rob Couddry's interest is what catapulted the Twitter popularity. Can you talk a little bit about what happened?
Well, I actually ran in to Rob months after he had sent my site viral, and I asked him how he found it and he couldn’t remember. He was the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet, especially since I was just this spaz coming up to him in a best buy being like "Hey, I'm the shit my dad says kid!" I would have punched myself in the face if I were him, but he sat there and had a fifteen minute conversation with me. Basically he said he saw it, thought it was hilarious, and just tweeted it and then everyone started retweeting and that’s what did it. Essentially, I owe Rob Corddry shitpiles of money.
Reports of your work status (at the time you began in 2009) vary pretty widely on the web. Were you still writing for Maxim.com at the time? How much time did the feed take?
I was still working at Maxim.com at the time, yes. The feed took up eleven seconds of my day. The time it takes to hear my dad say something, then type 140 characters on a computer.
How did you view the extra attention being paid to the feed? Did you feel any obligation in what you posted, or how regularly? Do you now?
I don't really feel an obligation. I post less now because I see my dad less. It's funny, the feed is the same now as it always was, but when stuff gets popular, people are like ""e sold out,” but the funny thing to me is that I'm just writing down what my father says and he doesn't care, just like he didn't care a year ago.
What was the first request received that made you realize there might be something really special here?
An agent Direct messaged me and said "there might be a book here." That blew my mind.
How does your dad seem to like William Shatner playing a character based on him?
He seems to enjoy it. He and Mr. Shatner don't really care to have anything to do with one another, but he really seems to enjoy Mr. Shatner's performance.
You've found success in writing for a mainstream website, a microblog, on a regular blog, in a book, and on a television show. Is time to revisit screenwriting now, or what future plans are you developing?
I plan to write another book in the next two years, and although I'm focused entirely on the show right now, I had been developing a show with Comedy Central before all this happens and I liked the idea and someday I’d like to go back and revisit it. But not as long as this show is on the air.
When success in one medium happens, it is rare to have an ability to leverage it across a variety of mediums and not diminish the quality while crossing them. To what do you attribute the ability of your work to move across media channels and find a welcomed place in all of them?
Well, before the project went in to a different medium, I tried to think of a)why should it even be in this medium, and b)If it should, how will it need to change. With the book, I had stories I wanted to tell, and thought I could give people a more thorough detailing of who my dad is, but at the same time, do it in a way that was concise so that it wasn’t this monumental leap from 140 character sayings to this dense book. As my dad says, "You’re not Hemingway. Just write something fun." I felt as though with the book, I had given the raw, uncensored version of my relationship with my dad, and that if this transferred to television, any attempt at trying to accurately depict that would seem really strange to me. So instead, we looked at TV as a chance to use the tone of my father, but in a way that would speak to more people. The book sold well, but if a show got the books numbers, an executive would put a gun to his head and end his life. Therefore we tried to appeal to a greater number of people by easing them in to a character and a relationship that had a similar tone, but was relatable.
It has been a fast ride, and it certainly is creating great opportunities for you. How have you balanced taking full advantage of the possibilities being offered, and yet not jumping into too much, too soon?
To be honest, I have no idea. I haven’t really had time to sit back and think about that.
You've done phenomenally well with something that didn't start as anything pre-calculated. Yet, at the same time, you had projects where you were definitely investing more time and care into developing something that weren't finding the same levels of success. How does this experience now affect your approach as an artist, or does it?
Well, the one thing I think I've learned is that you have to keep doing stuff you think is funny, or interesting, and hopefully it sticks.
Do you have a favorite quote from your dad?
Yes. One time he came home from the dog park with our dog and he steps inside the house, and takes a deep breath and goes "Well, we're banned from the dog park. I guess it’s okay to bark, and it's okay to hump, but doing both at the same time freaks people out." I think I'm the only one who likes that one, but the image of my dog humping and barking other dogs and my dad being told he was banned made me laugh harder than anything.
Thanks for your time, Justin – and here’s to your continued success!
You can See Bleep My Dad Says airing Thursdays on CBS at 8:30/7:30c. Justin's bestselling book is on Amazon, and is called Sh*t My Dad Says. And of course, you can join the millions of readers that regularly follow him on Twitter.
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