Shit Justin Halpern says: The Twitter phenom dishes on his dad, his wife and his latest book
As it turns out, a good Twitter account doesn't necessarily make a good television show. Nonfiction funny man Justin Halpern learned that lesson the nationally televised way when real-life anecdotes from his hilariously crabby father translated poorly from social media into a cheesy, laugh-grabbing sitcom starring William Shatner. (Captain Kirk cannot save everyone.)
So this year, Halpern channeled his riotously funny introspection (and his father's blunt advice) into his own history -- and he's already sold the rights to Warner Brothers. With I Suck at Girls, Halpern's latest novel, the author explores the pros, cons and painful embarrassments of the romantic relationships he sacrificed on his way to the altar. Let's just say he's not a smooth operator.
Before Halpern brings the book to the LoDo Tattered Cover, 1628 16th Street, on Monday, May 21, Westword talked to him about poop, his family and which of his stories won't ever make it into a book:
Westword: What is the most surprising way your life has changed since Sh*t My Dad Says?
Justin Halpern: Everything has changed, so it's hard to pick just one. In a period of just a few years, my whole career is different than it was before then.... Basically, I've been allowed to live out my dream. I guess, for me, I'm always surprised that someone buys anything I've written. Just the fact that someone would put down $16 fascinates me, and that they choose to do so on something about my dad.
How did your follow-up, I Suck at Girls, start? Where did the idea stem from?
I didn't have an idea for a second book and didn't want to just throw something out there, so it took a while. I went to lunch with my dad and told him I was going to propose to my (then) girlfriend, and he suggested that I take stock of my life and my relationships, all the way back to the first one, and then sort of figure out if I still want to propose. After doing all that, I thought this might be a good way to organize a book. I have a lot of stories that seem to lend themselves to universal concepts, and there's no shortage of embarrassment.
The easiest part is finding something to laugh at. You make so many mistakes, or at least I did, that to fill the pages up with them is simple, if you can present them simply and easily. The hardest part is making sure that every story is different, because a lot of themes carry over.
Is there anything about your life that is off limits?
I don't personally keep anything out, but if I write something about someone else, I show it to them. And if they don't like it, I take it out. It happens a lot, and it happened this time. There has been stuff with my exes where they're like, "Hell no, please don't use that." And even with my wife now, there's stuff where she's like, "Meh, I'd rather you didn't include that part." I have a policy of not arguing about it at all. I just take it out. The most important thing in my life is my relationship with family and friends, so I wouldn't do anything to change that.
What does your dad say about your latest book?
I always have him read everything I write before I turn it into my editor, if it involves him, so he read the majority of the book before it even went to an editor. I think he was surprised that he liked it, and he told me that he thought the writing was a lot better than the first book. That's kind of how he gives compliments, in this backhanded way where you can never really be certain it's a compliment. But he liked it.
Has he enjoyed any degree of celebrity? Are there people who know who he is?
He really doesn't leave the neighborhood very often, so everyone already knew who he was before the book. Occasionally he'll go into a bookstore and someone will recognize him, and I think he actually gets a kick out of it. Because it doesn't happen very often, he enjoys it when it does. The other day he went into a bookstore and they saw the name on his card, so they asked him, "Are you related to Justin Halpern?" He was like, "Yeah, I'm the dad." So they asked him to sign a lot of books, and he signed "Dad" on like twenty books and left. Continue through for more from Halpern.
William Shatner briefly played Halpern's father on television.
Amazingly, you've already sold the TV rights for I Suck at Girls. How did that come about, and how will the show be different than the short-lived TV version of Sh*t My Dad Says?
I had written a book proposal first to try to sell the book to Harper Collins, and there are about twelve or thirteen essays in the book. I had written four for the proposal, and I had an idea about how it could work as a TV show, so my writing partner and I brought it up early on. We took it to Warner Brothers, where we had sold stuff before, and they read it and really liked it. I was definitely surprised and had no idea if they would take it.
Sh*t My Dad Says was a multi-camera sitcom and it didn't really fit the format of what I thought the Twitter feed and book were, which is the idea that my dad really doesn't know he's funny. In a sitcom, you actively create jokes, and you set up punchline after punchline. And it all feels kind of contrived, so it didn't really work. There was so much hype about the book at the time, and people didn't know if a Twitter feed could become a TV show. And so far, it can't. This will be a single-camera show with a lot more relaxed structure. There will be more scrutiny this time.
What are the best and worst pieces of relationship advice you've ever been given?
The worst is always when your guy friends will be like, "Girls are like this," and they generalize three billion people. Girls are not like anything. Every guy and every woman is unique because we're all individual. Anytime you start to stereotype a group, it's going to be terrible business. I think the dumbest thing I ever heard was when a friend told me, "Women like it when you're mean to them." No self-respecting woman likes that in any way. We all like it when people are nice to us, so why on earth would we actually want someone to be mean?
The best advice was from my dad, and it was sort of what I just said. He told me not to follow tricks or think of women as one group. He just told me you have to take it all on a case-by-case basis and understand everyone on their own merits. It works the best.
What is your wife's reaction to the book?
It's weird, as it would be for anyone, to read about your spouse dating other people, but she likes it. The funniest thing she said to me after reading the book was, "I'm so glad you got all that stuff out of your system so that when we met you were actually able to make a relationship work."
You've covered your dad and your relationships. Who else in your family is worth spotlighting?
My family is pretty private. My mom always asks me to leave her out of the books as much as I possibly can. She doesn't have a big presence in this book and didn't have one in the last one. They're all fine with things while my dad takes center stage because he doesn't care about it, but they're a little more shy and reserved. I think my mom's hilarious, but she would never allow that.
Probably my little nephew, who's almost four years old. He says the most ridiculous stuff, and he always cracks me up. I don't think his parents would allow it, either, but he's great. The other day he ran into the living room and just screamed, "I got poo-poo coming out of everywhere!" I was like, "Whoa. First of all, it should only be coming out of one place. And second, why are you in here?"
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter