Shit My Dad Says leaps from Twitter to TV

L.A. writer Justin Halpern has parlayed the experience of living with his 74-year-old dad into a Twitter feed that became a book and soon could be a television series starring Canadian actor William Shatner.
Canadian actor William Shatner, shown in Cannes, has been picked to play Sam Halpern. ((Lionel Cironneau/Associated Press))
Los Angeles-based writer Justin Halpern was 28 when he had to move back home with his father after breaking up with a girlfriend.

He has parlayed the experience of living with his 74-year-old dad into a Twitter feed called Shit My Dad Says, which led to a book and soon could be a television series starring Canadian actor William Shatner.

Halpern's father is a one-of-a-kind character — a straight-talking guy from Kentucky, who pads his pearls of wisdom with expletives. In an interview with CBC Radio's  Q cultural affairs show, Halpern said his dad is part of a great Southern tradition of story-telling.

"He always had this way of speaking that's almost poetic except for the incredibly profane language he uses," he said in an interview Friday.

Halpern, a writer for Maxim and other publications, first started putting his father's daily nuggets on Twitter under the title, Shit My Dad Says. It became an unlikely viral hit.

The book version of Sh*t My Dad Says comes out Friday. ((HarperCollins))
"One morning I woke up and I had 500 people following me. I thought it was a glitch in Twitter or a spam or something like that. And the next day it was 1,000 and then it was 10,000 the day after that," Halpern recalled.

That number grew and the agents started calling, leading to a book deal.

On Twitter, Halpern edited his dad's quotes to fit inside a 140-character limit, including sayings such as: "A parent's only as good as their dumbest kid. If one wins a Nobel Prize but the other gets robbed by a hooker, you failed."

There's a rough justice to Sam Halpern's utterances that seem to appeal in the age of political correctness.

"He tries to have these father-son moments but he's not that kind of guy … He comes up to me and puts his hand on my shoulder, I'm kind of slumped on the couch and he goes, 'You know sometimes life leaves a $100 bill on your dresser and you don't realize until later it's because it f---ed you," Justin Halpern said, recalling one of his father's attempts to cheer him up over his breakup.

"At the time it wasn't one of my favourite things to hear, but it's definitely one of my all-time favourite things he said."

The father-son talk

For the book, he's expanded on the story of his childhood with his father, including the anecdote about an uncomfortable father-son talk on the facts of life in a crowded restaurant.

"We're in this Denny's and he's giving me this essentially unwanted sex talk and there's this group of college kids watching it like it's a show and I'm just crawling out of my skin and the waitress is coming over and he's not breaking for the waitress," Halpern recalls.

Halpern is quick to say how much he loves his dad and admires his approach to life. He admits his father, an intensely private man, probably doesn't know the extent of his own popularity as he seldom uses the internet. 

Sam Halpern's wisdom could get an even wider audience if a TV series proposed by CBS goes ahead.

Justin Halpern and his dad in an undated photo. ((Justin Halpern))
Halpern teamed up with Will & Grace creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan to adapt the story for TV. He said it was critical to get the right person to play his Dad and they were fortunate to land Shatner for the part.

"He was amazing," Halpern said. "The thing with Bill Shatner is he brings something unique to everything he does. He's not the obvious choice for anything, but he always brings something special to it.

"He's very much like my dad — though he's less profane — in the sense that he says what he wants to say when he wants to say it and people listen to him."

The TV series, which trims the profanity of the Twitter feed, has yet to be approved by the network.

But Halpern has a built-in audience — the 1.3 million people who follow him daily on Twitter.

The book, titled Sh*t My Dad Says, is to be released Friday.