Justin Halpern had been struggling for years as a writer in Hollywood when a break-up and a dwindling bank account forced him to move back in with his parents. His father's hilariously profane bon mots inspired him to start a Twitter account dedicated to Halpern Sr.'s one-liners and sarcastic observations. The feed went viral, leading to a New York Times #1 bestseller (Sh*t My Dad Says), a short-lived TV show (starring William Shatner as Halpern Sr.), and this equally endearing follow-up. I Suck At Girls chronicles Halpern's rocky road to love, and—like its predecessor—is filled with barbs from his irascible father, as well as an undercurrent of sweetness.
How has Sh*t My Dad Says changed your life?
Oh, man. I honestly can't think of one thing in my life it hasn't changed. I had been struggling in Hollywood for almost seven years, and in two months I had the beginnings of a career. If I went out and tried to pitch a memoir about my father, publishers would read that cover letter and hurl it towards the garbage like Zeus tossing a thunderbolt at Earth. But because of Sh*t My Dad Says, I had a platform, and it got my writing in front of people. The TV show—although it was totally crappy—was an amazing experience and allowed me to meet a ton of people and pitch other projects I was working on. Also, everyone is way better at pretending they like you when you've made them money.
At what point did you realize your love life lent itself to an examination like this?
Before I proposed to my wife, my dad suggested I spend a day and think about all my relationships with women—as a way to make the best educated guess. I realized that I had been terrible with women, but that it seemed like that's something a lot of people go through. It also lent itself nicely to a chronological structure arranged around one central theme, which I feel is a good way to organize a memoir.
What romantic advice will you give your son?
I think love is a series of horrific losses. Hopefully, at the very end, you get one win. I would tell him to feel the losses, but know that they have to be there.
What's the best advice your dad ever gave you?
The thing that always sticks with me is this very nihilistic thing he always says to me that I find comforting. He always tells me, "In 5 billion years, the sun will burn out and nothing you ever did, no matter how profound it was, will matter. So do what you want." I don't totally agree with it, but it's a kind of security blanket I take with me.
You've already sold the rights to I Suck at Girls. Will you do anything differently with this TV adaptation?
There aren't a whole lot of setup/punch-line type "jokes" in these books. They're situational and character based, and life isn't a series of perfectly timed witticisms. This time, I would want to do it in a format that allowed it to feel as realistic as the source material. The Sh*t My Dad Says TV show was an old-school sitcom shot in front of a live studio audience. There are rules to it that did not fit with my father's style of comedy; he's rarely intending to be funny, and when he is, it's usually not.
How has your father reacted to the books?
His world is very small. He never leaves a one-mile radius of our home, so it didn't really feel like a big thing to him. Then when it landed at #1 on the New York Times list, he flipped out. He had this weird mix of pride and disbelief that I was capable of being even tangentially involved with something that successful, and then that morphed into, "What does that say about our country?" He really was all over the place. With this book, I remember him telling me, "You better make it better than the last one. People will wait to shit on it." Then he read it and gave it his highest praise, which was, "This will be difficult to shit on. They'll find a way, but it will be hard."