Justin Halpern, creator of the hit Twitter page Sh-- My Dad Says, is one lucky man. He's the guy behind an Internet phenomenon, he has a No. 1 book, and CBS is producing a sitcom based loosely on his life. And he owes it to his cantankerous father, Sam Halpern, a Northern Kentucky farmer's son-turned-San Diego doctor.
Justin Halpern, 29, began his successful journey last year in an unlikely place: his parents' home, after he moved back in when he broke up with his girlfriend.
While working from his parents' home, writing part-time for Maxim magazine, Halpern began sharing his 74-year-old father's witty, often vulgar comments with his buddies online. Eventually, under the advice of a friend, Halpern started posting those same comments on a Twitter page.
Halpern said he owes his friend "a few dinners for the advice." Maybe more than a few.
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Since Halpern started the Twitter feed last August, it has picked up more than 1.4 million followers.
By September, Halpern had picked up a book deal with HarperCollins. That book, out last month and called Sh*t My Dad Says (It Books, $15.99), is now No. 1 on The New York Times' hardcover non-fiction best-seller list. If that weren't enough, a television sitcom adaptation, a little less explicitly called $#*! My Dad Says and starring part-time Kentucky resident William Shatner as the father, is scheduled to debut on CBS in the fall.
Even the most PG of Sam Halpern's quotations help explain the dry humor that has created the buzz.
On Justin getting married: "Pressure? Get married when you want. Your wedding's just one more day in my life I can't wear sweat pants."
On the longevity of the human race: "No. Humans will die out. We're weak. Dinosaurs survived on rotten flesh. You got diarrhea last week from a Wendy's."
On being a proud parent: "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."
On tailgating in traffic: "You sure do like to tailgate people. ... Right, because it's real important you show up to the nothing you have to do on time."
Halpern credits his father's humor, the catalyst of his recent success, to his father's experiences growing up in Kentucky.
"He loves (Kentucky) so much, and it shaped who he became," he says. "Older Southern guys have a way of telling stories. It's poetic and profane — a really interesting way of weaving a yarn and getting your point across."
The son of a sharecropper from Burlington, in Boone County, Sam Halpern grew up on a tobacco farm and learned the meaning of hard work at a young age.
"When he was 10, he was on top of a wagon filled with tobacco leaves," Halpern said. "He fell over the wagon, and the wagon rolled over his right arm. My grandfather and aunt rushed him to the nearest doctor, who said, 'We're going to have to amputate your son's arm.'
"Apparently my grandpa just said, 'Let him die. There's no room in this world for a one-armed farmer.' That's how it was back then. My grandpa assumed my dad was going to be a farmer all his life, he needed to work the farm and you couldn't work a farm if you had one arm."
His dad kept the "mangled" arm, as Halpern describes it, but he didn't remain a farmer. He went on to become a doctor.
Sam Halpern graduated from the University of Kentucky and earned his medical degree from the University of Louisville.
Despite attending the rival schools, Justin Halpern said, his father "really loves Lexington and the Wildcats" and "doesn't even like the Cards."
"He had no reason to like the Cards," Halpern said. "I mean, he roomed with all the (UK) basketball players, ... and he never missed a home game."
Sam Halpern doesn't do interviews but said through his son, "Tell them I love Kentucky. I love it. But I don't do interviews. Sorry."
Justin Halpern happily reports that Sunday "is going to be an extra-special Father's Day" because of all his success. He hopes that next year he can take his dad to the Kentucky Derby and back to Lexington.