For Justin Halpern, going home was his lucky break. A year ago, Halpern was a 28-year-old writer who after splitting up with his girlfriend swallowed his pride and moved back in with Mom and Dad. Now he has more than 1.3 million followers on Twitter, a best-selling book and a TV series in the works with CBS, all thanks to his now 74-year-old hilariously blunt dad. It all started with this tweet on Aug. 3, 2009: "I didn't live to be 73-years-old so I could eat kale. Don't fix me your breakfast and pretend you're fixing mine." Halpern took his ridiculously popular Twitter feed and turned it into a book by the same name, which debuted at No. 8 on the New York Times best-seller list. Halpern, author of the crudely titled Sh*t My Dad Says, spoke to TIME about William Shatner playing his father on TV, his whirlwind year and, of course, dear old Dad.
This has all happened so fast.
It's happened lightning quick to go from putting up things online just to show my friends to finding out that our show is being picked up by CBS. I'm not sure when it is going to be on, but it will definitely be on, which makes me probably the luckiest person in the world. I don't know when this is all going to settle in, when I'm going to be able to digest it.
What does your dad think of the TV show?
He's excited. He didn't fully get the scope until he came to the pilot taping and I had to talk him into coming to that. At first he was like, "Ah, I don't know." And I was like, "What do you mean you don't know?! This is a big moment for me in my life! It would be great if you could come." And so he said, "Wellll, maybe I can come late and stand in the back." [Laughs.] He really is incredibly supportive. It's just that it's not in the classical sense.
Did he give you a hard time when you moved back home?
I thought he was going to be really against it. I came in with a preamble prepared, and he just shut me down halfway through and was like, "You can move in, just pick up your s___ so you don't leave your bedroom looking like it was used for a gang bang."
And a few months later, your friends encouraged you to start a Twitter feed, which soon blew up.
Yeah, my friend who runs the fake Michael Bay Twitter page prompted me to do it. The first week I had zero followers, just a couple of friends who I would send it to, and they looked at it because they know my dad. Then my friend with the Michael Bay page asked if he could post a link to my site on his page. I said sure, but I really didn't think anyone was going to think it was funny. By the next day, I had about 500 followers. Then Rob Corddry [comedian, formerly of The Daily Show] saw it and tweeted it. That really made it viral. He jump-started it.
For the book, how did you remember everything? Some of the quotes are from when you were very young.
Most of the quotes in the first chapters are ones that I don't remember. They're from my brothers, cousins and my parents telling me what he said. There's one about potty training in there that I have no recollection of, but it's one of my favorites. They recalled it for me. My dad was like, "You're 4 years old now. You have to s___ in a toilet. This is not going to be a negotiation where we go back and forth and find a middle ground. This ends with you s______ in a toilet."
I'm not so sure most 4-year-olds could handle that. You must have had a thick skin.
I almost feel like I'm unoffendable now. I can roll with whatever.
What can you tell me about the TV show?
My writing partner and I are going to be co-executive producers with Max Mutchnik and David Kohan, the guys who created Will & Grace. I think it will have the same aggressive honesty as the Twitter page. And my dad and the character are going to be very, very similar. We tried to keep what people love.
And William Shatner is playing your dad?
Yeah, he is. Pretty amazing, right? I'm a lucky dude. He's fantastic. He's a really skilled comedic actor, and we're lucky to have him. He was our first choice how often do you get to work with your first choice?
How does your dad feel about Shatner playing him?
It's funny, they met each other at the taping of the pilot. It was pretty awesome because Mr. Shatner is a lot like my dad. Mr. Shatner walks up and he's like, "Hello, sir," and my dad says, "Hello, sir," and they take a picture together. Then they turn around in opposite directions and walk away. [Laughs.] It was pretty great.
Do you think your dad will watch the show?
I think my mom will make him. And I think he'll want to. It's weird because he's the least narcissistic person I've ever met. So I don't think he's like, "Yay! A show about me! I get to watch it!" I think he's more like, "I don't give a s___ that this show is about me," but I think he'll watch it to support me.
Has this whole process changed anything about your relationship with your dad?
If anything, I think we're even closer than we were. Sitting down and going over every chapter with him and taking him out to lunch afterward yeah, it helped bring us closer.