#1 Sh*t My Dad Says
By Justin Halpern
The story behind this New York Times best-selling plotless, formless, uncrafted 90-page pamphlet is the kind of thing that could give hope to an entire San Fernando Valley of couch-dwelling stoners. In August of 2009 the pamphlet’s chief marketer, Justin Halpern, was unemployed and living at home when he opened a Twitter account called “Shit My Dad Says” and started posting the off-color remarks made all day by his retired father. It happened to catch on, and by September Halpern had offers from publishers. In June it was #1 on the Times bestseller list. Simultaneously, it got made into a TV series starring William Shatner.
In the span of barely a year, Justin Halpern went from being just another lazy twenty-something to being a famous, successful, independently wealthy lazy twenty-something, and he did it in the only way that matters to today’s twenty-somethings: without trying hard at anything. He’s a living, breathing refutation of every teacher’s insistence that hard work and talent are the only paths to success. Want the lifestyle you’ve always dreamed about? Belt your girlfriend across the face, hard, in front of a camera somewhere on the Jersey shore. Swallow black market fertility drugs by the fistful so you can give birth to eight, ten, even a full litter of fifteen babies on camera. Or sit back and record your dad’s preening, profanity-packed pearls of wisdom and make a pamphlet out of them.
Those pearls of wisdom aren’t particularly wise, and frequently (far more often than Halpern realizes, I’m guessing) they’re the exact opposite of funny. During one 4-page episode (no point at all in calling them “chapters”), Halpern’s dad sets his brother Evan up on a blind date. Halpern is confused that his brother doesn’t object, and we get his very disturbing answer set to a laugh-track:
I was shocked that Evan didn’t ask our dad more about her, but that’s not his style. Later, when I questioned his reticence, he explained, “I sort of do what Dad says. You get mouthy with him, and then he yells at you. I always figured if you could stay the kid he yelled at, I wouldn’t be that kid.”
Sounds all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it? Move around a couple of words, and you’ve got an excerpt from Hitler’s Table Talk. And if that point isn’t clear enough before the blind date, there’s always dear old dad’s reaction afterward to ponder:
“She’s out of my league! It was humiliating!”
My dad looked down at the floor and mumbled quietly to himself “out of your league?” over and over, like he was Indiana Jones trying to figure out if what a weird tribal person had told him right before he died was a clue. Then he exploded.
“That is complete fucking bullshit!” he screamed.
The pamphlet has about a dozen episodes interspersed by blocks of the dad’s prized one-liners. On Puberty: “How do I know you’re going through it? Oh I don’t know, maybe it’s the three hundred dick hairs you suddenly leave all over the toilet seat that clued me in.” On Furnishing One’s Home: “Pick your furniture like you pick a wife; it should make you feel comfortable and look nice, but not so nice that if someone walks past it they want to steal it.” On Living on a Budget: “You make dog shit, so don’t spend any money.” It goes on like that. 90 pages starts to feel long.
I’ll bet you money – solid cash on the table top – that prior to 2009, Halpern thought many times, “You know, I really ought to get off my ass and write a book about my dad and the crazy stuff he says.” But writing an old-timey book requires drafting and plotting and revising and typing, and Two and a Half Men is on in only 45 minutes … It’s lucky for Halpern Twitter came along (and that it’s free to join).
Not so lucky for the rest of us, who now have to deal with the inevitable ratings success of the Shatner sitcom, who have to deal with the spin-off “Sh*t My Dad Says” greeting cards and T-shirts and coffee mugs, and with the endless sequels and the 20th-anniversary edition of “The Book That Started It All!” Not so lucky for the world, which will now be inundated with “Twitterature” transcribed by lazy morons looking to exploit something all the way to the bank.
“Son,” dear old dad asks Halpern at one point, “do I look like the type with a master fucking plan?” Hell no – who needs those anymore?
Tuc MacFarland currently lives north of Seattle and writes regularly for Open Letters.