Meet Justin Halpern. Or you may probably know him as the 'Shit My Dad Says' guy. In August 2009, he launched a Twitter feed chronicling the eccentric utterances of his 74-year-old father, Sam Haplin. A year later and he's on track to become a social networking millionaire with a bestselling book and a sitcom based on his @shitmydadsays Twitter feed.
And while you're at it, you may also want to say hello to Howard Davis-Carr. A couple of years ago he was idly filming his young children playing when Charlie, his youngest son, bit the finger of his older brother, Henry, causing him to cry out in pain. Three years and millions of YouTube views later, the family are still making money from their home video.
Or how about Esmee Denters, the pancake waitress from Holland who dreamed of pop stardom, so uploaded cover
songs shot on her webcam onto YouTube? Well, she’s now signed to Justin Timblerlake’s record label and playing to packed arenas.
Forget The X-Factor circus and hanging your hopes of a big break on Big Brother - the internet is churning out stars by the day. And guess what? You can become one too.
“I’m 29. I live with my 74-year-old father. He is awesome. I just write down shit that he says.” That’s Justin Halpern’s Twitter bio. Shit My Dad Says is now nothing short of a phenomenon. By sharing his father’s irascible take on life, Halpern has become the poster boy for web 2.0 success. He’s got 1.6 million followers refreshing their Twitter feeds in anticipation of his old man’s latest hilarious pearl of wisdom or filthy euphemism. That’s more than Ben Stiller or Russell Brand and just shy of Stephen Fry, making Halpern easily the most followed non-celebrity on Twitter.
Shit My Dad Says came about when, after years of toiling as a journalist and writer, Halpern decided it was time for a change. He moved from LA to San Diego to work for Maxim.com and also to move in with his long distance sweetheart. “I got there and we broke up almost immediately,” he recalls. “This left me with a dilemma. I had nowhere to live and the best option was to go to my parents.”
Justin rolled up at his father Sam Halpern’s house, preparing the arguments he was dreading to make. After he finished his spiel, Halpern Snr said, “Of course you can stay. All I ask is that you pick up your shit so you don’t leave your bedroom looking like it was used for a gang bang. Also, sorry that your girlfriend dumped you.”
Little did Halpern know this all-time low and the first of dozens of similarly hilarious paternal utterances would change his life.
“I found the things he was saying hilarious and I put them on Twitter so I could share it with my friends. After a few weeks there were hardly any followers. One of my friends used the feed as a follow Friday [the practice of suggesting feeds to your followers every Friday] and it was re-tweeted by the comedian Rob Corddry [Hot Tub Time Machine] and that’s what sent it viral.”
The exponential growth synonymous with internet sensations meant the feed soon had hundreds of thousands of followers. Before he knew it Halpern’s phone was red hot with literary agents wanting a piece of Shit My Dad Says.
The book, which is more of a warm tale of family adventures interspersed with quotations spanning Justin’s life has already sold around 450,000 copies at the time of writing. The Twitter star is now a bestselling author. Many of his new fans aren’t the least bit interested in Twitter, but they’re still repeating quotes such as, “Jesus Christ, one f*cking Snickers bar and you’re running around like your asshole is on fire,” to their literary-minded friends.
The initial book pitch soon made its way into the hands of the same Hollywood agents who’d turned their noses up at Justin’s TV pitches just months earlier – “Hollywood is full of perceptions,” he says. “If you have something that has been a success, suddenly that screenplay they didn’t buy is the funniest thing they’ve ever read.” A sitcom got the green light, albeit with a subtly altered title.
The William $#*!ner-starring $#*! My Dad Says, which Justin is now co-writing, combined with continuing sales of the book, will make Halpern rich. What’s his secret?
“I think that if you can find something genuine that’s also something you find funny then hopefully it has a chance of catching on.
“The first thing I tried to remember was not to jump on crazy offers which would have really ruined the feed and made it a novelty thing, which I was already fighting against.
“People wanted me to make up a tweet about their business and give me $5,000. Sure, at the time, I’d have loved $5,000 but it would have ruined the thing that people enjoyed.
“As soon as you lie and make up something, you’ve ruined what you’ve done. I wanted to keep it purely stuff that my father had said, not sell T-shirts, or do any of that ancillary stuff and just concentrate on creating content for this Twitter page.”
So forget all of this retweeting, @replying and folowing all and sundry to grease the palms of the Twittersphere. Justin’s recipe for success is simple. Come up with a good idea that you find funny, never fake it and whatever you do, don’t
sell out too soon.
“When I first got the book deal, I told my dad, ‘as much of this as you want to take, you can have.’ He was pissed off that I even asked him that. He said, ‘I have my own f*cking money, I don’t need yours.’ He’s just psyched that the pizza place in our neighbourhood gives him half off.”
Although Justin still tweets occasionally, the Twitter feed is coming to a standstill as Halpern only sees his dad once every three weeks. He now has his own place and is back with the girl who kick-started the whole thing by chucking him out on his ear. Effectively, the success of his Twitter page has killed it, but a second book and TV land await.