Tomorrow night, CBS premieres Bleep My Dad Says, a new comedy starring William Shatner and based on shit that comedy writer Justin Halpern's father told him, before Justin tweeted it all over the Internet. Now the show's very existence is one of the strangest stories of Twitter's mainstream crossover, and Justin is ensconced at Warner Bros. studio, working on the show and a new book. We spoke with Justin, who says his instant success has been a bit surreal: "Sometimes from my office, I can hear tour busses going by, and the guide goes, 'And to the right you'll see the writers' offices of Bleep My Dad Says, a show that started by a kid who just tweeted the waaaaaacky things his dad says.' It's actually a nice reminder that I'm a lucky asshole. A nice reminder that comes at :15 and :45 of every hour."
What does your father think about the book's success? Has it gone to his head?
My dad is really excited about the book's success. He told me, "The book's good, but it's not that good. You must have hit some nerve or something with people." I don't think anything goes to his head, ever. He never leaves his neighborhood and he doesn't cruise the Internet, so the only information he gets is from me. His night still ends with a glass of bourbon and the History Channel.
Has he become a celebrity around town?
Not really. He gets half-off this pizza place near us, that's about it. He said that a couple times, people on the street have come up to him. Shockingly, he actually doesn't have a nasty reaction to that and will talk to people for as long as they like. I was worried about that.
Has your father had any encounters with William Shatner?
One. He came down onstage, as everyone wanted him to meet Mr. Shatner. They both walked up to each other, said "hello," snapped a picture, and walked away in opposite directions. That was it. It was awesome.
What was the timing of all of this?
I sold the book proposal in October, then off the book proposal we — me and my writing partner, Patrick Schumacker — started to get TV meetings. A month later we sold a TV pitch. During that time, I wrote the pilot and co-wrote the book. The book took about six months to write, and by the time I finished, the pilot had been green-lit.
How has all of this changed your life? Has it been jarring? Have you had a chance to reflect?
I haven't had a chance to reflect yet. My work life is totally different. I'm one of ten writers on the show, and I go into Warner Bros., and it's totally surreal. Sometimes from my office, I can hear tour busses going by, and the guide goes, "And to the right you'll see the writers' offices of Bleep My Dad Says, a show that started by a kid who just tweeted the waaaaaacky things his dad says." It's actually a nice reminder that I'm a lucky asshole. A nice reminder that comes at :15 and :45 of every hour.
What are you doing for work now?
Working on the show and doing promotion for the book. I'm the co-executive producer of the show. My bosses, Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, have been amazing mentors for myself and my writing partner, Patrick. We've gotten to be a huge part of the process.
Do you have plans for a second book?
I do, but I want to make sure I do it right. I don't want to just toss something out there to make money. Don't get me wrong, I'm not Ernest Hemingway here: It's just a fun little book, but I just want to make sure someone doesn't buy it and go, "Ugh, this blows. What a waste of money."
Does Shatner do a serviceable imitation of your father? Have you ever been watching Shatner in action and thought to yourself that he's nailed it? Or: No, no, no: Dad wouldn't do that!
Well, the thing about Mr. Shatner is that he brings his own thing to the character. He's not doing an imitation, he's doing an interpretation of who he thinks this guy is. I really like what he brings to it. What's ended up happening is that his interpretation is pretty similar to who my actual father is. We have an episode where my character wants to get the Internet installed in the house, and Shatner's character is against it and he goes on this tirade where he says “no” in every conceivable manner, and that tirade made me feel like I was watching my dad. It was like a 'Nam flashback or something. I tried to find my bedroom so I could be angsty and write in my journal.
The book is a pretty personal account of your childhood. I'm wondering, though, with the book and the TV show, if at a certain point, the Sam Halpern that you created on the page stopped feeling like your dear old dad and started feeling more like a character (or a caricature) to you?
It doesn't feel as personal. The character has taken on a life of its own. I mean, it's funny, because people say to me, "Oh man, you should have done this on HBO where you could have cursed and been true to the way your dad spoke," but to me, the book is the honest, raw account of my relationship with my dad. I don't care what network we aired it on, or who played my dad: It's not my dad. And so I wasn't as concerned about maintaining something that I felt couldn't be maintained. The character had to change. I don't want to see someone doing an impression of my dad. And trust me, neither does my dad. He might jump onstage and beat the fuck out of that person if he saw that.