Justin Halpern on 'I Suck At Girls,' 'S--t My Dad Says'
Justin Halpern may very well be the first successful example of a digital era writer. Halpern’s Twitter feed @s–tmydadsays brought the San Diego comedian unprecedented social media success, and most impressively a major CBS sitcom deal (which turned into the erstwhile William Shatner vehicle, $#*! My Dad Says). Now, Halpern is giving readers another taste of his father’s wisdom in I Suck At Girls, his new novel that’s part memoir, part romantic comedy and all side-splitting confessional.
EW caught up with Halpern before the May 15 release of his brave compendium of unfortunate interactions with girls (leading up to his eventual marriage) and pressed him about what it took to admit to the world: I Suck at Girls.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So you got the opportunity to choose any movie to lose your virginity to, and you chose A Few Good Men?
JUSTIN HALPERN: [laughs] Yeah, that just sort of goes along with the theme of the book, that I never really made the right choice when it comes to girls. I do love that movie. I don’t know why. I guess I thought that it was slow enough at the start. I expected more out of myself, like I would start a little earlier, and then by the time I worked up the courage to start, it was already into the “Who ordered the code red!?” Basically the movie got way more interesting than I did.
Confessing how bad you are with girls is a pretty brave thing to do. What inspired you to write it all down?
I just felt like there were a lot of books for people that score with the ladies all the time, and then there are a lot of books for people that were total social outcasts who really went through a lot just to live a normal life. And I didn’t feel like there was a lot of that in between, where I felt most people fell, including myself, and I was like, you know what? People share way more embarrassing stories than these. Maybe I can just give them something that makes the common person feel like they have a kindred spirit.
It falls in that in between area for sure. There are some wins, there are some losses.
There are not a ton of them, but yeah. I kind of came to the conclusion after I did finally get married that love and relationships are just a series of horrific losses with hopefully one win. The best you can hope for is at the end of the day you get one win, so it’s kind of the opposite of everything else we do in our lives, and I thought that that was kind of interesting.
It’s also interesting that the book essentially plays out like a romantic comedy mystery. Will he propose? Will she say yes? Will he ever lose his virginity?
I’m glad that it did. That’s what I was going for. I’m really glad that that came through, you saying that.
And it also plays like a love letter to your wife Amanda, in a sense.
Yeah, definitely. I structured the first book kind of as a love letter to my father. I really wanted to do that. And then this book, I really wanted that for her, too, but in a different way. You know, the first book’s about my dad, and he’s such a larger than life kind of character, and Amanda’s… not that. [laughs] I also know that nobody, ultimately, gives a s–t about me as I tell these sort of universal stories. So I tried to make it as subtly as possible a love letter to her so that there was something that the reader could kind of grasp on to.
What did Amanda say about it? Has she read it?
Oh yeah. I have everybody who’s in the book read it, and usually I sit with them and go over the story while I’m writing. She didn’t love the chapter where I had sex with a cocktail waitress that I was working with. She did not love that chapter. She did what I do when I eat seafood (I don’t eat seafood), where you say, “I can appreciate this, it’s a good piece of fish, but I don’t like eating it.” But she ended up enjoying the book, and she was really worried. She’s pretty private. She was mostly just shocked at how clueless I was several times in the book. She was like, “God, why were you so bad with women?”
NEXT: Justin’s famous dad’s thoughts on I Suck At Girls
What did your dad have to say about the book?
He liked it. He actually liked it a lot. It’s funny because I don’t think he would ever pick this off the shelf to read it, but I don’t think he would pick S–t My Dad Says off the shelf to read it either. They’re just not the kind of books he reads. But he really enjoyed it. I think he had a lot less trouble with women than I did because he’s just like this uber-confident guy, and he kind of always has been.
How did he react when you told him you were going to write it? When you said, “Dad, I’m going to write this book about how bad I am with women.”
He didn’t think it was a good idea for just the purposes of my marriage. He thought that the idea of the book was a good idea, but he’s like, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for your marriage to write this book.” And so I took that to heart, because I don’t want to screw up my marriage, so I sat down with my wife beforehand and I was like, “Here’s what I’m thinking of doing, let me know if you’re uncomfortable. My dad says this is going to screw up our marriage, what do you think?”
And what did she say?
She was like, “Oh, no it’s not. If this book screws up our marriage, then our marriage wasn’t that strong to begin with.”
Another surprising thing is that it really isn’t just about you and girls. It’s kind of this coming of age story. You get your drivers’ license, you go abroad, you move to LA to write.
Yeah, that was something I was kind of going for. I don’t have these crazy, insane stories to tell that are full of debauchery, and I’m also not that guy. So if a woman ever sleeps with me, I’m like so grateful to her. I knew that I couldn’t be telling these fantastical stories that just blow people’s minds in terms of what happened in the story, but I did feel like if I could touch upon how your experiences in your life that don’t have to do with girls inform how you interact with the opposite sex, then add it together in a funny way, it could work.
Was it difficult to remember all these experiences, or could you very easily recall them?
Some of them I could. Any story that I write where I’m basically 10 or younger—except for the one where I find porn, because I remember that really clearly—but the ones where I’m 10 or younger, I have to sit down with family members and friends and piece it together. I say, “Here’s what I remember people saying,” and I start with a draft, and then I go through it with them and they add stuff to it or say, “That never happened” or “That didn’t happen like that” and I try to correct everything.
Wasn’t that awkward, then, asking your parents if they remember the time you walked in on them having sex?
My mom was mortified and actually refused to read the story. But my dad was like, “Sure, let’s do it.” You’ll notice that my mom is barely in the book, and that’s a request she had. She’s like, “As much of this story you can tell without me being in it, I would prefer,” so I promised her I would only put her in the book if I word for word remembered a really funny thing she said, or if it was necessary just to tell the story. What’s funny is that she didn’t want to read that story when I was first going through it, and then she got a copy of the book early and she called me on the phone and said, “So everyone’s going to know that you walked in on me and your father having sex!?” I’m like, “Oh, God, this is such an uncomfortable conversation to be having.”
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Did you ever consider a different title?
The title I wanted, but everybody shot me down, and with good reason because I’m not that good at coming up with titles, was My Mom Thinks I’m Handsome. That was what I originally wanted to title it. They made a good point that they thought it skewed the book towards the story of a really nebbish, nerdy guy, which it kind of is. But they felt like it would skew in that direction and people would kind of get turned off. They also made the really good point that it made it about me, and I didn’t want that. I mean, it is about me, but I didn’t want it to feel like, oh, here’s a guy who thinks he’s important enough to write a memoir.
What parts of your love life didn’t exactly make the cut? I’m sure you had lots of other stories that didn’t make it in.
I wanted to do a chapter about breakups, and I had a whole section, it was almost its own chapter. I originally had an idea for a story where I got broken up with by this girl, and I didn’t realize that I’d been broken up with, so I showed up at a party at her house thinking that we were still together. But she had broken up with me and I didn’t realize it until I saw that she was making out with this guy at this party. I’ll write an essay someday about it.
The last line of the book sets up a sequel of sorts. Is that the plan? Is the next book about your marriage?
I haven’t really thought about a next book. I wanted to leave something where it felt like, in a weird way, my dad was passing the torch to my life, and what he said really sets it up nicely for that. This took me almost two years to write—I started writing it like four or five months after S–t My Dad Says, and when I was done with this one, I was just like, [sighing] this’ll be the last book I ever write!
Does your dad have enough left in him that you could write a third book with his wisdom?
Probably not. If you see in this one, some of these are stories that I actually wanted to put in S–t My Dad Says, but he’s not really the central character in the story. I feel like if I’m going to give you a book about my dad, then I really want to give you my dad, because he is interesting and he is funny and if you’re buying a book about him, I don’t want you to have to sit through stuff that’s not him.
What about kids? Would you consider down the road a book about your kids, drawing from your father’s parenting advice?
You know what’s funny? I’m taking him back to Kentucky, where he grew up, this weekend. He has all these amazing stories about him and his dad. His dad’s just so crazy. His dad was born in 1896 and moved from Europe. He’s really, really tough, and I thought it might be interesting someday to take a look at fatherhood from three different generations of fathers. From my dad to his dad, and my dad to me, and me to my kids, but I’d have to have kids and they would have to have interesting stories for that to work. [laughs] So that could be several years away.
Halpern’s book I Suck At Girls is available in stores on May 15.