Full disclosure: The writer of this article is not bald. And after reading Julius Sharpe’s darkly humorous guidebook So You’re Going Bald!, he’s terrified of the day that might change.
Sharpe, who’s written for Family Guy and The Grinder and created the Fox sitcom Making History, has produced a sort-of manual for those experiencing what he went through years ago at a surprisingly young age. His book about going bald is sprinkled with comic details and asides (including a list of things that are worse than going bald), but the book also takes the shape of a candid and at times rather bleak memoir, with Sharpe reliving various painful experiences and outlining just how much his life changed.
EW caught up with Sharpe by phone about the process of writing the book, whether he feared he was going too dark, and what he learned about himself in his balding journey. Read on for more. So You’re Going Bald! is now available for purchase.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Set the scene for me: When did you know when you wanted to write a book about baldness?
JULIUS SHARPE: It started when I had a show on Fox a couple of years ago, and it very quickly got rejected back into my face. I was left suddenly, having put all my time into this TV show, [with] it vanished. I had this idea for a manual for bald guys in my head for probably about five years, but I was so busy with TV work and such that I didn’t really think to try it. Then just sort of realizing the odds of getting two shows in a row after having one canceled — they’re fairly slim — it just felt like the right time to try.
So you had it in your head as a manual, and the finished product is not quite that. How did it evolve?
I went into it so cocky and unknowing, [in terms of] how difficult it would be. They gave me eight months to write it. I remember once reading an interview with Pamela Anderson and she’d written these books. They asked, “How did you do it?” She said, “Each day, I’d sharpen my pencil and sit at my desk and just write!” I was like, well…. You look around the bookstore and there are people who are not as smart as I who’ve done it. So it can’t be that hard. Once I really sat down I just realized that all the advice I was writing was really a little bit one-note. There was a lot more interesting stuff to do in adding my personal story and take to it. I thought, “Oh, I’ll give you things, I’ll take the medicines, I’ll get the laser helmet, and I’ll get the toupee.” There’s the reality of wearing a toupee, which I could really describe to you in a couple minutes — it’s basically what you think it is — but then there’s the emotional reality of it, which is very complex…. I felt that it became fun for me to talk about my emotional reality and expand that into, “How would this really play out?” I just found some stuff as I was writing. The more I put myself in a paranoid mindset, where did that leave me? The pressure of having to do 60,000 words really was a creativity aid.
Your first chapter is titled “What the f— is happening to me?” and takes readers through what feels like the stages of acceptance.
Yeah. And then it’s like, at the end — I didn’t want to do anything genuinely emotional. I was like, “This is a comedy book and it’s going to seem odd.” And maybe it does seem odd — no one’s really read it [yet]. But I felt like I really wanted to talk about that, because it was traumatic. It is traumatic. I do joke about it, obviously, constantly, but I will say: Every day I wake up and look at my head and I’m to some degree unhappy. If anyone is going through that — I assume other bald guys are — I do remember those years of really constantly googling and really getting depressed and really thinking my life was going to end. It was all very real to me. I didn’t want to just write a book about it without acknowledging that for a lot of people, I do know how bad it is. It is really depressing.
You have this line: “The person you thought you are now is dead, and replaced with a version of you that looks like an old baby or a young corpse.”
I mean, that’s true! I really felt that, in my mind, there is this gap between who I would be with hair and who I am. That might be entirely in my imagination — I might have kept my hair and been the same or worse — but there’s no way to prove that. It becomes almost a conspiracy theory about yourself that you have.
Were you concerned about getting too bleak? The humor ranges toward the very dark.
I’m hoping I didn’t. There was a first draft of it that was so bleak that I had to do a “positivity pass,” believe it or not. I was like, “Okay, I can’t go this dark with it, or people are going to just hate it.” I ended up cutting out about 8,000 or 10,000 words, and tried to be more positive about it and hone in on, “Okay, is this funny for a reason, or is it just more negativity?” I hope I landed the plane where I wanted to.
I think you do. It just wasn’t what I expected!
While I was doing it, I wasn’t aware that it was that negative, and then when I handed it in — and there’s like a month or two before you get the editorial pass — when I came back to it, I was like, “Wow!” It was way too bleak. But again, whether it’s baldness or depression or whatever my particular damage is, to me it contributes to that. I think bald people will relate to the tone, I’m guessing, unless there’s some millennial take on baldness that’s like, “No! It’s the best thing for you.” Which I don’t know about.
Another chapter in the book is titled “I lost my hair on 9/11.” Just how surreal was that?
I used to have really long hair: It was like the Andre Agassi thing. Then I got it cut. I believe I’d gotten it cut the day before; it was a day or two before. Then I was like, “Something feels different.” I woke up and I became aware that so much hair was gone. At the time I was living in squalor: There was all this hair on the pillow, and whether it was just that one night or it was weeks and I just wasn’t attuned to sheet cleanliness at that point in my life, I just saw this thing. I was sort of dazed. And then I walked into a bigger assault on the senses that dwarfed mine. But I remember having that little bit of, “Oh, I think I’m going bald,” and then this other thing happens. And then two weeks later I go, “Oh my God, right before that happened, I remember looking bald!” [Laughs] It is what it is.
Did you gain any new insight or perspective writing this book?
I think I was able to see from an outside eye how ridiculous it all is. I was able to gain a little distance and say, “If someone else was talking about themselves this way, I would just tell them they’re deluded, and no one cares about them that much.” I guess that was helpful. I was going on two personal journeys: One was all this stuff related to hair and the self-analysis, and the other was, I was an English major. At one point I wanted to be a novelist, and I had all these notes for a novel. I wound up writing for TV and just — no matter what I did or do in TV, it always seems kind of stupid because it’s TV. Books were real to me. Part of it was like running a marathon and seeing, “Could I actually write a book?” As I’m having this negative experience of realizing the depth of my own idiocy and depression, I’m also quietly having this triumph, making very tangible steps toward this goal that had eluded me my whole adult life. Now I’ve achieved it. I have a Library of Congress number, and no one can take that away. Joyce Carol Oates, Hemingway, me — we’re all in the same store. They don’t have it that much better than I do, in spite of their elevated skill. We’re all just things on a shelf. That feels very rewarding.
This interview has been edited and condensed.