Justin Halpern will always be in debt to his father. In 2009, the aspiring TV writer moved in with his parents after a bad breakup. For fun, he started a Twitter feed — @[Stuff]MyDadSays — where he chronicled his father’s expletive-laden life lessons. Halpern became an Internet sensation; a book and a (canceled) sitcom followed.
Halpern mines his personal life for humor again in his second book, “I Suck at Girls” ($16.99, It Books). It traces the ups and (mostly) downs that took him from awkward adolescent to a happily married man. He’ll speak in Washington on Wednesday about dating woes and daddy issues.
Your comedic voice really shines through in your essays. Has it been harder for you to get your personality out writing for TV?
A little bit, because I haven’t been doing it long enough to be really good at it yet. Or even to be good at. I’m still learning, whereas I’ve been writing essays and stuff for 10-12 years, so it’s a little easier to express myself there.
Working on “$#*! My Dad Says,” the sitcom, did you feel like everything was falling apart?
No, because our ratings were never terrible. I didn’t have that sky-is-falling feeling. I definitely thought creatively it was way different than I had first envisioned, so I knew that.
So it was a different experience writing for “How to Be a Gentleman,” which was canceled after two episodes?
That was like an unmitigated disaster. That was explosive. That was like the stench of a dead body. Everybody knew very early on, “this is not working out.”
You’re adapting “I Suck at Girls” into a sitcom with “Scrubs” creator Bill Lawrence. It seems like he will fight to keep your vision, considering he was able to keep “Cougar Town” alive.
I’m actually writing on “Cougar Town” next season. I’m excited to have a job. I think it’s going to find a big audience on TBS and they’re going to be happy they picked it up. I just hope I don’t screw it up.
I’m going to try to make our generation’s “The Wonder Years.” Even if it ends up half as good, I’ll consider it a victory. It takes place in the early ’90s. I wanted to do it before the Internet. My dad is still a character in this, but he’s not the central character, and it’s a different version of him.
Did you have to embellish in the book because there were holes in your memory you couldn’t fill?
Absolutely, 100 percent. Any memoirist who says they remember everything is a total liar.
You’ve built your career, in a lot of ways, on your dad. Does he take credit for your success?
No. He does the exact opposite of that. He very much downplays it, even where I’m like, “C’mon, you’re definitely largely responsible for this.”
Now that you’re happily married, do you have any wisdom to pass on to other guys who feel like they too suck at girls?
Love and relationships are a series of really humiliating and depressing failures, and then, at the very end, you get one victory and that’s all you need. It’s the only thing in life like that. If you write 20 stories and 19 are terrible, you’ve failed. If you go out on 20 dates and 19 of them are horrendous but one of them is amazing, then you win.