73-Year-Old Internet Hit Whips Twitter Into Shape

Son attracts nearly 250k Twitter followers by posting his dad's quips.

September 04, 2009, 10:38 AM

Sept. 4, 2009— -- A says-what-he-thinks 73-year-old dad is not supposed to be a sensation on Twitter. For that matter, neither is a lives-with-his-parents 28-year-old son.

But over the past month, Justin Halpern, 28, has amassed nearly a quarter of a million Twitter followers by posting daily doses of his 73-year-old father Sam's profanity-riddled reflections.

At first glance the "tweets" (140-character messages) seem like snippets from mostly innocuous, slightly off-color family conversations:

"You need to flush the toilet more than once ... No, YOU, YOU specifically need to," reads one of the tamer posts on Halpern's Twitter page, which itself has a not-so-family-friendly Internet address. "You know what, use a different toilet. This is my toilet."

But Sam's crusty comments, even on subjects as mundane as a father-son breakfast, have managed to pull in readers by the thousands:

"Don't touch the bacon, it's not done yet. You let me handle the bacon, and i'll let you handle ... what ever it is you do. I guess nothing."

In addition to a Twitter audience of nearly 250,000, Sam Halpern's quips have also won the attention of social media-savvy celebrities, big name blogs and book agents and publishers.

With just 28 tweets featuring his dad's musings on the day-to-day (meatballs, dogs, the toilet, Jim Beam and more), Halpern has turned his Twitter page into the 301st most popular page on the site, according to the ranking service Twitterholic. (That's no small feat, considering an estimated 6 million users have Twitter accounts.)

"The Daily Show's" Rob Corddry told the Twittersphere that it is "the best thing ever." Kristen Bell, star of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," recommended that her followers read it, "unless you're allergic to laughing hysterically."

Actress Alyssa Milano, comedian George Lopez and singer/songwriter John Mayer (who himself has more than 2 million Twitter followers) also subscribe to the posts.

Halpern said his dad, Sam, a retired doctor who grew up on a Kentucky farm, didn't even know he had thousands of fans on the Internet -- and in Hollywood -- until about a week ago.

"I really just put these online just to keep a record of them," Halpern said, adding that, as an "angsty kid" he used to keep journals of his dad's more infuriating comments.

As he grew older (and out of his tormented-teen phase), Halpern, who writes for Maxim magazine, entertained friends by posting his dad's juiciest gems on his Google chat status. Soon after he moved in with his parents earlier this summer, a friend suggested he preserve them on Twitter.

So he started choosing one winner a day to post online.

"I honestly didn't think anyone but the five people I sent it to who knew my dad would find it funny," he said. But he woke up one day to find 40,000 new followers. And then 100,000. And then 200,000. And the numbers kept climbing.

"It's super weird. It's cool," he said. "I was not expecting any of that."

Justin Halpern's Twitter Feed Reaches Nearly 250K Followers

Because he figured no one would read his Twitter feed and "all of my family is like Internet disabled," Halpern didn't see a need to inform his dad of his rapidly expanding fan base. As one of his best friends told him, no one in the Halpern family would read the page because "it's like you're writing a newspaper on Mars."

But when an agent from New York's Waxman Literary Agency asked him to sign with the firm, he realized it was time to fess up.

"I was super nervous. I was especially nervous because I talked to my brothers," Halpern said. His oldest brother, he said, laughed until he cried and then told him he should think twice before telling his dad.

But, good son that he is, Halpern realized he couldn't pursue a book deal without his father's blessing.

So he braced himself for the worst and started to explain their newfound Twitter fame. When his dad asked, "Do you have to start up the Internet to get on Twitter?" he knew he was in the clear.

After laughing for about 10 seconds, Halpern said his dad asked him to help find his cell phone.

"I felt better," Justin said. "He had moved on."

When he told his father about the book, Sam had two stipulations: No interviews and no money.

"I don't want any money. I have my own," he told his son.

It's that kind of charming churlishness that Halpern's new agent hopes will sell books.

Byrd Leavell, an agent with Waxman, said they're still tossing around ideas for a book but explained that it will likely be more than just a compilation of Tweets.

"Right now, I think that there are a lot of prescriptive life's little instruction books out there, but there aren't any done in the voice of Sam," he said describing one possibility. "It could be a lot of fun to take a spin on that approach."

Social Media Expert: Comedy + Nostalgia = Twitter Hit

Given the response from Halpern fans around the country and across the world, it seems that the voice of Sam is one people are indeed seeking.

Kristie Aylett, a 41-year-old public relations consultant in Ocean Springs, Miss., started following Halpern's page a couple of weeks ago after one of her friends forwarded a Twitter message about it.

On Thursday, she posted herself: "I must be homesick. I can actually hear family members' voices ..."

"Once I found the feed, then it just made me laugh," Aylett told ABCNews.com. "It reminded me of my grandfather, who's been dead for years."

Sam Halpern's comments, she continued, recall a time of candor and frankness that's long gone.

"In this day of political correctness … that pure, honest expression is getting rarer and rarer, and I think that's what spoke to me," she said. "You know where you stand with this kind of person and whether they're telling you to toughen up."

Even Little Leaguers and his offspring aren't spared from Sam's tough love:

"These kids are all fat," he mused while watching the Little League World Series recently, before turning his attention back to his son. "I remember when you were in Little League. ... You were fat."

Chris Brogan, president of New Marketing Labs, a new media marketing agency, and co-author of "Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation and Earn Trust," said "emotional resonance" is at the core of why Halpern's Twitter page took off.

He, too, can remember a family member who became a legend for her embarrassment-inducing level of frankness. And he said he suspects many other fans can too.

"This thing is built on two really powerful switches," he said. "[It's] easily sharable with emotional benefits to it, and it reminds us, in a nostalgic sense, of a relative."

Amid all the noise on Twitter (tweets about what people ate, what they're trying to sell and what they want you to do), Brogan said Halpern's page is nothing but pure value. It makes people laugh, and it holds up an "emotional mirror," he said.

On Twitter, "we find something good, we raise it right to the top real fast."

And those who don't have Sam-like character in their family say reading Halpern's tweets makes them want one.

"His tweets are kind of a break in the day -- just fun little quotes you can share with friends," Nate Kadlac, 31, a Minneapolis interactive designer. "I would love to have a grandpa or dad like that who just said funny sh*t all the time. I'm envious."

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