How HairCutHarry Turned Male Grooming Into an International Spectator Sport

HairCutHarry might have the best job in the world.

Every video on his 500,000-subscriber-strong YouTube channel follows the exact same format: Harry, the pseudonymous man in front of the camera, wanders into a barbershop somewhere in Tokyo, or Mumbai, or Lisbon, and asks for a haircut. The barber whirrs into action and showcases the sumptuousness of his craft, snipping away at the individual strands of Harry’s bangs, lathering up his chin for a massage, or pleating a hot towel to fit perfectly over his face. In other words, Harry is there to unwind, much to the envy of those tuning in.

In that sense, HairCutHarry works as both a travel vlog and an anthology of relaxation tapes. It’s fascinating to witness the proclivities and traditions of global barbershop culture—because of HairCutHarry, I will always know what a wet shave in Seoul looks like—but his content is also free of the grating small-talk and bustling chaos that tends to define a typical trip to the barber. The soundscape is the buzzing of clippers, the sloshing of spray bottles, the crimping of scissors, and foam bubbling on skin. Harry calls it “unintentional ASMR,” or the perfect white noise to nod off to after a long day. Perhaps that’s why some of his most popular videos have accumulated more than 10 million views.

Harry keeps his real name private. The person who films the videos—his longtime romantic partner—is known only as “Mystery Woman.” He doesn’t disclose how much he’s making from the YouTube channel, but does admit that this is now his full-time job, and that they cleared the benchmark they set for themselves: $50,000 annually. That makes Harry one of the very few people who makes a living out of getting haircuts. We talked about how he fell into this line of work, and why he thinks barbershops are a great locus to understand the world. This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Luke Winkie: What first got you interested in barbershop culture?

Harry: I always wanted to travel. Even as a teenager. I’d hitchhike, I’d backpack, and I was always trying to find some sort of connection with local communities. I didn’t want to be perceived as a tourist who’d be somewhere for a little while before leaving. Instead, I found myself in need of a genuine interaction. As my trips got longer, I started to realize that while I was on the road, I’d eventually need a haircut. And that seemed like a great way to get that interaction.

When did you realize that documenting those haircuts would be a great way to frame a travel vlog?

I had done a few big trips in the 1990s. I went through Europe, Africa, and Southeast Asia, doing some more extreme travel. In 1993, I basically hitchhiked from Europe down through the Sahara. It always struck me, in those days, that it would’ve been fun to bring a video camera with me and document those experiences. So by 1999, as I was preparing to take a trip to India with my partner, I was like, “I have to bring a camera.” I spent $3,500 on a Canon XL1, which was a really bulky early home video camera. I put it all on a credit card, and carried that balance through India.

On that trip, I was filming stuff that would later be what you’d associate with a modern travel blogger. But I didn’t have much experience with the equipment, so a lot of what I was shooting didn’t turn out. But one thing that did work was this cool little barbershop that me and my partner had passed a couple of times. I told her, “You’re going to film me getting a haircut in there.” Again, this was the late ’90s, and the only way you could watch the tape was if we plugged the camera into the TV. But I loved showing it to my friends and family. You could see their eyes light up when I put it on.

So that’s how you got the idea for a YouTube channel?

Yeah, by 2006, I was working as a project manager for a telecom company, and I saw one of my co-workers looking at a site called YouTube. He tells me what it is, and I’m like, “Bingo, this is what I was waiting for.” I slapped that video up on the site, and my brother said, “Hey, you do a lot of traveling, you should get a haircut every time you leave home and put it on the internet.” In 2010, we filmed the second one, in Turkey, deep in the Grand Bazaar. That kept progressing, and in 2013, YouTube allowed me to monetize the channel. That’s when HairCutHarry started in earnest. Today, it’s my full-time job.

What do you think your audience likes about these videos? Why do millions of people tune in to watch you get a haircut?

In the early days, with the one I got in India, I think my friends and family were just enthralled by the bizarre experience—or what is perceived to be a bizarre experience—of a haircut in India on the side of a street. It made them chuckle. Other people have told me that they use our videos as an educational resource in barber schools, and some tell us that they came across our channel because they were looking to find a place to get their hair cut in a new city.

That’s certainly true, but people also like your videos because of their relaxing, ASMR-like quality. Do you understand that appeal?

We’re one of the first unintentional ASMR YouTube channels. When you first hear about ASMR you’re like, “That’s kind of weird.” But the more you learn about it, and how someone like Bob Ross was in tune with that sensation even before it had a name, it starts to make sense. I’m trying to document reality with our filming. It’s one take, and we have to get the whole process of the haircut. If you have bad sound and bad visuals, nobody is going to watch what you’ve filmed, so I think those two things overlap.

How do you scout for locations?

We’re constantly looking for places that catch our eye. I might have an inkling of a barbershop I want to film in. I specifically sought out a haircut in Korea last year at a place that I wasn’t sure still existed. We filmed in Dubrovnik at a spot that has since closed down. It’s definitely changed since the old days, where I’d walk into a barbershop on the fly and try to talk the people working there into letting us film. We’re a slightly bigger production now, and that means we like to schedule our shoots ahead of time as much as possible. A lot of the time a barbershop will block off time, or let us come in after hours, for privacy. It’s good to film after regular business is over.

What have you learned about the different male grooming patterns around the planet? How has your definition of what a “haircut” is expanded?

I always have to think back to my Indian barbershop experience in 1999 when we filmed our first video. This was my first visit to an Indian barbershop, and I got the full works from Ramesh. What I thought was going to be just a haircut rapidly evolved into a full face shave followed by a face massage with a device that resembled a car buffer. A thick pink cream was lathered across my face; the color reminded me of Pepto-Bismol. At one point the plate from the buffer fell off, and for a split second there, I thought the buffer would continue drilling a hole through my nose! It didn’t. Ramesh calmly reattached it and continued. When I thought it couldn’t get any better than that, Ramesh sat me up in the chair and started slapping my head around in what seemed to be a random fashion, followed by the grand finale of cracking each ear, as well as hair, with this perfect popping sound. It’s important to add that at no time was I hurt. This made one of the best travel experiences, and Ramesh will always have a special place in our hearts.

Is being featured in a HairCutHarry video good for business? Have you heard of barbershops getting an influx of customers after you stopped by?

Yeah, we have a bit of clout now, and there’s some power behind what we do. When we filmed in Minnesota, with this barber named Patrick, we heard that one of our fans on the East Coast took the night train all the way to the Midwest to get his hair cut by him. He made a bit of a vacation of it. He took his wife with him. So yes, guests definitely come into these spots after seeing our videos, which is really cool.

Over the years, we have stayed in touch with many of the barbers we’ve met and always try our best to stop by and visit if we are in the area. We originally visited and filmed with Mr. Shimomae in Kyoto in 2019, and we returned to him this year. When we arrived at his shop, Mr. Shimomae was waiting and gave me the kindest note written in English stating the following: “Mr. Harry: Thanks to the YouTube videos you uploaded, I can work energetically forever. This is because many people from all over the world come to see me and ask me to shave their faces after watching the video. The desire to meet expectations is a factor that keeps me in good spirits, thank you. I never thought we’d meet again so I’m happy today.”

When you are going on a trip, are you conscious about making sure your hair and beard are grown out so the barbers have something to cut?

Of course. I know how long it takes for the hair to grow on my face, and I want to give the barbers a challenge. We have to give them at least seven days of growth there.

Why do you think getting your haircut is a good way to immerse yourself in a foreign culture?

I think it’s because you’re not going to a place that’s about servicing tourists. Barbers are doing their own thing, for their community. You can sit down and talk to the barber, and the other customers there, and you’ll learn so much more about where you are. You’ll learn about what people are thinking about, or what they’re hoping for. For me, the barbershop is the gateway to the place you’re visiting.