The coronavirus pandemic, sadly, has forced many of us to cancel our travel plans, but the virus can’t stop us from satisfying our wanderlust virtually. One YouTube travel channel we are loving right now is ‘Haircut Harry’. Like many similar channels, the host travels the world, but ‘Harry’ differs by observing his destinations from a chair at the local barbershop.
There’s nothing more universal – and yet more local – than getting a haircut. That’s the premise behind the rapidly growing YouTube channel ‘Haircut Harry’, the creation of a British/American couple who live in the United States and travel the world in search of an authentic cut. ‘Harry’ – not his real name, the couple prefer to remain anonymous – is the man with the hair, while his partner of many years is the woman behind the camera. Lonely Planet caught up with the creators recently to talk about what inspired the channel and what they’ve learned along the way.
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The origins of ‘Haircut Harry’ go back to the 1990s (though the official YouTube channel didn’t formally launch until 2012) and trips that Harry took to Africa and Southeast Asia. ‘For years, I’d been traveling as much as I could’, he says. ‘I didn’t have much money, so I travelled as cheaply as possible.’
Like many young wanderers, Harry says his goal at the time was to escape the tourist traps and to experience genuine interaction with local communities. ‘It turned out’, he says, ‘I found this when I needed to get haircuts in the local barbershops’.
The origins of 'Haircut Harry'
Harry filmed his first haircut video in 1999 on a bulky Canon XL1 camcorder in a small shop in Aurangabad, India. This was in the days before YouTube, and the point back then was to create a travel vlog.
While in India, he desperately needed a haircut and saw a barbershop on the side of the road. For fun, he decided to film it and capture both the chaos outside the shop and the relative peace of the interior, where everyone seemed to be ‘carrying on to their own beat’. Harry had no idea at the time the barber would not only cut his hair, but also throw in a shave and a head and face massage. ‘It was quite an experience’, he says.
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He uploaded the Indian barbershop video to a fledgling YouTube in 2006 and soon found a small but dedicated following. Six years later, the couple formally launched Haircut Harry. In the years since, they’ve gradually added new videos as they’ve visited over 40 countries around the world.
The idea has caught on in a big way. Haircut Harry now has some 202,000 subscribers and receives 4 million views a month. The cumulative number of views for the channel’s 100 or so videos stands at over 71 million. Harry says people visit the channel for many reasons: to relax, to be entertained or inspired, and even to learn some tips on barbering.
Sitting down for a trim
The videos themselves run anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes and focus on one haircut at a time. They follow the same familiar narrative arc that anyone who’s ever sat in a barbershop or salon chair will immediately recognise. Harry climbs into the seat, exchanges a few words with the barber and settles in for the cut. The pay-off comes in the big reveal at the end. The barber swivels the chair toward the mirror and Harry is transformed, before our eyes, into a new man.
Haircut Harry’s real charm, though, comes across through the raw, unedited feel of the videos. They effortlessly convey both the barber’s skill at cutting hair as well as Harry’s occasionally awkward – and highly relatable – attempts to fend off small talk. There’s something undeniably satisfying in watching the barber snip away at Harry’s uneven ends. Touches of humour pop up as Harry’s eyes widen when the barber pulls out a straight razor or it looks as if the haircut may be going off the rails. We’ve all been there before.
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Harry says the best part of launching Haircut Harry hasn’t so much been the memorable haircuts, but rather the opportunity to meet so many amazing barbers from around the world who emerge as the videos’ stars. Some of his favourites include ‘Mr Bud’, a 97-year-old WWII vet in New Orleans; Angel Delgadillo, the ‘guardian angel’ of US Route 66; and ‘Cliff’ in Las Vegas, whom Harry describes as a ‘humble scissor-slinging cowboy’. ‘Ramesh’, in Aurangabad, Haircut Harry’s first barber, will always have a special place in the couple’s memory.
What to do in case of a bad 'do
And what happens when things do go off the rails? Harry says bad haircuts are thankfully rare, though he does recall an uncomfortable moment in Bamako, Mali, when he stopped in for a cut and learned too late his barber had no formal training and had been on the job only a few weeks. ‘When it got to a point where my hair was looking like three Dutch-boy bowl haircuts stacked on top of each other, I decided to intervene’, he says. ‘The only solution was to shave my head’.
Harry says the couple has learned a lot over the years as the channel has grown – both in terms of the technical expertise needed to produce professional-quality videos and the more workaday skills of running a small business. But he says his passion for barbering culture endures.
‘It’s all about the local experience, making a connection’, he says. ‘A barbershop is a great place to learn about the community and local happenings’.
Harry’s Tips for Getting the Right Cut
1. Consult with your barber before he or she starts cutting. A good barber can assess hair types and textures and suggest cuts that would be complimentary.
2. Share some small details about your lifestyle and occupation with your barber. For example, does your work require you to have a more conservative haircut?
3. Stop in at the local barbershop and check it out. Do you like the atmosphere, the barbers and the styles you see? What are the haircuts like on the people leaving?
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