Just a year ago, Heo Jae-wo -- better known by his YouTube alias "Heopop" -- was a typical Millennial, moving from one job to another without purpose.
"I never lasted longer than a year in one job," he told Yonhap News Agency in an interview at KCON, the world's largest K-pop festival that took place in Japan over the weekend. He is now making some 10 grand a month, according one estimate by the entertainment giant CJ E&M, by uploading videos of wacky experiments involving slime, ostrich eggs and "elephant toothpaste," which is a foamy substance created with hydrogen peroxide.
"I do what mom and dad tell you not to in your stead," the 28-year-old said to describe his channel. "I take an idea and blow it out of proportion."
His favorite and most popular experiment to date is creating a swimming pool with slime using Slime Baff, a powder that turns water into oozing, gooey material. As of Thursday, the video has been watched more than 11 million times.
Other highlights include making the world's largest pudding at 37kg. The attempt backfired when the pudding collapsing as soon as the mold was removed. In another, he tries to walk over water in a swimming pool using layers of tape as a bridge. The experiment also failed miserably to comedic effect.
"Sometimes failure makes for funnier videos," he said.
Heo was invited to KCON's K-Culture Stage on Saturday where he challenged his audience to a puzzle match. Those who completed the puzzle before he did were given baseball caps with his name on them as prizes.
On Sunday, he brought a Japanese YouTuber, Kojocho, to test which food item they had brought was the spiciest. Heopop brought a jar of capsaicin, the active ingredient in red chili peppers, and "Spicy Chicken Roasted Noodle," a Korean instant noodle notorious for the burning sensations it causes on one's tongue. Kojocho countered with "R-rated Chocolate" and a ramen snack, which Heopop rejected as being "not spicy at all."
For someone who wanted to move to another country and never return home, Heo wasn't the most well-traveled of YouTubers, with KCON being his first experience being in Japan. But his reputation has transcended more boundaries than his physical self has. Heopop says he was surprised to see three sixth graders braving a grueling 1.5-hour train ride from Tokyo to see him at the convention.
"They had also saved money to afford the tickets without their parents' help," he said.
Because his viewer demographic is mostly children, Heo says he uploads videos around 4-5 p.m., right around when children get off school.
Like many famous YouTubers, Heo's channel had a humble beginning. In its incipient stages, his videos only had five "likes," three of which he contributed through his multiple YouTube accounts.
It was only in April last year that he decided to quit his job and make videos full-time.
"I didn't even tell my parents that I had quit my job," he said. "I told them I started working for CJ E&M, and they thought I started working there as a full-time employee."
His father congratulated him with US$500 in cash he told him to use to buy a "nice suit." Instead, Heo used all of it to buy better cameras, editing software and other equipment needed for his ambitious project.
When his parents learned the truth, they cut off contact with him for a week. Now, his mother can't seem to stop bragging about him in front of other people, Heo says.
His creativity was quickly recognized in the YouTube community, with his subscriber count soaring to 700,000 in less than a year.
Eighty percent of them are South Koreans, with a growing number of foreigners accounting for the remaining 20 percent.
Heo says he hopes by watching his videos more people realize not all Koreans work in cubicles.
"I hope my videos instill hope and joy in people," he said. (Yonhap)