CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – A gold plated triangle, molded into the shape of the YouTube ‘Play Button’, is the only recognizable item left sitting on the fireplace mantel. The only remaining relic from a time long since forgotten by the man who owns it. Alongside and beneath the scuffed award, functioning these days more so as a glorified paperweight, there are piles of unrecognizable textbooks. Stacks on stacks on stacks. Within those books, an unrecognizable language is printed. Unrecognizable to this journalist, for one, but not to the man sitting across from me – And this man I do recognize. This man we all recognize.
This man is Shane Shin – the former YouTube mega-sensation who first burst onto the scene in 2013 with his adorable unboxing videos, which he hosted from a finished basement alongside the family cat Bagels, a mega-sensation herself. And for those of you who have been living under a rock for the past decade, that’s not all Shane is known for these days. As quickly as he built subscriber base by the millions, he also was building a rap sheet that would make any Little Rascal from Our Gang blush. (The Danny Bonaduce’s and Lindsey Lohan’s of today don’t even come close to the pain and suffering the original Rascals caused.)
Take your pick: Possession of a controlled substance. Assaulting a peace officer. Possession again. Aggravated sexual assault. Arson. Possession. Possession. Possession. Are you noticing a trend yet?
“Every time I told my friends or family members “Cocaine is a hell of drug”, they would just laugh at me. I think the Rick James sketch that Dave Chappelle did caused a lot of heartache for a lot of people” Shin told me, sipping from a coffee mug that lists The 6 Stages of Debugging. “I take responsibility for everything, of course. I have to. It’s part of my recovery. But if I had to pick one other thing, that would be it – The Cocaine. Also, Gordon Ramsey.”
Shane’s roommate, his mother Nancy, revolts at the mere mention of the British heartthrob’s name. “Soulless vacuums of consumption, celebrity chefs are! Ramsey was the first. Ramsey was the worst!” Her voice shakes.
Following the untimely on-camera death of Bagels the family cat, Shane, 17 at the time, shifted the focus of his video content, switching from the safe waters of ‘Amazon unboxings’ to ‘prank based ‘How To’ cooking videos’, to massive success. “Celebrity chefs were practically knocking down my front door trying to get onto my show. How else can a 45 year old pastry chef reach 20 million viewers in the coveted 8-25 year old demographic?”
It wasn’t long before the now legal adult was seen paling around town with the likes of Emeril Lagasse aboard his prized yacht, BAM!, or playing slap-ass with Rachael Ray at The Skyfall Lounge in Las Vegas. “I actually lost my virginity before I ever bumped my first line of blow. My head was still on somewhat straight.”
According to both Shane and his mother, that all would drastically change on the fateful day of December 14th, 2017, on the set of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. “I was on the same night as, you guessed it, Gordon <expletive> Ramsey. I was just there to support my girlfriend at the time, Kirsten Stewart, but Jimmy thought it would be funny if I joined the cooking segment to help prank Gordon, who was also there to promote his new show ‘Donkey Chefs’” Shane reminisces to me, taking a long singular pull from a freshly lit cigarette. Nancy rolls her eyes – she doesn’t like seeing her boy partake in such a filthy habit.
“Gordon wanted to show everyone how to whisk your own homemade balsamic vinaigrette, so naturally we replaced the sugar he was going to use with baking soda. Do you know what happens when you mix baking soda with vinegar?” Shane chuckles nervously, as though what he’s about to say scares him. “Chef Ramsey took it all in stride, surprisingly. It was a successful bit. But back in the green room, Gord pulled me aside, handed me a slice of cake, and forced me to eat it in front of him.” Shane’s mother takes over for her now trembling son. “He puts cocaine in the fondant. They all do. They call it ‘booger sugar’ for a reason. It’s the most expensive sweet tooth ever, and it destroyed my son!”
It was at this point that I slid a copy of Shane’s self-published memoir across the table to him, reminding the man YouTube commenters once called Boy the reason why I am here. Shane Shin, you see, is making a comeback of sorts. This time, on paperback.
“I guess you could say that I went from bumping lines, to coding them. Dang, that should have been the title of my book” Shane says to me as he pulls out a black marker and provides an autograph that I never asked for – Another relic from a forgotten past spent signing autographs for thousands of screaming teenagers, I assume. Oh and I do mean forgotten. “I did so much blow, booze, and god knows what that I can’t remember a damn thing. When I got to rehab, I could barely remember how to count to one.”
But counting to one is all Shane has needed since entering life in recovery. Well, zero and one. Such is the life of the computer programmer, which is how Shane pays the bills these days. “Boxes only have four sides. That simplicity is what I fell in love with back when I was that 12 year old Boy. Back when Bagels was still alive” he says, struggling to bring that stupid coffee mug to his lips, before adding “If I’m half the man I used to be, then I’m like half of a cardboard box. What’s half of four? Two. And zero plus one equals two. It’s meant to be”. “Honey. No..” says Mrs. Shin, padding her son the back of his head. “Boxes have six faces, sweetheart” she adds, before a shouting match ensues.
So what exactly is the assumed master coder working on now? I asked Shane to enlighten a “newb” like me, and was pleased to hear that Shin is taking things back to his roots. “I’m developing my own app. It’s kind of like Acorns, in that we round up your everyday debit or credit purchases to the nearest dollar, and deposit that amount into a separate account that is then used exclusively for online Shipping and Handling fees. It will all happen automatically. Finally, if something is $39.99 on eBay, it actually is $39.99! Kind of.”
Having had thankfully finished Shane’s memoir before taking this story to print, this book reporter, for one, says “Pass.”
Back to (Visual) Basic – Unboxing Myself by Shane Shin, hits store shelves and online retailers November 12th, 2020.