Increasingly, the road to greater success with YouTubers is making a pit stop in author country. Some write memoirs, some write books that further their brand (like Epic Meal Time’s cookbook), and some, well, some are like Ken Tanaka and his alter ego David Ury (or is Ken Tanaka David Ury’s alter ego?). Ken/David “collaborated” on an emotional picture book, “Everybody Dies: A Children’s Book For GrownUps,” a colorful and short meditation on death which has little to do with Ken/David’s hilariously earnest channel HelpMeFindParents. And yet, the book fits perfectly in the scope of what Tanaka seeks to accomplish in this (and every other) world.
Ken Tanaka, if you aren’t familiar, is an American man from Japan who “seeks his birth parents back in the states.” His channel is a documentary of his travels as well as an informative guide to the nature of race relations in America. He is perhaps best known for his incredibly viral “What Kind of Asian Are You” video. His “coauthor” David Ury is an actor who pops up in shows like “Breaking Bad.” And although they might be the same person, they are incredibly different as you will see in our interview below.
And maybe after reading the interview, you can take a break from helping Ken find his parents to pick up a copy of this great — and hilarious — book.
How did the idea for “Everybody Dies: A Children’s Book For Grownups” come about?
Ken: Well, I was sketching with some artist friends James Jean and Gary Musgrave when I had the idea. I said I want to do a children’s book called “Everybody Dies.” They liked the idea, so I went home and painted the cover and first few pages.
David: And I’m sort of a death specialist. As an actor, I’ve died many deaths, from being crushed by an ATM in “Breaking Bad,” to getting shot in the chest by Elizabeth Berkeley. I tend to play scumbags and characters who get killed. Death is part of how I make my living, so it is always something that’s in the back of mind. Plus, it scares the crap out of me. So this book is meant to help frightened grown-ups like me cope. Right, Ken?
Ken: What? Oh, ah, yes … sorry, I was reading a YouTube comment.
There seems to be some inspiration from the Japanese authors here who created “Everybody Poops” and “The Gas We Pass” … did you grow up with those books?
Ken: Actually, although those books are popular in the U.S.; they aren’t really known in Japan.
David: I don’t know if they were around when I was kid in the 70s, but these days every parent I know seems to have a copy of that book.
Ken Tanaka will obviously be eaten by a lion … but how will David Ury die?
David: Let me get back to you on that just after it happens.
Ken: I hope I die before David, because I will miss him so much.
David: Awww. Yeah, me too.
What was the coolest part of writing this book?
Ken: Getting messages from children and grown-ups telling me that the book had helped them deal with a loss in their lives. I was not expecting that.
David: I thought you were going to say “getting to work with David.”
Ken: Oh, yes … um, that was also very … cool.
What’s the closest you’ve actually come to death?
Ken: While floating on a surfboard, a large fish came and bumped me from below. My foot brushed against his rough skin. Later I heard that a great white shark was seen in the area. They sometimes bump objects to see if they are good to eat. Luckily he did not take a chomp out of me.
David: All I can say is, never rent a motorcycle in Thailand unless you know how to ride one.