Andrew Callaghan created one of the most eclectic YouTube channels in recent memory, All Gas No Brakes.
In the videos, which have garnered millions of views, he attends bizarre and/or major American events in an oversized tan suit and shoves a microphone in people's faces. Though the concept seems pretty straightforward, the content he produces adds up to much more than the sum of its parts.
In a VICE interview, Callaghan, a 24-year-old who grew up in Seattle, described himself as a “young creative with his finger on the pulse, 3.4 GPA, multimedia journalist, interested in creating anthropological road-based study of American oddity.” Callaghan’s own description, while certainly cheeky, is the closest anyone has come to nailing down who he is and what he does.
From 2019 to 2020, he traveled the country in an RV, going to everything from flat earth conferences to protests against police brutality in Minneapolis, Portland, and Seattle. His videos were raw, unrestrained, and enthralling.
Most memorably, Callaghan found himself right in the middle of the protests in Minneapolis on May 30, 2020, three days after the murder of George Floyd. With buildings on fire behind him, Callaghan listened to those who were rising up to make their voices heard. All of his videos resonated with people, though that one in particular especially caught the internet’s attention. As one commenter on the video observed, “You’re like really IN there. This is better than the news replaying the same 11 sec clip for hours and hours.”
These videos, however, also led to Callaghan losing control of the channel he helped build.
End of an era
As The New York Times reported, Callaghan signed a contract with a company called Doing Things Media that he thought would help expand his channel. The company gave him an RV, a salary of $45,000, and money for equipment. It almost seemed too good to be true—and as it turned out, as far as Callaghan is concerned, it was. After producing several videos, Doing Things Media attempted to rein in Callaghan's creative freedom, which marked the beginning of the end of all that was All Gas No Brakes.
According to the Times, the powers that be at Doing Things Media tried to pressure Callaghan to avoid “political” issues such as the protests in Minneapolis. They were more interested in “party content” and wanted him to steer clear of anything beyond that. Callaghan pushed against these restrictions and continued to cover protests in Portland and other events. He later asked the company to give him more of the earnings from his work and to release him from his contract. A few days after that, he lost all access to the channel. He was then fired for not toeing the line. They even took back the RV.
Many in his audience expressed confusion, and some feared his termination would mark the end of Callaghan’s career. But the opposite has proven true: he is thriving. He is back working on a new channel with his good friends, Nic Mosher and Evan Gilbert-Katz. He is also working on a film with Tim Heidecker and will be making appearances as a correspondent on Showtime’s DESUS & MERO.
Callaghan cut his teeth talking to Juggalos at Westlake Center, as one does
When I wrote to Callaghan earlier this month with a lengthy email outlining how I would want to talk to him about his work and his journey, he replied back the same day to say, “I’m down man.” The next day, we talked on the phone for over an hour as he traveled from Philadelphia to South Dakota.
For those who don’t know, such an openness and availability is not typically common for people like Callaghan. Usually you need to get approval through a representative, who would then set up an appointment and then monitor the time of your interview like a hawk.
Instead, Callaghan talked openly with me about how the upheaval of the last several years has treated him since he left where he grew up on Capitol Hill. In the midst of it all, he remains humble about a rise rooted in his high school days here in Seattle.
He said a teacher at The Northwest School first inspired him to launch the show, but he “didn’t expect it to take off like it did.”
“It was a very elitist, Seattle school,” Callaghan recalled. “I was the only kid from the neighborhood who went to that school. I was always seen as an outcast. But I appreciated going there because the only reason I got into journalism was because I had this teacher named Calvin Shaw, AKA Cal. He was like the coolest fucking dude ever, he was like my mentor.”
Callaghan said Shaw let him cover the Occupy Seattle demonstrations in 2011, talk to Juggalos at Westlake Center, explore Seattle’s Silk Road connection, and anything else that caught his interest.
“Before I took his journalism class, I had no idea that I wanted to do it. Shout out to Cal,” he said.
Shaw himself doesn’t live in Seattle anymore, but he told me he keeps in touch with his former student, who he now considers to be a friend.
He didn’t want to take too much credit as a teacher, though, as he only meant to give Callaghan a conducive environment to learn.
“I’m flattered for him to say that I played some role in his life like that, but it was just a matter of letting him tap into his creative side without being overbearing,” Shaw said. “I think that was the biggest contribution I gave him, which was getting out of his way.”
Shaw added that Callaghan took his class for “four straight years,” and that he was always “just kind of fearless,” even as a ninth-grader.
On Callaghan's many influences and imitators
Callaghan is never one to mince words in identifying what he thinks is good and in calling out what he thinks is not. Most recently, he has become frustrated with other channels and interviewers he sees ripping off his style.
“They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, but I just disagree about stealing art in general. I’m not going to say I own that interview style, but yeah it doesn’t flatter me at all. Every city has a copycat,” he said.
He says he wants people who try to follow in his shoes to “put your own spin on it, at least.”
Callaghan specifically criticized the channel Hard Facts, which was created by Doing Things Media. A brief look reveals that the internet has roundly rejected that channel as a clear clone of All Gas No Brakes.
“I know in tattooing it's a big thing, too, where people steal each other's designs. That’s fucked up. But if you take inspiration and the inspiration is obvious and you still show love and explain that you were inspired by them, that’s chill. I’m inspired by Vic Berger, I’m inspired by Tim & Eric, I’m inspired by Sacha Baron Cohen and Louis Theroux.”
Even with those inspirations in mind, Callaghan said he wants to move beyond some of his past editing styles into more serious documentary and storytelling work. He identified the loss of his prior show as a “setback,” though he said he received an outpouring of support from everyone, including celebrities such as Jack Black, Jonah Hill, and even Eric André, who Callaghan dined with recently.
“That creator solidarity is so strong,” Callaghan said. “As soon as that shit happened, I got so much love from so many people telling me ‘hey man, we’re on your team.’ People I didn’t even know were fans, celebrities and shit were reaching out to me. The best thing that ever happened to me was All Gas No Brakes ending.”
The situation did open his eyes to how online creators are often left with little support and recourse when wronged. Even when they put in all the labor on the projects, they still serve at the pleasure of larger corporations.
“You can run pages like a sweatshop style if you want to. There’s like no regulation for labor,” Callaghan said. “There is no overtime, there is no compensation, there are no benefits. They can work us to death, they can work us every hour of every day if we sign a 360 Digital Media contract. There is no other entertainment professional like that.”
Callaghan has come to realize this treatment stems from a lack of union representation within the industry of digital creators.
"Hunter S. Thompson was a super edgelord"
After escaping his corporate overlords, Callaghan got back out there and was present in Minneapolis when the verdict against Derek Chauvin came down.
That moment was celebratory but also somber, as the verdict arrived a week after another Minnesota police officer, Kim Potter, shot and killed Daunte Wright. Callaghan met and spoke with Wright’s brother, Damik, who shared his memories about the time he got to spend with Daunte. Callaghan said he still keeps in touch with Damik, who is now awaiting his own justice.
“The grief will never really go away for him. I don’t think Kim Potter is gonna get any charges,” Callaghan said pessimistically. “She shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place. She shouldn’t have been patrolling neighborhoods she didn’t understand.”
In working on that video and others, Callaghan said he spent time building trust with his sources to form a deeper connection to the stories. Callaghan bemoans how an entire market of people who do similar videos has become flooded with personalities who he says are just all about tricking people.
“That is what has made the public lose trust in ‘comedic journalism’ like Jordan Klepper, snarky bullshit like that,” Callaghan said. “There is a whole economy of left-wing Trump rally trolls who wear MAGA hats and are like ‘catch fools slipping all the time.’ There are like forty of them at every rally. I think that’s deceptive and not very helpful to the world.”
Callaghan is anything but deceptive, often committing fully to embedding himself with his subjects. He once smoked then completely swallowed a lit blunt under the guidance of someone who had just swallowed 21 himself.
“That was an example of a trust-building situation,” Callaghan said. “He thought I was kind of a wimp because I wasn’t subjecting myself to horrible self-mutilation or whatever.”
It is this type of approach that has led some to categorize his work as part of a new wave of “gonzo journalism” with Callaghan injecting himself into the story in the manner of Hunter S. Thompson.
Callaghan thinks that “gonzo is sort of there,” though not quite exactly what he does, as he considers his work to be very different from Thompson’s.
“Hunter S. Thompson was a super edgelord. It’s just true. His whole shit is like ‘I’m in a normal place but I’m fucked up.’ He’s like ‘I’m at a baseball game, but I’m on hella acid,’” Callaghan said. “Half of that shit is not even true. He’s an inspiration and I have mad respect for him, but he was reinforcing this idea of him as like this character who doesn’t give a fuck and is crazy.”
That is partly why Callaghan rejects the easy label of gonzo, as he feels it puts too much of the spotlight on him.
“Gonzo is a little selfish because it overly centers the journalism,’” Callaghan said. “I don’t really know how I would describe what I’m doing.”
However one would describe it, Callaghan is doing more and more of it. In particular, he has been spending months shooting and editing a feature with Abso Lutely Productions, though many of the details remain under wraps.
As our call wrapped up, he told me some of those details off the record. Without creating too much anticipation, I’ll just say it sounded like the biggest production he’s ever done. But after witnessing how much Callaghan has already done, and how doggedly he’s been moving forward even after a high-profile setback, his next big thing is certain to be the first of many more.