I met Andrew Callaghan two years ago through mutual friends at a dive bar in New Orleans. The next time I saw him, he was interviewing furries about which alien-impregnation sex toys worked best for their love lives. Not long after we were introduced, Callaghan graduated from Loyola University and left town to begin a quasi-journalism/comedy project called All Gas No Brakes. The YouTube series, which has exploded in popularity over the past year, finds the 23-year-old driving a beat-up RV to outsider events and political hotbeds across the country, from Flat Earth conventions and Juggalo parties to Donald Trump Jr. book signings and political demonstrations.
Throughout the series, Callaghan’s consistently captured modern Americans in all their forms—however good, bad, or ugly they may be. While his initial dispatches erred on the side of the absurd, our culture’s collective tailspin in the wake of a botched pandemic response has provided him with an opportunity to pursue more nuanced, if equally surreal, subject matter. Recently, Callaghan spoke with The A.V. Club about balancing humor with sincerity, wandering a Minneapolis Kmart while it’s being looted, plans for a television show produced by Abso Lutely, and his dream of attending an adult baby fetishist convention.
The A.V. Club: You first started doing late-night interviews with people walking down Bourbon Street. Did you always have plans for a bigger version of that, or did the opportunity just present itself?
Andrew Callaghan: Honestly, I think I just got older. The New Orleans interviews were purely comedic. They had some sort of, I guess, anthropological value, but they were mostly comedic. Getting older, I wanted to do more journalistic stuff. I wanted to make an impact. I guess it’s all been one sort of trajectory, but probably two years from now I’ll look back [at All Gas No Brakes] and be like, “Damn, that was cool. But it’s something that I’m happy I changed.” It’s all a work in progress, but it’s all the same story arc.
AVC: What’s that story arc?
AC: I used to be a very formal, serious newspaper journalist reporter. I went from doing very serious, straightforward feature journalism to full-on comedy and memes. I guess All Gas is a combination of those two things.
AVC: Is there anything you based AGNB’s approach on, like The Daily Show or Sacha Baron Cohen’s work?
AC: You know, I’m not really sure how I started doing it. A lot of people ask me about my influences, and I guess I always sort of enjoyed different kinds of interview content. Things like Kyle [Mooney’s] interviews are really good. I always liked “man of the street” stuff. That stick mic format, it’s kind of awkward and antiquated, but it’s just classic. [Laughs.] A dude putting a stick mic on someone is so funny.
AVC: How are you able to keep a straight face for your more absurd segments? You don’t always manage it, but most of the time you keep it together.
AC: Probably I’m just desensitized to it. What’s shocking to a viewer is not shocking to me, especially when you’re looking for it. How much work that goes into finding an interview and executing a clip or piece of content—you know that if you start laughing, it’s all down the drain. It feels kind of serious when I’m interviewing someone, like, “If I break right now, then this is a waste of time.” I also don’t like to make people sad. If you’re interviewing someone and start laughing in their face, it feels kinda shitty.
AVC: Do you seek to guide the conversations, or do you just let your interviewees do their own thing?
AC: You always gotta let them do their own thing. Typically, when you put a mic on someone, the train of thought that is sitting in the front of their brain is going to come out fast. Also, the more you bait someone, the more you try to make someone pissed off, the worse that clip is going to be. If you feel like you’re arguing with your interview subject, then you’re probably not doing the right thing.
AVC: When did things really start to take off with AGNB’s viewership?
AC: It was literally taking advantage of the media blackout during the quarantine. For example, I have friends that work for Vice and whatnot. They weren’t even allowed to go out in the field during this first wave. Still, they are only just now being allowed to go out and get field coverage. The news stations are [still] hanging back. I guess it was first the George Floyd protests in Minneapolis, and then the coronavirus lockdown protest. Those were my first, like, “journalistic” things. Like, “This dude is really out here and no one else is.”
AVC: Do you plan on sticking with the topical events, or a mix of that and more evergreen content like odd subcultures?
AC: Definitely a mix is exactly what it’s going to be. For example, the Bigfoot Conference—we shot that four months ago, but that could come out anytime. We’re gonna have to figure out how to do more topical stuff. I think that whenever we do the [TV show], we’ll have specials that will come out in the middle of an eight-episode season, or something.
AVC: Speaking of that, how did Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim come to be involved with shopping around an AGNB network show through their Abso Lutely Productions?
AC: It’s kind of crazy. I was sort of on the one-yard line with a Burbank-based production company, and I don’t want to shit on them, but it just wasn’t the ideal situation. It’s likely we would have been put on the back burner for six to eight months, and the pandemic had just started to hit.
I was sitting in a hotel in Laughlin, Nevada, which is this really shitty, seventh-tier casino town far below Vegas or Reno. It’s like this retiree biker town. I get a Twitter DM from Eric, and I’m literally in the process of drafting and signing the paperwork. Eric’s like, “Yo, man, you want to make a TV show?” And I’m like, “What the fuck? Yes.” He calls me, and is like, “Okay, let’s do this. Let’s get this thing going.” And we’ve pretty much been gassing ever since.
AVC: How did he come to find your work? Did you try to send things directly to them?
AC: No, I’ve never reached out to anybody for anything. [Laughs.] That’s probably a crazy statement, but I haven’t ever tried to get celebrities to watch my videos or anything. I think as soon as we started doing current event stuff, that’s when people were like, “Okay, these guys are actually in the field. They’re not just making shitposts.”
AVC: Can you describe the experience of going to the Minneapolis protests? How did you decide to do that?
AC: Minneapolis was a very scary experience for me. Going there wasn’t scary, but the idea of covering something that is so important, and me having a comedic platform. I was just scared, like, “Is this going to be the moment where I jumped the shark and I lose my fan base? Or will people shit on me for being, like, the funny white guy trying to cover something super serious?” I was very nervous about it.
I remember the morning distinctly. I was sitting in the Sausage Castle in Orlando, Florida, which is like a Juggalo Playboy Mansion. It’s kind of our Florida home—we have brief residencies there where we edit footage, and just hang out with all the people who live there. They’re all magical, especially when it’s not “party time.” Budget-wise, I could only afford to bring myself. I flew from the Sausage Castle to Minneapolis by myself. I got in at 10 p.m., and at the airport they were like, “There’s a curfew. Everyone must go to your home immediately. No one can go out into the streets.” And I just caught an Uber into the middle of the riot.
AVC: Did you ever feel unsafe?
AC: No, it was actually a super safe environment, despite all the destruction, or whatever. People weren’t directing that frustration at each other. You know, it always fascinates me the places that people let you film in, and then all of sudden don’t let you film there. People would take issue with you filming inside a Panera Bread lobby, but they wouldn’t take issue with you filming inside a looted Kmart.
AVC: How did that opportunity of walking through the looted Kmart present itself?
AC: Well, shoutout to the girl [who filmed the scene] at the time, Laci McBride. She actually filmed a lot of my stuff in New Orleans. She’s been a close collaborator for a long time. She’s from South Minneapolis, which is where it all popped off. I was hesitant. I was like, “I’m not going into that Kmart.” And she was like, “Dude. You have to go in there. This is your one chance. The cops aren’t here. This isn’t the first day of looting, so people aren’t super stoked or angry right now.”
I went in there, and I did a bunch of interviews, but I chose not to put them out, because I felt like that was taking it too far. It would have taken too much away from the point [of the protests], because the media was trying to focus so much on the looting anyway. I was just at Sturgis Bike Week, and everyone was like, “Oh, what were they trying to prove with the looting?” Looting only happened for a few nights, and it’s totally eclipsing the public perception of the whole movement.
AVC: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work?
AC: It’s crazy. On one hand, it made life really boring. Before COVID-19, we were living in an RV. All the bars were open. We were seeing friends and going to parties and barbecues with random people city to city, just having a great time. [The pandemic] hit while I was in Austin, and I was there the week before SXSW. I was planning to shoot all of [it], then catch a flight to Cancún for spring break coverage. I got a notification that said all bars in Austin will close tomorrow, all travel is restricted to Mexico, and SXSW was canceled.
It was so tough, because I had [recently] broken up with my ex-girlfriend at the time, but I flew her out there to maybe, like, rekindle things and take her to SXSW, and then it got canceled, so I had to drive her back to Seattle in the RV. It was a 28-hour drive. Needless to say, we’re still not talking. [Laughs.] It was a tough week.
AVC: Do you plan on doing more pandemic-related coverage?
AC: I mean, hopefully not, because I want the pandemic to end. [Laughs.] But as long as people keep partying and shit... [like in Sturgis] where everyone’s talking about Bill Gates and George Soros.
AVC: That seems to be a thread in a lot of your videos—the anti-Semitism, the satanic conspiracy theories, QAnon...
AC: It is fascinating to see the redneck class of the mid-South get totally absorbed and completely hypnotized by QAnon and child-trafficking Clinton Foundation conspiracies. I don’t know how that happened so fast. This happened in Missouri—a total Dixieland dude was like, “You know, George Soros paid them all to burn Minneapolis down.” What the fuck?
AVC: Have your views on anything changed after the past year spent interviewing all these disparate kinds of people?
AC: I guess the one thing is that I’ve become more pro-gun than I was before. I’m from Seattle, and the only guns I saw were in the hands of, like, 15-year-old, gnarly-ass [friends] of mine, and they were all illegal. I didn’t ever understand any of that shit. And I guess interviewing people on a wide political spectrum, left and right, that just see guns as part of our freedom and liberty... I dunno. I’m not, like, pro-gun, but my views have definitely changed about it.
AVC: Is there a dream group of people or event that you haven’t been able to tap into yet that you would love to cover?
AC: The Adult Baby Conference.
AVC: Interesting. What time of year does that happen?
AC: I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure you have to be an adult baby to get in. I think they call it the Age-Play Meetup. But there’s definitely some adult babies in the mix, and I need to get in there.