Direct Your Attention: An insider’s look at America’s outsiders

By Owen Mason-Hill

PIA CONTRERAS BALBUENA

Upon first glance, Andrew Callaghan is like any other news anchor: he wears a suit, holds a mic and stands in front of an ever-present cameraman. That is, however, where the similarities end, for even in his adherence to journalistic conventions Callaghan is most certainly unconventional. His iconic gray suit was purchased from a Goodwill in Tucson for $15 and, according to its eBay description, has never been washed; he adorns the suit with a pair of Nike Air Max 95s and — instead of in a news van — Callaghan and his crew tour the country in a 1999 Coachmen RV. 

Callaghan doesn’t belong to any larger news organization, and it is precisely this freedom that allows his YouTube show “All Gas No Brakes” to be as untethered and chaotic as it needs to be. What separates Callaghan from his peers — and I use that term broadly — is his profound ability to listen. As the show has developed and matured over the course of its year-long existence, so too has Callaghan’s interview prowess. 

Callaghan’s career began with his project “Quarter Confessions,” which was inspired by the drunken mayhem that unfolded in front of him night after night during his stint as a doorman in New Orleans’ French Quarter. The premise of the show was simple: Callaghan and his director/camera operator Michael Moises would roam the streets of the French Quarter in the late hours of the night and film anyone and everyone that could stand in front of the camera. Needless to say, in an area with cheap and plentiful drinks and tourists that had come from all over to lose their inhibitions, there was no lack of subjects to film. 

“It’s an honor to be able to document this frenzy of sex, liquor, garbage and drugs,” Callaghan said in an interview with Office Magazine in 2019

 

The differences in maturity between “Quarter Confessions” and “All Gas No Brakes” are drastic, though their underlying premises are not too dissimilar. Initially posted to Instagram, “Quarter Confessions” was a series of quick moments, each less than a minute in length, capturing people saying and doing whatever their drunken minds told them to do. These videos are lewd, jarring and pure pandemonium: some people lob insults at opposing colleges’ quarterbacks, others reveal themselves to the camera, and drunkards fight in the street — chaos. “All Gas No Brakes” is a continuation of this format but with an additional appreciation for the subject matter. Many of the show’s core components remain the same, such as the shouting, cussing and overly excited interviewees, yet Callaghan and his crew have expanded the show to be so much more than its predecessor. 

Just as soon as Callaghan finished his first year of college, he fled, leaving his clothes, electronics and everything else in his dorm behind to hitchhike across the country. It wasn’t so much a manifest destiny-like want to become a more worldly person; he had just become fed up with the rigid structures of college and wanted to be free and untethered. So, for 70 days, Callaghan hitchhiked across the country, relying on the kindness of strangers to travel and eat. He turned the whole experience into a zine of the same title as his current show, and most interestingly, he removed himself and his stories almost entirely from it. 

“I think it’s important to let people tell their own story, to remove yourself from it even if you disagree with what they’re saying,” Callaghan said in the Office Magazine interview. This, above all else, is the mantra of his current show: let people tell their own story. 

“All Gas No Brakes” and its crew know no bounds. They have traveled to just about every state in the country, finding its most bizarre convention, event or individual; there are episodes on the Midwest FurFest, a Flat Earth Conference, the NASA/SpaceX rocket launch and a Donald Trump Jr. Book Club, to name a few. My reaction to his videos always follow the same emotional trajectory. The initial impacts of his videos are increasingly a slap in the face, like he reached out through my monitor and shook me awake. After being shocked by the mayhem of it all, I immediately feel a sense of superiority, as every interviewee that steps into the camera’s frame makes a fool of themselves. Yet, as the video progresses, I drop the superiority complex and am taken aback by how understanding Callaghan is of his interviewees. 

He is a journalistic chameleon, always seeming to record people from within their own community, finding common ground and empathy everywhere he goes. Callaghan never interrupts anyone, and he always seems to understand and empathize with his subjects, even at their least intelligible. His ability to be a part of the very communities he is researching separates him from other news sources so much so that when he cuts to footage of Fox News and Democracy Now! covering the very same Portland protests as he does, it makes them seem like uneducated third parties. 

If you’re going to his YouTube channel to find ignorant people spout off about this or that, you’ll be satisfied, but if you go in with an open and empathetic mind, you’ll find yourself uncovering pockets of the United States you never knew existed. “All Gas No Brakes” is not a social media freak show. It is instead a magnification of America, a spotlight on its dark corners. What Andrew Callaghan and his crew are doing to modernize and democratize journalism is more than just drumming up viral social media. It is an unadulterated look at a greater collective of individuals; an inside look at America’s outsiders.