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Andrew Callaghan, All Gas No Brakes
Andrew Callaghan of All Gas No Brakes at a Furry conventioncourtesy of Andrew Callaghan, All Gas No Brakes

All Gas No Brakes is documenting America’s most unhinged cultural fringes

Conspiracists, furries, flat earthers – Andrew Callaghan’s absurd, gonzo short docs get under the skin of the US’s most bizarre subcultures

A stout man wearing a 12-inch tophat stares intently down the camera lens to deliver his message: “Adolf Hitler,” he says, “has been cloned.” A guy in a boxy suit stands next to him holding a mic, very much unrattled. 

Andrew Callaghan is pretty tough to disturb these days, but it’s not for want of trying. “I’d certainly like to be,” he says. Callaghan is the creator of All Gas No Brakes – since starting the original Instagram account in August of 2019, he’s been on the road, documenting the strange subcultural hinterlands of US society. The bizarre, affronting short-form video docs have amassed a huge following. The series – with over two million followers across its social channels – has proved wildly popular, and Callaghan just recently signed on to develop a TV show based on the concept. 

He lives in an RV with two friends and collaborators on which they travel America. Recently, they’ve been through the LA/Las Vegas corridor, spending time in small desert towns like Laughlin, Bombay Beach, Bullhead City, and Barstow. On his travels, Callaghan interacts with a who’s who of often-misunderstood online archetypes: The Flat Earther. The Weed Bro. The White Rapper. The Furry. Diplo. Callaghan comes to them, microphone in hand and cameraman in tow, recording for posterity what he calls “straight up Americana”.

“I spend every day striving to connect and understand as many different types of people as I can.” Callaghan says. “In documenting these interactions, I try to give my viewers an insider’s look at the unhinged fringes of our culture without pushing any political agenda of my own.”

At 19-years-old, Callaghan dropped out of college and hitchhiked alone across the country, documenting his encounters with runaways, deadbeats, and lost souls in a memoir, also titled All Gas No Brakes. Other people might recognise him as the sometimes face of Quarter Confessionsthe Instagram account chronicling the extremely fucked-up and loose-lipped patrons of New Orleans’ notorious party strip Bourbon Street. Callaghan has broadened his remit now, but he says “if inebriated pedestrians want to yell into my microphone about sex, poop, or stabbings like they did on Bourbon Street, I will gladly oblige”. 

Since last August, Callaghan and his friends have been to Burning Man, where he chats LSD with someone called Pillow; Area 51, where there may or may not have been a raid; Las Vegas, to hang out with people who seem to answer the question, “what if cocaine was a Disney villain?”. He’s reported from Talladega, where he rages with rednecks, gone deep down the conspiracy rabbithole with self-describing part-reptilians and folks convinced that the earth is “flat, jack – flatter than a flapjack”. 

“I spend every day striving to connect and understand as many different types of people as I can” – Andrew Callaghan

As the show host, Callaghan positions himself as both a curious bystander and an active participant, open to any and all possibilities. Heading out into convention halls, political marches, and music festivals in the same ill-fitting khaki suit, he doesn’t exactly have an ideal look for a documentary maker looking to approach people cold. However, he is – as most good interviewers should be – disarming. He’s amicable, and quietly welcoming to the Solid Gold Viral Content that inevitably flows out of his subjects.

It’s hard not to think of UK national treasure Louis Theroux, the BBC journalist who tread a similar path through US subculture, geekishly quizzing cult members, UFO chasers, and other fringe figures with this late 90s TV series Weird Weekends. It’s a touchstone Callaghan recognises: “A lot of the video journalists that I look up to like Louis Theroux, Michael Moore, and various Daily Show correspondents present clear elements of comedy in their work. it’s more fun that way. Comedy is a necessary element... but I like to think the driving force behind the All Gas fandom is the cultural information being conveyed.” 

He’s right of course. You’ll hit follow for the salacious madness, but you’ll stay to scratch that voyeuristic, deeply human itch to see how other people live, and what they live for. Unlike the documentarians before him, who may have had the financial backing of mammoth production companies or TV channels to fund their descents into subculture, Callaghan is taking things on independently, with extra support coming directly from his fanbase. It’s a model that’s taken off in recent years, thanks in no small part to Patreon, the fan funding platform favoured by YouTubers, independent musicians, and journalists like Callaghan. Fans will happily trade some money for extra content and a chance to ask questions via some casual Q&A sessions. Many take the opportunity to suggest where Callaghan could visit next, convinced they’ve found the next big thing that no one’s talking about yet.

With only instinct and online tipoffs, sometimes he isn’t 100 per cent successful: “I just went to an eight-day UFO conference in Laughlin, Nevada which is this old-school casino settlement about seventy miles south of Vegas,” Callaghan says. “Unfortunately, the conference sucked ass.. Where I expected to find foil hats and E.T. channelers, I found 20 senile retirees whispering about puzzling aerial phenomena with terrifyingly low levels of enthusiasm.” Still, he seems pretty happy-go-lucky about it, evidently reassured by his past experiences he’ll uncover something crazy soon. “You win some you lose some!”

From conspiracy theorists to far-right militants, the individuals and groups Callaghan documents have beliefs that are seeded and nurtured by the internet. Unfettered access to information and the digital ring fencing of online communities has increasingly affected the IRL world. It’s an idea that quietly permeates All Gas No Brakes

“I bet when Bill Gates birthed his bright idea, he probably thought that widespread access to an infinite pool of information would create a more well-educated, evolved consumer class,” Callaghan says. “This may be true, but on the other hand, the dispersal of fake news and conspiracy bullshit has led to the formation of digital fringes that defy all factual reality – like Flat Earth and Qanon. 

“The dispersal of fake news and conspiracy bullshit has led to the formation of digital fringes that defy all factual reality – like Flat Earth and Qanon” – Andrew Callaghan

“To make things worse, as social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have been de-platforming these sorts of people, it pushes their most militant members further and further into the digital fringes,” he adds. “They champion their own censorship as a victory – they’ve finally been purged by the puppet-masters for sharing the truth .. and before they know it, every person in their digital circle ascribes to the same ideologies... I hope to show more of this with my show”. It can be tough to pop your own reality bubble, even if you’re aware you’re floating in it. You might need some help – someone to stand between an extremely pissed off Trump voter and a furious cyclist to make you think: this is reality now, I must not avert my gaze.

Pre-coronavirus, Callaghan had planned to head to Cancun and interview Spring Breakers, and Austin for SXSW, all of which plans were cancelled. Undeterred by the lockdown, and clearly aware that this crisis has made people even crazier, Callaghan has continued working. He’s launched the All Gas No Brakes podcast, bringing together some fan favourite interview subjects via video chat. He’s even ventured to California’s lockdown protests, speaking with coughing conspiracists and libertarian Karens grandstanding about freedom and 5G poisoning. “I hope to do this for all of the 2020s,” he says. 10 years is eons in pop culture, and it’s anyone’s guess what society will look like in 2030, but All Gas No Brakes hopes to still be on the frontline. “If you’re reading this,” Callaghan says, “come find me and rattle me.”