Entertainment

'All Gas No Brakes' Is Capturing America's Weird Underbelly on an RV Road Trip

Andrew Callaghan’s disorienting social media videos probably say something special about America, he’s just not sure what.
April 30, 2020, 12:40pm
All Gas No Brakes
'All Gas No Brakes' creator Andrew Callaghan at an anti-lockdown protest in Sacramento. Image via YouTube

A father and son visiting a porn convention as a bonding experience sounds like the premise of a Harmony Korine movie, but it’s not. It is, however, one of many bizarre examples of the subjects interviewed on All Gas No Brakes, the gonzo-for-the-digital-age YouTube and Instagram brainchild of Andrew Callaghan.

Callaghan wears an oversized thrift store suit that might place him in an 80s newscast, but at the Midwest FurFest, a furry convention, he quickly gives away his recent college grad perspective in a room full of anthropomorphic animals. He knows not to test our short attention spans, kicking off by interviewing a dude in a wolf suit throwing up gang signs, spitting bars, and yelling, “Free Tay-K! Free Palestine!” The remaining eight minutes of the video are no less relentless as interviewees include a girl who lives in immigrant housing because she wants to live off the grid so as not to be human, numerous vape kings, and a guy selling alien-impregnation fetish toys. Amid all this are no shortage of VHS-era inspired quick cuts, digital punch ins, and ripping color filters for comedic effect. By the end of the episode you either feel like you’ve transcended to a new understanding of America or leave more baffled by the Faulkner-esque grotesqueries you didn’t know existed.

Whether he’s drinking bagged wine with attendees at the Gem & Jam Festival or kicking it with devotees of the Donald Trump Jr. Book Club, Andrew seeks out filterless subjects at America’s strangest gatherings. Fortunately or unfortunately for viewers, he’s able to get them to open up about their views on life, politics, religion, aliens, conspiracy theories, drugs, and unseen energies. There’s an uncomfortable number willing to freestyle about their on-the-fringe hobbies and drug habits. Andrew unearths what Werner Herzog might call the unseen ecstatic truth of the nation and apparently viewers can’t get enough. As it stands, All Gas No Brakes has over a million followers on Instagram and 12.8 million views on YouTube, impressive numbers for a venture that’s less than a year old.

Before braving the totally bonkers Coronavirus Lockdown Protest in Sacramento, Andrew agreed to chat with me about the show, the weirdos he finds, his views on journalism, and his underlying goal (or lack thereof) with All Gas No Brakes.

VICE: For the uninitiated let’s start from the beginning. How did All Gas No Brakes get started?
Andrew Callaghan: My idea to live on the road started when I was 19 and decided to hitchhike around the country alone for a couple months. I was mostly inspired by a book called Vagabonding in America by Ed Buryn. I brought a recorder and collected stories from characters along the American highway system, mostly off-and-around Interstate 10. I would post up at motels, bus stations and coffee shops and strike up friendships with the most visually bizarre person in sight, which led me into some seriously shitty situations but also gave me an audio catalog of life stories from people like outlaws, deadbeats, runaways, and so on. I’m still friends with a lot of them.

A couple years after a hitchhiking trip, I transcribed my recordings into a story zine, which I published through 8 Ball Community in NYC. Then while I was making a video trailer for the story zine, in which I crash [VICE’s] Williamsburg office, I realized that I like making videos way more than I like writing. This revelation ended up being a blessing, because most people hate reading.

I made my first Instagram videos in late 2018, which were street interviews with drunk party-goers on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, where I attended college. These videos gave me my first bit of Instagram traction and ultimately landed me a partnership with Doing Things Media, the multifaceted meme lords that I started the All Gas No Brakes show with. Just around seven months ago, they bought me an old-school RV and sent me on the road. I’ve been full-timing in the 1999 Coachmen ever since, although I’m hitting the brakes for a bit because of corona. I’m on quarantine in Seattle and have never been this bored in my life. And the goddamn RV roof is leaking!

I'm curious about your relationship with your camera operator because they seem so much a part of the aesthetic and humor.
My cameraman is my homie Nic Mosher, an old friend who I went to college with in New Orleans. Funny enough, we used to hitchhike together and thought of the idea for a ‘gonzo road-show’ when we were in voluntary homelessness, drinking beers on Miami Beach about a week after I graduated.

That sounds about right. So once it got going, what caused it to blow up initially on IG?
I guess the first video-series that really got traction on AGNB were the Burning Man ones. But to be honest I really didn’t like filming at the burn and probably won’t do it again. Too many Senior IT Project Managers hopped up on thizz pills who seem like they’re dying to talk, but after they leave Black Rock City, end up dying to sue. As far as festivals go, I prefer filming at regional events, like Gem & Jam in Tucson. That was awesome.

To me, it seems like you’ve looked America right in the eye, more so than a lot of people who remain in their bubbles. What did you see?
An endless mosaic of bubbles.

I guess I’m really asking if there’s intent for you to unearth some deep truth about the country and its people? Or is it less intentional than that for you?
Much less intentional. I try not to have any preconceived notions about the types of people I interview beforehand. I’ll keep my eyes out for deep truths though.

Do you feel you’re able to take an objective non-judgmental approach? Does that matter anymore? How does some of the stuff you hear people say affect you?
Most of the time I take a non-judgemental approach. Although, there have been certain things said to me which I have refused to broadcast because doing so would directly give a platform to hate speech. I’ve only ever cut one interview short. A man named Scott at the Flat Earth Conference tried presenting me with a set of false statistics that eluded to Holocaust denial, and we shut the cameras off.

That’s interesting. I couldn’t help but notice a pretty apparent, weird thread of anti-Semitism in subjects across your videos. Still so many people blaming the Jews. What’s that about?
Anti-Semitism is on a rapid rise in America and seems to be permeating the majority of American countercultures, from InfoWars bros to full-blown hippies, particularly in light of the coronavirus pandemic. To me, this is not surprising. If you jump into the rabbit hole of almost every conspiracy theory, whether its chemtrails, reptilian shapeshifters, UFOs, illuminati, crystal alchemy, 5G programming, vaccines being bogus, or the earth being flat, you somehow always end up with this identical ‘deep state’ theory of a Zionist-backed global government that pulls the strings to keep the sheeple in submission. I know this to be true because at every conspiracy conference I’ve gone to, there’s been someone relentlessly quoting a a forged document called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a hoax published in Russia in 1903 as propaganda during the heat of an anti-Jewish pogrom, claiming to be a leaked document from a global Zionist council that describes a plan for world domination. Despite having been proven to be plagiarized, Protocols has been re-printed and distributed as factual information by powerful anti-Semites throughout history, like Henry Ford, Louis Farrakhan and of course, Hitler. There is a shocking amount of people who still believe this document to be true. But again, I am not surprised. Especially with baby boomers. It seems like it scares to see the world changing so fast in the internet age, and it gives them comfort to be able to point a finger.

What’s up with all the rapping? It seems like no matter where you go, you find people who perform.
I think one in every four people have bars to spit.

Watching your videos my first thought was that it felt like a Harmony Korine movie in real life. Then I read an interview where you said you’re influenced by things like 90s skate videos and Jackass**, which were the same things that influenced him. Do you like his work?** I actually don’t know who Harmony Korine is but I’ll check it out. As far as skateboarding goes, I never really really skated much but I’ve always liked the look of VX camera street footage, especially at night. They used those cameras a lot in skate videos, but also in graffiti videos like State Your Name, War4 and old Indecline videos. Night footage on old camcorders with big-ass LED lights mounted on them looks so good to me.

What is it specifically about that 90s aesthetic and approach that appeals to you and why do you mix that attitude with journalism?
Backward hats and carefree hip-hop lifestyle, before Sublime fucked up reggae for the real fans and I could actually take 35 mm film flicks without being pigeonholed as a Bushwick noise composer.

Watching your videos, there’s obviously an intent to create comedy with the way they’re edited. Yet, there’s also an underlying darkness coming from some of the content and subjects. Can you talk a bit about that and how do you balance those facets?
I’ve always noticed that I learn best when I’m laughing. Whether it was watching The Ali G Show as a kid, where he’d go interview total nutjobs as Borat, or watching Daily Show correspondents like Wyatt Cenac do man-on-street specials, it was the laughs that accompanied their journalism that made me watch on. I think laughs give the brain a green light to absorb information, dark or light.

Where did you get your suit? Why do you wear the same one?
I got the original suit at a Salvation Army in Tucson, and then a new, identical one at a Goodwill in Beaverton, Oregon.

Are you putting on a character? Does this feel performative at all for you now that it’s an internet phenomenon?
That’s a hella good question. Sometimes it does feel performative, but I still love it. I’m launching a podcast soon, though, with no suit. We’ll see how I feel then.

Follow Lonnie on Twitter.

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