Andrew Callaghan, All Gas No Breaks

When the enthralling comedy-journalism series “All Gas No Brakes” uploaded a video from Marquette, Mich., last summer, I had a little spike of pride — I was born and raised here, so I was eager to see how my home state would represent itself in a series that showcases the weirdest corners of society.

Of course, this excitement quickly wore off — less than one minute into “Fourth of July,” a man does a body shot off of the chest of one of his female friends. Our host, Andrew Callaghan, is dressed in an oversized suit from Goodwill. Callaghan also dons a mask: In fact, Callaghan is the only discernible mask-wearer in the crowd of several hundred.

On July 4, 2020, 398 new COVID-19 cases were reported in the state of Michigan, totaling 65,533 cases across the state. Yet, here we are, on a beach in Michigan’s northernmost region partying with a thousand strangers. In the way that the term “Florida Man” has become synonymous with America’s most dangerous weirdos, almost immediately Marquette becomes another place for the uncouth ignorers of rules. 

“All Gas No Brakes” is interesting for this reason — the show is dedicated to explaining that weird people are everywhere, and that those with racist and starkly conservative beliefs are unrestrained. If you think your hometown is “too good” for oddballs, explore Callaghan’s channel and have your mind changed. Hundreds show their faces at a Proud Boys rally, protests of COVID-19 lockdown orders and a Donald Trump Jr. book club, voicing their venomous hatred toward minorities and unfaltering faith in our former president. If they’re not extremely right-leaning, maybe they’re part of a flat-Earther society or anarchists, or maybe they’re furries.

I was looking forward to Andrew and his crew documenting the year 2021, but on March 9 he stated in an Instagram post, “I no longer receive any of the Patreon crowdfunding, YouTube monetization or any other show income … I signed an employment contract without reading it.”

As fast as its popularity grew, “All Gas No Brakes” was over. Not enough people have been talking about this. The series was a smart intersection of comedy and journalism, striking a fine balance between seriousness, objectivity and absurdity.

In an interview with Vice, Callaghan confirmed that “All Gas No Brakes” is a sort of anthropological observation — one that Callaghan does not break down himself and instead leaves to academics. In fact, he tells Vice that he’s against analyzing his own content, “Only the lamest creators analyze themselves, package it with buzz words, and distribute it.” Callaghan does the fieldwork, while people like me either pick the videos apart or watch them for entertainment. 

Like a true Gonzo journalist, Callaghan plays the protagonist: a somewhat more naive, inquisitive version of himself who indulges us in a distillate of American culture that is nothing if not objective. His “subjects” are often the source of humor in the videos, but Callaghan does nothing to poke fun at these people or bother them past simply trying to get to know them. Callaghan has unfaltering faith in his comedy; regardless of how many deals he’s offered, the skeleton of “All Gas No Brakes” doesn’t change. Callaghan continues to live a cross-country lifestyle, crusading for this weird idea. Thankfully, people started to like it, and that’s all there is to it. 

The channel started out with a more comedic version of Callaghan; in his third video, he actively pokes and prods at patrons of “AlienCon,” a science-fiction-based event. We are introduced (perhaps a little too well) to one of America’s largest hidden sub-cultures. Behind a harmless fan-made extension of media like “The X-Files” and “Stranger Things” is a group of alien believers and theorists alike who preach that the government is blanketing an entire reptilian race — or something of the sort. 

The shocking immersion into the odd happenings of America’s cultural subgroups continued for a few more videos, but the “All Gas No Brakes” catalog diversified quickly. In the same way that Callaghan captured absurdity, he captured raw emotions; “Minneapolis Protest” and “Portland Protest” showcase pain at the deepest level during last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. There is nothing funny about these videos. In fact, some of the footage from “Minneapolis Protest” was more informative than national news coverage.

This juxtaposition is what best represents the science of American culture: a late-stage caricature of greed, ignorance and pride, coupled with unequal shares of pain and misfortune.

America is something that can be laughed at; we’re the hot dog-guzzling, money-hungry, chauvinistic nation characterized by our eating habits and military spending. “All Gas No Breaks” serves as an all-encompassing study of these people, and at the same time, it walks us through historical events that may have been lost in the disarray of 2020. 

From my view, “All Gas No Breaks” was one of the most important channels of last year. Without it, I’m going to miss seeing what America is up to because I almost certainly won’t be driving myself to rural Minneapolis to see for myself. Not only did Callaghan do what nobody else wanted to, but he captured an angle of American ethnography that historians will not find elsewhere — at least not any time before 2020. I will not be surprised if Callaghan’s work is cited in the inevitable research studies of American anthropology in this time period.

The internet feels like a smaller place without “All Gas No Brakes,” but Andrew Callaghan and the crew’s dedication to the craft is more than promising. If his next project has half the genius of “All Gas No Brakes,” I will be the first to check it out.

Daily Arts Writer Laine Brotherton can be reached at laineb@umich.edu.