Andrew Callaghan Is the Journalist the Internet Deserves
Andrew Callaghan’s journey began on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, where the YouTube sensation worked as a doorman by day, while interviewing drunk tourists by night. The fruit of these nocturnal labors was Quarter Confessions, a DIY video series made by Callaghan and his college friend Michael Moises. Callaghan’s deadpan sense of humor and frank interviewing style made waves online, and it wasn’t long before the 24-year-old Seattle native inked a media deal and took his show on the road under a new name—All Gas No Brakes. For the last few years, the trio roamed the country in an RV, interviewing Americans of all stripes—from Furries to rowdy spring breakers and QAnon diehards. But all things must come to an end: following the pandemic’s onset and the murder of George Floyd, Callaghan felt it impossible to continue his loopy, cockeyed coverage, and split with his media partners to cover more complex social and political issues. Callaghan, and his collaborators and friends Nic Mosher and Evan Gilbert-Katz went independent, creating their own Patreon show: Channel 5 with Andrew Callaghan. Today, Callaghan—now based in L.A—has full creative autonomy over the stories he shares with Channel 5‘s more than 1.3 million subscribers, and recently announced that he’s in the process of making a movie on the 2020 election with AbsoLutely. To mark this new venture, Callaghan sat down for the inaugural installment of Search History, our new questionnaire about the rabbit holes, back alleys, and strange corners of the web in which our favorite internet figures operate. Below, Callaghan sat down with us to divulge his online habits.
JACKSON WALD: Do you remember your first screen name?
ANDREW CALLAGHAN: So, it was actually my grandma who taught me how to buy domain names. I started rapping when I was in fourth grade, and my rap name was Philly MC. The Philly MC domain name was the first one I bought.
WALD: What are three places on the internet where you spend an embarrassing amount of time?
CALLAGHAN: I watch vlogs about a lot of rap drama. Like, beef between rival crews of rappers in Jacksonville, Florida, and Chicago. I’m loaded with information about rap feuds that no one else knows about, and that I definitely would never talk [to anyone] about. So, that’s pretty embarrassing.
WALD: Where can I find that obscure YouTube rap beef?
CALLAGHAN: One’s called Swamp Stories. I found it because they made a documentary about the Hoff twins, which we also did. They broke down the whole street history of the Hoff twins, and we didn’t even know half of that shit. Crazy.
WALD: When did you start filming man-on-the-street journalism?
CALLAGHAN: Quarter Confessions was my first video project. I had made two small documentaries before then, in Louisiana. One was about a homeless guy on Frenchmen Street named King David. Another one was about the Angola Prison Rodeo at Louisiana State Penitentiary. But those were for my journalism courses— I turned them in as final projects. Quarter Confessions was the first comedic video series that I did. It was basically the late-night confessions of tourists on Bourbon Street, where I used to work. When I graduated from college in 2019, I was like, “I don’t want to stay in my college town and keep making drunk tourist videos.” I wanted to travel, like I did when I was a young hitchhiker.
WALD: Was it intimidating to do that on Bourbon Street, or did it come naturally to you?
CALLAGHAN: It’s definitely intimidating to cut your teeth as an interviewer in a place like that. I graduated two years ago, so this is all still so recent. I almost felt like a war correspondent. It’s 3 AM, everyone’s blackout drunk, you’re out there in a suit with a microphone, a fucking bright light, and a fake boom mic, trying to have a heart to hearts with people. People tried to fight us all the time. Now, after being on Bourbon Street so much, I don’t get scared elsewhere.
WALD: What do you think viewers gain from these interviews that they wouldn’t find in print?
CALLAGHAN: Well, the main thing about print is that you can just fucking lie. Print is like podcasting, in that you can just bullshit. It’s a self-stroking, big word contest. These esteemed publications are full of, like, armchair people spewing hot takes. I mean, there is awesome written journalism, but then again, I’d rather just see a video. A lot of people think it’s an attention span thing, but why would you rely on a printed narrative for something that you could have filmed? When I published my hitchhiking journals back in the day, I noticed two things. One, people didn’t read every story. That’s just a reality. Also, a lot of people thought that I was bullshitting. So from that point on, I did not want to be seen as one of those edge-lord journalists who are like, “Ah man, it was so fucking crazy out there. I had bullets whizzing past my ears. I had to give CPR to this infant.” If some crazy shit happens to me, I want people to see it, so I don’t have to be gassing it up.
WALD: There’s another critique, that reporting focused on the truth is less important than reporting that drives “clicks” right now.
CALLAGHAN: Media is failing. That’s why they all resort to punditry instead of journalism. If you look at TV, it’s a post-9/11 constant shock machine. No matter what happens, you know exactly how center-left and center-right mainstream TV media will respond. That’s journalism? It’s not, and it’s going to lead to the complete destruction of American society. There’s still a large portion of people who think critically about the news they consume, but, I mean look at what COVID did to those people. My own grandpa went from a Mitt Romney fiscal conservative to a full-blown reptilian shapeshifter QAnon guy. The radicalization vector created by the binary news media machine is frying people’s brains.
WALD: When you’re creating content, do you ever worry about the 24-hour news cycle?
CALLAGHAN: A fundamental choice we had to make with Channel Five was: are we going to chase the news? When we were filming for the 2020 election movie that we’re making with Tim and Eric, we got to know a lot of the Riot Press really well —the people who chase chaos—personally, and off-camera. I get it, I mean, that’s where the story is. That’s where the commotion is. But there are people who make their money by filling in the void with chaos. Right now in America, nothing’s really going on, in terms of hectic political shit. I mean, issues like poverty unfold continuously, but it’s not like it was in 2020. So, I’m not about to go to Portland and film Antifa and the Proud Boys facing off at some public park. I’m gonna cover shit like the Utah Rap Festival, like Talladega, until something worth covering happens again. I’m going to go back to Minneapolis for the Daunte Wright trial. Depending on the Rittenhouse verdict, I may go to Wisconsin. There’s certain stuff that I think is important, but the past few months have been pretty dry.
WALD: Where do you get your news online? Which outlets do you read?
CALLAGHAN: Honestly, as far as political news, I just follow streamers. I just watch raw clips of events.
WALD: Are you a big Twitter user?
CALLAGHAN: No, I don’t like Twitter. It’s a shithole.
WALD: Is there such a thing as being “too online?”
CALLAGHAN: I think it depends on what you do. If you are online, like me, posting interviews and doing journalism, I don’t think there’s such a thing as being too online. I think if your brand is more vain, if you’re marketable for your beauty only, or if your whole vibe is just like “I’m so sexy, I’m so dope,” then there’s definitely such a thing as being too online.
WALD: A lot of your work in the past has been covering the ways that very online subcultures, from QAnon to Furries, spill into real life. What is it like seeing the boundaries that exist online—like anonymity, for example—dissolve in the real world?
CALLAGHAN: It’s fascinating to watch people who have been indoctrinated by the internet convene in person, because they actually all really disagree with each other. If you go to a QAnon convention, most of those people disagree fundamentally. You have stoners, and they’re all about UFOs. Then you have Oathkeepers, who believe in re-establishing segregation. But they’re somehow all on the same page about Q. Q is just an umbrella for uniting every conspiracy theory. Whoever made it is a fucking evil genius. Q’s content, especially then, was terrible. It had some of the worst memes, some of the least effective propaganda. At least, that’s what I thought. But look at what they did.
WALD: You’ve been face-to-face with a lot of these people. Do you have any thoughts on why some of these people fall down these rabbit holes? Have you noticed any blanket themes or trends?
CALLAGHAN: Personal trauma. This one guy that we document a lot is named Kelly Johnson, aka SoCal Kelly, aka Kelly J Patriot. He was at January 6th, and he’s the most hardcore Trump soldier there is. He fell down the rabbit hole because he took a predatory loan from a shitty mortgage company prior to the 2008 financial crisis. I’m sure there are people who are just fucked in the head. But a lot of these people, they did get done wrong by someone. I think that becoming conspiratorial is almost therapeutic for someone who has been done dirty, because they’re like, “All the cards are stacked against us, real Americans, real good people, and there’s a cabal of people who are demonic, and they’re fucking us over.” I also think it probably has a lot to do with entitlement. A lot of these people, they’re boomers. They grew up in a different time and were promised a different future than exists now. They came up in the Leave It to Beaver white America, and they thought that they were going to grow up and have some sort of class mobility. A lot of these people haven’t been able to build wealth. The American Dream didn’t work out for them, so they have to think that things are getting worse.
WALD: We’ve discussed your work on QAnon and Furry conventions, but you also make videos that are sensitive and tender, like your coverage of the George Floyd protests, for example. How does the process shift for those types of videos?
CALLAGHAN: It’s a complete shift. Mass incarceration, gentrification, police brutality. That shit’s real. It’s not a “left-wing” media hoax. I really care about those issues, I think they’re serious and continuous. I’ve heard people say things that transformed my perspective. In Minneapolis, I was talking to a kid who said, “Is this the way to go about things? No. Is everyone perfect? No.” Someone told me, in another video, “The system didn’t work. We worked.” Derek Chauvin would not have been convicted if there were no protests. You could call that mob justice if you want. I wouldn’t call it that. I’d just call it cause and effect. Now that it happened, hopefully, it strikes fear in the heart of every police officer who is in a similar position to Derek Chauvin, or any of the cops who were with him. And I think it probably has already saved lives.
WALD: The internet is littered with really poorly-made man-on-the-street style content. What, for you, is the recipe for the perfect interview?
CALLAGHAN: Interview like a toddler. Be endlessly inquisitive, listen to people as hard as you can, don’t cut them off, and just go with their program. The worst thing you can do as a journalist is to try to frame someone’s statement. Like, “Can you make a statement on this and that?” Nah. Just be like, “What’s up? What are you thinking about right now?” It seems basic, but if they’re a good interviewee, they’ll just take your lead and just go with it. Never try to force a good interview out of a shitty subject.