How Andrew Callaghan mastered gonzo journalism for the YouTube era

With his off-the-wall reports on wasted spring breakers, flat earthers and far-right protesters, Callaghan has built an audience of millions. But despite the laughs his Channel 5 platform provokes, he tells THE FACE that his journalism is no joke.

It’s a big day for Andrew Callaghan. Channel 5, his video journalism YouTube channel, has just reached 1.79 million subscribers, surpassing the All Gas No Brakes platform his show used to be hosted on.

It was cool to, like, finally have an independent venture overtake something that was corporate owned,” Callaghan tells me, in reference to his fall out with Doing Things Media, who owned All Gas No Breaks.

With All Gas No Breaks, Callaghan established his trademark style of off-the-wall interviews and amassed a huge cult following. There was a deadpan humour to his style, as he’d hold a big mic and look out of place with a tan corduroy suit while roaming with wild crowds across North America. The episodes – which included on-the-ground reporting at a furry convention, a flat earth conference and a Proud Boys rally – all racked up millions of views.

I’m speaking to Callaghan outside a Starbucks in the Los Angeles County city of Glendale, while THE FACE’s photographer preps to shoot him next door in a vape store called Area 51. Since launching Channel 5, the 25-year-old has ditched the suit gimmick, and so today he’s wearing a Seattle Mariners fitted cap over his mop of curly hair, a suede collared light brown leather jacket, knee-length jean shorts, and BAPE sneakers with white socks. At 6’3” and lanky with a touch of acne and big curly blondish brown hair, Callaghan is still instantly recognisable to his fans even without his old costume.

In 2020, Callaghan made a public break from the All Gas No Brakes channel after his corporate overlords insisted he shouldn’t cover political issues, apparently preferring him to stick to party content”. But Callaghan has always had an instinct for political journalism. I sort of see Channel 5 as an opportunity to get myself out of the meme-troll-one-trick-pony-style-joke journalists market,” he says.

The Channel 5 name came from a trick Callaghan and his shoestring production team used filming the old show. They’d say they were filming for a local news channel called Channel 5, because every city in America has a Channel 5, right? Hearing they were going to be on YouTube made people overperform, but when they heard Channel 5” they’d take it seriously, thinking of it like a TV interview that their family might see.

My style is empathetic and open-minded. Let people just go down the rabbit hole and just kind of gently encourage their train of thought until it runs itself into the ground”

Channel 5, which is partly funded via Patreon, frees up Callaghan to fully embrace serious topics, such as the guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the Minnesota police officer who killed George Floyd. But that’s not to say he’s not stopped taking on ridiculous subjects. Channel 5 trusts the viewer to recognise that an interview with White Boy Summer creator Chet Hanks, or footage of wasted spring breakers on Miami Beach, does say something about modern America, as embarrassing as it might be.

Filmmaker and music video director Lance Bangs – whose portfolio includes the Sonic Youth concert film Daydream Nation, Odd Future’s Oldie video and being the guy who throws up a lot in Jackass – first met Callaghan in 2020. They were the last journalists on the frontlines of the George Floyd protests in Portland, where demonstrators clashed with federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security. Bangs was impressed by Callaghan’s willingness to keep filming, despite the cops tear gassing them, and he could relate to Callaghan’s fear of being seen as nothing more than a meme guy. He accompanied Callaghan on a trip to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally to shoot an episode of All Gas No Breaks.

Andrew is the real deal,” Bangs tells me over the phone. “[He’s] smart and perceptive and savvy, kind and human, wants to explore the world and engage with people.”

Callaghan (who is based in Los Angeles, whenever he’s not on the road in his R.V. van searching for stories) was born in Philadelphia, where he lived until he was 10. His family then moved to Seattle and settled in the Capitol Hill neighbourhood. I was really into rapping and graffiti,” he says of his early adolescence, and just underground culture and drugs.

I would spend afternoons after school smoking weed at Pike Place Market in Seattle. I’d go under bridges and stuff because I didn’t want my mom to find out where I was,” he continues. I would go to what were, unbeknownst to me, like heroin spots. And I’d just talk to homeless dudes and women, talk to people about their tragedies and triumphs for hours every day.”

But despite Callaghan’s curious instinct, he didn’t take to academia naturally. I never liked school. Like, I remember my first day of kindergarten thinking to myself, this sucks so bad.” And I remember my last day of college. I was like this sucks too.’ And I was like, holy shit. This has sucked for almost 20 years.”

Fortunately, Callaghan had a liberally-minded teacher called Calvin Shaw who recognised his potential. Shaw let Callaghan leave the classroom and would mark him as present in class, on one condition: I had to write about what I did when I skipped class.”

So I started hanging out at downtown Westlake Center mall, kicking it with Juggalos listening to their meth and prison stories. I learned about the Silk Road and I wrote a whole story about how to acquire drugs and arrange assassinations on the Silk Road. And then [Shaw] let me hang out at the Occupy movement. Occupy Seattle was a tent city on Broadway. He let me chill there with labour organisers and activists all day. I basically got to skip school and become a 16-year-old freelance Gonzo journalist for my school newspaper.”

Callaghan’s high school journalism work got him a scholarship to Loyola University in New Orleans. When he was 19, he began hitchhiking and documenting his travels in a zine that formed the first incarnation of All Gas No Brakes, making his first video to promote the publication around two years later. He went viral for the first time with a series called Quarter Confessions that he made on Bourbon Street, New Orleans’ main partying drag, while working as a doorman who tries to talk people into coming into a tourist trap restaurant. I wore a bow tie and was like [adopts a ridiculous Southern accent] Come on in! We got Crawfish Étouffée and boudin, the best gumbo you’ll find in Louisiana!’”

Callaghan saw how a public square like Bourbon Street was the perfect place to encounter a random slice of society. I decided, alright, this matrix of humanity that assembles every night on Bourbon Street, this clusterfuck of drunk over-the-top, belligerent energy needs to be documented. So my friend Michael had the idea of doing a Taxicab Confessions inspired thing where we go out on Bourbon Street, and we’re like in a Mardi Gras man purple and green suit, and we ask people What’s your deepest, darkest secret?’ And it would be a late night confessional. And it just became this viral show because it was almost all sexual content. So it was all about like, incest, and you know, people talking about fucking their cousins.”

I’m trying to get out of troll territory, I care about politics”

The novelty of talking to wasted people about incest wore off pretty fast, but with Quarter Confessions, Callaghan developed his editing style. To this day, he edits everything himself.

As well as taking inspiration from Hunter S. Thompson – in particular, Thompson and Oscar Zeta-Acosta’s coverage of the 1968 East LA Chicano Walkouts – Callaghan’s interviewing style is influenced by Louis Theroux. Although Callaghan’s deadpan questioning provokes a lot of laughs, especially while he’s speaking to his more outrageous subjects, he claims he’s not actively trying to make anyone look stupid. My style has always been empathetic and open-minded,” he says. Let people just go down the rabbit hole and gently encourage their train of thought until it runs itself into the ground.”

You’ve got to do what I call toddler nodding,” he says. Good interviewers just subtly affirm you.” If you’re too enthusiastic or over the top, he says, the subject might think they’re being made fun of and close-up. I’m trying to get out of troll territory, I care about politics.”

Callaghan was radicalised as a teenager when a Seattle police officer killed his friend. “[He was] a Native American dude named John T. Williams,” Callaghan says. He got murdered while he was carving wood.” Callaghan was horrified when the officer was acquitted in court. I developed a sort of journalistic fury. I was like, I want to ultimately work in the spirit of those kinds of issues, particularly police brutality, and systematic oppression in the urban setting which is what I was surrounded with all the time as Seattle got destroyed by the tech industry. My whole community is also gone. When I go home, I don’t see anyone from the old neighbourhood left. It’s completely devoid of all character and life… Seattle cares about billionaires coming to town. They don’t care about their own people. That’s why Microsoft and Amazon are fucking razing our city every day.”

Callaghan’s open about his own politics: he supports Black liberation, for example, and opposes the kind of white liberalism he saw in Seattle that uses progressive language while it exiles Black residents of cities through rent gouging, gentrification. But via All Gas No Breaks and Channel 5, Callaghan has explored fringes of the political spectrum, which includes talking to those involved in contentious movements like White Lives Matter and the Canada convoy protests against Covid-19 mandates.

Some people might take issue with platforming these groups at all, but when Callaghan just lets them talk, they hoist themselves with their own petards. Plus, he has a desire to go wherever it’s interesting. And it is undeniably interesting to hear from QAnon people who believe JFK Jr. is going to come back from the dead on a certain date.

With Channel 5, Callaghan is striving to move past chasing virality towards building something bigger. He’s just got back from a trip to Las Vegas where he performed his live show, for which he brought to interviewees from previous videos on stage with him. There’s some longer form stuff too: he has a doc coming about the leadup to the 2020 election and the Capitol Riots. He’s also recently filmed in war-torn Ukraine.

I don’t want to be a 35-year-old man in a 1994 campervan, with the same suit that I wore when I was 20-years-old, talking to conspiracy lunatics,” he says. I don’t want to be a character. I want to be a human being. And I think it’s working. I think that Channel 5 is, especially because it’s independent. And I have full control.”

This article initially stated that Derek Chauvin was found not guilty. This was amended on 9th June.

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