Of all the absurdity in Goodwill besuited comedian/journalist Andrew Callaghan’s latest YouTube video, “Coronavirus Lockdown Protest” (shot in California’s capital city of Sacramento on April 20th), two particular moments stick out: 1) the woman with a sly smile holding a “The W.H.O. is Poo!” sign; and 2) the guy in the “PROUD TO BE CORONAVIRUS FREE” T-shirt who goes around asking other protesters to cough in his face.
“Go ahead America, touch your face,” he tells Callaghan’s camera. “Go out and have sex, and don’t worry about touching anything. Fucking touch anything and everything — it makes your immune system stronger! I used to be afraid of raw eggs and raw meat, and now I drink raw eggs and I eat raw meat. I have been for years, and I’m fucking fine.”
The thing is, in the pantheon of Callaghan’s immersive man-on-the-street series All Gas No Brakes, it’s no more or less bizarre than some of his other stops — from Midwest FurFest, to the Border Security Expo, to the recent raid of Area 51. Or as the 24-year-old Callaghan sums up his work, “I travel around place to place in a 1999 beat-up RV, and I talk to the craziest people and the most interesting people I can find.”
Callaghan’s approach is rooted in his journalism background at Loyola University in Louisiana, as well as the wild tapestry that New Orleans provided him at the time. For example, in “Quarter Confessions,” Callaghan asks clearly inebriated Bourbon Street merrymakers their deepest, darkest secret. It was a local hit. In another piece, “Insults: One Dollar,” he profiled a New Orleans homeless man named King David. It’s like an All Gas No Brakes episode without the comedy. In between filming King David talking about his personal tragedies, Callaghan captures King David’s greatest trick, in which he promises to insult someone for a dollar, only to surprise the paying person by then telling them that he loves them.
In terms of All Gas No Brakes, before it was a travelogue series, it was the name of a book Callaghan wrote about his experience hitchhiking from New Orleans to his home in Seattle. The series is similarly improvised — Callaghan isn’t playing any type of character, and there’s nothing written or planned about what he’ll do or ask. Case in point: At the quarantine protest, he mainly just asked people, “What’s on your mind?,” “How’s it going?” or “Do you want to give a message to people?”
“What I learned is that the passion that people have, the less input they need,” Callaghan explains from his RV while driving through Arizona. “If people have something to say, they don’t really need to be asked any questions. You just need to give them a platform.” As for attempting to correct their misbegotten facts, he says, “You don’t see me arguing with people. That’s because you can’t argue with a conspiracy theorist.”
Callaghan edits the videos by himself, working from footage shot by his friend Nic Mosher, and while doing so, he once again relies as much on his journalistic instincts as his comedic ones. “I will isolate funny parts for a cut, but what I won’t do is chop words around and say things out of context and create sentences that don’t exist,” he tells me. “I’ll definitely show like five seconds of funny shit, but I’m not going to totally misquote somebody.”
“If people are making a point that’s flawed, that will reveal itself,” he adds, a process he helps along with hard zooms and revealing juxtapositions. “I like doing it when someone makes a point. That’s where the comedy comes in.”
His brand of sociological comedy follows in the footsteps of Nathan Fiedler from Comedy Central’s Nathan for You. He’s on a similar path as Fielder, too, as Callaghan, is also collaborating with Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim’s production company Abso Lutely Productions on a pitch pilot (also called All Gas No Brakes) that they plan to bring to various networks. (Abso Lutely Productions is behind Nathan for You as well.)
In the meantime, Callaghan is back on the road. He recently shot another quarantine protest video in Phoenix, but with nearly two million views of his first one, he wasn’t able to stay as inconspicuous as he would have liked, putting the video’s release in peril. “The last video popped off so hard on social media that it’s kind of getting hard to disguise myself,” he says.
For now, then, Callaghan is thinking about driving to Florida. “I have this image of people on the beaches there right when lockdown lifts, with jean shorts doing body shots and yelling about the coronavirus,” says Callaghan. “I was thinking that after the coronavirus lockdown protest video, I want a coronavirus lockdown party video.”