By Michael Varrati
If you were to ask me my impression of Mikey Bolts, I’d have to tell you, “Sorry, that’s his gig.”
Cue the drum crash…thank you, ladies & germs, I’ll be here all night.
Light-hearted puns aside, Bolts has made a name for himself as a master of mimicry. His spot-on impressions of a slew of animated characters have earned him praise, attention and a retweet or two from the likes of Pharrell, Pitbull, and the king of subversive animation himself, Seth MacFarlane.
Yet, for all of these high-profile accolades and the millions of viewers his channel garners, Bolts remains ever humble.
“I’m a goofball, just like everyone else…just a normal dude,” he tells me. “I’m just more okay with being a goof in front of millions of people.”
It’s a fair self-assessment. Part of Bolts’ charm is his affable nature and ease with which he presents material. However, while the young creator always maintains a relaxed approach, it should not be confused for laziness. As a voice actor and comedian, Bolts’ is an artisan in practice. His impressions of character voices have captured the imaginations of YouTube audiences, and by presenting covers of songs such as Ariana Grande’s “Problems” as if it was sung by the cast of “Family Guy,” Bolts has won the hearts of viewers across the world.
Part of the success of his videos hinges on the fact that his impressions are so spot-on, they almost don’t feel like impressions at all. It’s an uncanny ability, and an interesting talent to discover in oneself. When I ask him what lead him to a life of mimicry, Bolts tells me it’s rooted in his fascination with the behavior of others.
“I always mimicked people,” Mikey Bolts says of his beginnings. “I know it sounds funny, but when they would do things that bothered or interested me, I would always mimic it. I wanted to be able to sound just like them. I’ve always had this passion for studying people: What they do, how they talk, how they say things. I know that probably sounds weird, but it seriously interests me. And when I hear something that interests me in how people talk, I’ll try and train my voice to do it like them.”
What then, you may wonder, does it take for Mikey Bolts to ID a voice that he feels worthy of impersonating?
“It sounds crazy, but it’s all about one line,” he reveals. “If I take a line that I think will work, I’ll try to say it…and if it even sounds 25% like that character, then I’ll start working on it. If I try something and it doesn’t click, then I know right away that I won’t be able to do that voice. There’s no set limit to when I can get a line down, but to become fluent in a voice, to straight-up talk like a character…that’s like learning a language. To think and speak like a character takes time. But to start with one line, that’s how I do most of my work. And once you do that line, and have it down…you do another line…and another line.”
To illustrate this point, Bolts spends the next few moments speaking to me as Stewie Griffin. It’s a truly surreal exchange, because if I didn’t know any better, I would just assume that I was having a conversation with television’s most diabolical infant. The YouTube star’s execution is so excellent, only a diehard vocal analyst might be able to differentiate between Bolts and Seth MacFarlane’s actual execution of the character. It’s a mastery that speaks to Bolts’ earlier assertion: Some of us study to become fluent in Spanish, he worked tirelessly to become fluent in Stewie.
Certainly, it’s a course of study that’s suited Mikey Bolts well. Since he started his channel almost seven years ago, the rambunctious talent has gathered over a million subscribers.
As a witness to the rise of YouTube culture, I ask Bolts how he feels the community has changed since he first started sharing videos on his friends’ MySpace pages, and he gives an informative slice of insight into a world that seems so distant, but really isn’t all that long ago.
“The community has changed in the way that when I started, there was no community,” he says. “When I started vlogging, my friends at home would be like, ‘Why are you doing this thing where you’re talking to the camera?’ That wasn’t normal, to vlog. Everyone saw that as being awkward. There was no tightknit, strong community like there is now. These days, everyone wants to be part of this community… Now people are making a living off of it, and it’s somewhere you go and you stay.”
By his own admission, Bolts didn’t initially set out to do impressions on his channel. He was doing a regular vlog and some comedy with friends, never quite bridging the gap between his online activity and his passion for mimicry. When I ask him what changed, he tells me it was really a matter of luck.
“In the beginning, it was all sketches, it was never impressions,” he says. “Impressions was just sort of a thing I did joking around with friends. It was never a theme or something I felt I had to do. But, one thing led to another, as they usually do…and I thought, ‘Maybe I can do a video about this where I prank call someone as Stewie and Peter from ‘Family Guy’.’ Then, I thought, ‘What if they covered a song?!’ They’re always singing on the show, so why couldn’t I do that? So, I uploaded Peter, Stewie, and Herbert singing ‘Timber’ back in January…and it went viral. I realized the people liked it, and they liked seeing the characters do these songs, so I figured, ‘Why stop’?”
…and not only did he not stop, but Mikey Bolts found a forward momentum that has since propelled him to ever increasing attention in the digital realm. Indeed, his talents even landed him an on-air spot on “Family Guy” last year, as part of “I Am Stewie” promo contest. Still, for all his continued success, Bolts maintains that it’s all in good fun, and even without the acclaim, he wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
“I never thought it would get to where it is,” he says. “I’m very fortunate. But, to be honest, if I only had 36 subscribers, I’d still be doing what I’m doing. Maybe not as much, because I’d probably have to have a real job.” He laughs. “But, I’d still be uploading videos. I’ve always said that, and I mean it…this is just so friggin’ fun. Being able to entertain an audience is scary and stressful sometimes, but I never stop having fun.”