Review By Thomas Gregory
Australia has a fine tradition of comedy musicians. From Tim Minchin to Tripod, these clever composers don’t worry about the quality of their singing, and will happily sacrifice metre for mirth. To this short but distinguished list of great comedy singers, Gabbi Bolt is a welcome addition.
“I hope my keyboard doesn’t break” is the first live performance by the Bathurst-bred comedian who made her start as a TikTok star, and realising that making people laugh is more enjoyable than playing cover songs in a pub. Rising to international fame with “Ratatouille the TikTok Musical”, she now writes for The Chaser while working on her own comedic endeavours.
Gabbi is not, she assures us, related to the infamous “journalist” Andrew Bolt, but you cannot help but find some things in common. Both are master manipulators of words, can create powerful messages out of engaging narratives, and both know what their audience is looking for.
In three essential ways, however, Gabbi is quite the opposite of Andrew. She is, to no comedy audience’s surprise, far more progressive than the 62yr old pundit. Being in her presence is guaranteed to fill you with laughter rather than hate. And, perhaps most importantly, she can be enjoyed even if you disagree with her politics.
This is difficult to accomplish.
For many new comedians, their performances either focus on their personal stories or general politics. The songs of Gabbi Bolt instead present how her personal life is framed by the world around her, offering more nuance to both the performance and the messages it offers.
A wonderful example of this is a song she performs about wanting to house-sit. The song is partly a lamentation, recognising the unlikelihood of an artist owning their own home anytime before they retire. However, when other comedians may create a song filled with bitterness and accusations, Gabbi’s is a song about desire. We all hope to one day have the things we want, not just need, and we can appreciate the selfishness of having these desires.
The standout song of the evening was completely apolitical. Its appeal instead came from the appearance of a character the entire audience knows - that pub musician with the guitar with the ability to cover both Ed Sheeran and Cold Chisel. The one with a god complex completely in contradiction to the power they actually possess over their “audience”, those patrons who are glad to have anything drown out the sound of the pokies.
It’s an archetype almost all Australians recognise, yet one rarely discussed. Not only does Bolt capture the very essence of such men, but she had the audience in stitches with her impersonation.
Dressed in the colourful, outlandish clothes you would be surprised to find anywhere outside of a university campus, Bolt performs on a stage with only a keyboard and microphone stand. While an accomplished pianist, she isn’t afraid to rely on pre-recorded backing tracks when they benefit the performance. When performing to these, her timing is impeccable.
For a comedian conducting their first live show, Gabbi Bolt has a natural aptitude for audience interaction. Most comedians have to deal with that nervous or defensive audience member that simply hates being called upon. Bolt has a way of quickly making people comfortable, and willing to follow along for the sake of a joke. This particular skill is one I’ve seen many an established comedian fail to learn. Gabbi Bolt makes it look easy.
Bolt’s writing and performance still have that raw taste you find in emerging artists. One or two lines in every song come out a little awkward, and the comedian is too nervous to be unapologetic about these failures. While comedians who have performed for decades still have these lines, their confidence lets them get away with it.
Gabbi also hasn’t quite perfected the oft-neglected art of structuring a set. Her final song, dedicated to her hometown, is quite moving but it does cause audiences to leave the room without a full appreciation of just how much laughing they had done. It may have been more beneficial for this song to be a reprieve in the middle of the night, where it could be enjoyed without having such an effect on final impressions.
A larger issue for the night was something the comedian could not control. While The Butterfly Club doesn’t have the greatest acoustics at the best of times, it was unfortunate that occasional microphone cut-outs or missed lighting cues made the show feel more amateurish than it was. To Bolt’s credit, they powered on even with these short disruptions.
Included in the MICF description for “I Hope My Keyboard Doesn’t Break” is the line, “you’ll brag to your friends [...] oh, I saw Gabby in 2022 when she was a nobody.” It isn’t a very original line in the marketing of new artists. In this case, however, I confidently expect the prophecy to come true. Yes, the show does require a little more polish. But if this is what Gabbi Bolt can produce for her first live performance, I cannot wait to see what she has in store for her second.