THE UMBILICAL BROTHERS -
Australian comedic duo
The lure of a thousand
bucks back in 1991 was too tempting for a couple of
Sydney-based actors, who accidentally found themselves on
the road to stardom when a Star Search gig went horribly
wrong …they kept winning. Such were the embryonic beginnings
of The Umbilical Brothers.
The Umbilical Brothers,
as the name suggests, are inseparable, on stage at least.
This bond between actors, Shane Dundas and
David Collins was forged in 1988, when they began joking
around during mining class at an Acting School in Theatre La
Pin, Western Sydney. While others in the class may have seen
two class clowns, The Umbilical Brothers saw magic in the
“It’s an undefinable thing,” said Shane about the bond
between David and himself. “I think if I try to explain, it
might make it dissolve. It’s a kind of magic. You make a
joke, they get it, they make a joke, you get it.”
“You’re mates and you’re mucking around and there is this
combination of mateship, brotherhood and just shared
idiosyncrasy,” he said. This shared sense of humour planted
the conceptual seeds for The Umbilical Brothers’ shows. “You
can be silly with each other, and that’s how we create a lot
of our ideas, we are just sitting around, you jump up, do
something, then the other guy adds to it and it becomes like
a tennis match. And then the idea grows,” said Shane.
Jokes aside, The Umbilical Brothers don’t just get up on
stage and play laughter ping pong for an hour. Quite to the
contrary, each show must be carefully structured to ensure
the audience remains on the performers’ wavelength; though a
bit of cheeky improvisation ensures shows keep their oomph.
Brothers - David (back) and Shane (front)
“A full theatre
show has to be really carefully structured because it would be like
watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon for an hour and a half - you’d go
nuts!” Shane comments. “So we have to very carefully structure it so
we have the audience go with us on the various tangents that we
take,” he explained. “We just do weird stuff and if they’re not with
us forty five minutes into the show that will loose it.
did you go? It didn’t come through that third door on the left. You
went through the second door, and that’s not the good door’”,
explains Shane laughing. “But within the structure we still
improvise, that’s how the show grows,” he said.
recipe, doors certainly opened for The Umbilical Brothers when they
performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1994. The gig
provided a launch pad for the duo to showcase their humour
internationally, with shows in Hong Kong, Singapore, Germany, Spain,
Canada and the US. And, if imitation really is the highest
form of flattery, then they are not doing so bad, having been
approached by Germans wishing to create a German equivalent! But The
Umbilical Brothers insist their humour is not so easily replicated.
“I think what
sets us apart from say a novelty act is that we come from an acting
background, so we use these skills and we throw it into a theatre
show, but we make it really off the cuff,” highlights Shane.
This off the
cuff humour has gained recent attention from much younger
fans, with the 13-part series The Upside Down Show
thrilling young US audiences. Shane describes the series as
“fun and games organised for certain adults with the child
within”, likening the subtle ‘adult’ humour to that used in
The Simpsons, which goes over kids’ heads. “It’s a
delicate tightrope,” tells Shane. “You don’t break any rules
but there is just a little something in there for grownups,
it’s like the flip side to our live show, it’s a kid’s show
but adults can also laugh at it,” he said.
Umbilical Brothers - Shane Dundas (left) and David Collins
The interest from
below eye-level fans is proving to be fruitful, with plans for part
two of The Upside Down Show on the cards. Other recent
projects have included The Rehearsal, Speedmouse and
Thwak. But is all this fame starting to go to their heads?
Billy Connelly might say so!
“We were doing a
show in LA in the audience was Billy Connelly and Eric Idol and
Harry Fisher was also in the audience,” explains Shane. “We finished
the show and we went off with friends for the night and had a good
night. We heard that the next day that Eric and Billy were across
the road in a restaurant waiting to meet us …we stood up Eric Idol
and Billy Connelly after our show!” he said regretfully.
Regrets aside, The
Umbilical Brothers don’t take their jobs for granted. “We are
surviving, which is amazing, and we are in the best job ever,”
comments Shane. Well perhaps Billy will book in for another show one
day, as The Umbilical Brothers are definitely making their mark
globally and their act is well worth seeing.
written by Chrissy Layton/Kathryn Harrigan for AusNotebook Music &
The Umbilical Brothers website
Photos taken by Chrissy Layton