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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 making. 

“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.
  The Umbilical Brothers, photo taken by Chrissy Layton, AusNotebook Music & Creative.
The Umbilical 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.

“It’s like…‘where 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.

Whatever the 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.   The Umbilical Brothers, photo taken by Chrissy Layton, AusNotebook Music & Creative.

The Umbilical Brothers - Shane Dundas (left) and David Collins (right)

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.

Article written by Chrissy Layton/Kathryn Harrigan for AusNotebook Music & Creative (30/5/07)
Photos taken by Chrissy Layton

The Umbilical Brothers website  www.umbilicalbrothers.com