The problem with interviewing two physical comedians on a print media platform is the interview often turns into comedic improvised sketches which are very hard to describe with the written word. One will just have to use their imagination as they have been for the past thirty years at The Umbilical Brothers unique *mime with sound* performances. Or just like with their latest offering, The Distraction, you can use technology to watch it on screen: https://vimeo.com/535224209
You don’t need to flex your visual imagination muscle in their latest show. Because two green screens, a lot of cameras, special effects, computer power and an onstage tech wizard named “Doug” do it for you. How did we get here though? Hayden Burke interviews David Collins and Shane Dundas live on zoom to find out.
Where did the thirty plus year journey of The Umbilical Brothers begin? Was it The Last Laugh in Collingwood with some of your first shows, or was it at Theatre Nepean, when you were messing around in class?
Shane: Really it all started at Nepean and it was mainly in the mime class…. We just started making fun of the mime classes. Just as a joke we started adding noises to the mime. Because it's just not loud enough frankly.
David: Yana Taylor was our movement teach she was brilliant... but they brought in a mime teacher “Stevie” in fact they are here right now (David introduces invisible Stevie into the interview, insults them and then gets beaten up by “Stevie” with the camera capturing the assault)
Shane: I won’t sleep well tonight… Stevie might put a pillow over my face and help me sleep really well tonight.
David: Believe me you can still breathe through a mime pillow
(Shane and David both demonstrate)
David: In our second year we did a routine, Shane had a friend (Ian Triffet) a stand up comic – we did it as a mime assessment in front of everybody, it made them laugh... so we thought let's do it at the open mic night and it killed… and here we are thirty years later.
Has your practice changed, or would people who saw you at the Last Laugh in collingwood and saw your last show notice a difference or go “oh yea that’s The Umbilical Brothers!”?
David: It haasn’t changed at all. Shane and I, from when we were in Nepean till pretty much our last show before this one – this one is a different kettle of fish. We would wait up until the last moment before we had to do something. Then we would talk about it and then just do it in front of an audience. I was speaking with Tom Gleeson about this the other day, he’s the same. The only way you can rehearse comedy really is in front of an audience. Because when they are laughing you know it's working. When they're not, then you know it's not working. If laughter is what you are going for.
Shane: Just through experience… we are more aware of things – where they feel right and don’t feel right. The theatre is booked… you got to put something together.
There would have been plenty of things come up over the decades to try and pull you apart – what is it that kept you together?
Shane: The need to eat.
Shane: We are quite different people, but there is this wave length that we meet at… David has quite a different energy to me... but the two energies where they intercept that’s where the magic happens. It's like this undefined thing… Yin and Yang.
David: It is also quite fun travelling the world and making people laugh!
You relied on cultivating the audience's imagination to deliver the comedy, the earnest was on you but you had agency and control over every moment as it was your physical bodies conveying the story. The Distraction relies almost entirely on technology. What has it been like to lose that control of the show and be at the Mercy of Doug and the equipment?
David: It is very very different, I mean I love it… its um... well its film acting. You know it's acting for a camera which is completely different for acting with stage and you got to... the most important thing is to turn it on, turn it off again. Quite literally during this show we got to be turning it off and turning on at incredibly specific times. It’s a real challenge. It’s a very different beast from performing on an empty stage. Where Shane and I could look at each other and say “this isn’t working, let's do something else” with my eyes.
Do you have an emergency backup plan if the screen fails?
David: It happened the other night… Shane ad libs for 20 minutes
What's next for The Umbilical Brothers? Will your return to the physical or are you now stuck inside the cloud?
David: Oh inside the cloud? I thought you said inside the clown. I was... "What? Did you say stuck inside the clown?"
Shane: If this was in an interview in Europe, they would say stuck inside the clown.
David: We don’t really identify as clowns … more like non-binary… funny guy… god knows what we are.
Shane: But a lot of clowns admire us and clown schools use our work as reference, so we must be doing something clowney. There is something clowney going on with our work… They find us interesting because we don’t come from there. We come from way over here.
David: We got to see what happens with technology but I don’t really like stepping backwards.
Shane: Whether it's technology or no technology there's still a sensibility at work, I think that’s the key whether it ends up being a physical thing or exploiting the medium. There's still a sensibility and a certain attitude to the types of comedy. That’s the thing that carries on. Whether it be through media or coming on stage and physically realising something.
The Umbilical Brothers
Venue: Fairfax Studio | Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne VIC
Dates: 25 March – 17 April 2021
Tickets: from $35
Brisbane QPAC from 27 April 2021