“She said, ‘Oh that was very unusual’,” recalls Shane Dundas, one half of the much loved Australian physical comedy duo, “and I said, ‘I hope we gave you a few decent chuckles’ and she just smiled. Then Phillip just came along after and said, (Dundas adopts a pompous British accent to imitate Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) ‘How do you do it?’ I said, ‘Oh well it’s just a bit of silliness’ and then he went to the next person, and he said, ‘How do you do it?’ I think he was saying that to everyone, that’s his line”.
The Umbilical Brothers’ success overseas is such that they have been busy touring their four other shows and have been noticeably absent from the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in recent years. However, they are back this year with a brand new show, called Kidshow (Not Suitable for Children).
Several years ago, when performing in New York, they killed Kermit onstage one night. Staff from Sesame Street were in, loved it and offered them the opportunity to make their own kids show, that was actually suitable for children. The result was the Logie Award-winning TV show The Upside Down Show in 2006 and it provided the initial seed for this new stage show, which promises violence, sexual references, drug taking and frequent coarse language.
“Being comedians, your brain is always looking for the wrong version of what is going on so The Upside Down Show was a jumping off point for that. What if we really tried to do a kids show but this went wrong and that went wrong and the basic jumping off point is that we’re not even aware the audience are all adults?” he explains.
A kids show with violence, sex and swearing? “Well all of that comes out of the missteps that we take during the show and it’s working out quite well,” he says from Adelaide, where they have been performing the show as part of the Fringe Festival.
“Its amazing how much relative depravity an audience is willing to go along with,” he laughs. “It’s more extreme than we’re used to but it’s still very much our sense of humour. We take what you recognise and twist it,” he says of their slapstick physical comedy and vocal effects. “We like to deconstruct and rebuild in funny shapes”.
2012 and 2013 saw Dundas dipping his toe into solo performance, staging stand-up show Believe.
“Necessary but extremely painful,” is how he describes the experience now. “I just got eaten by the Edinburgh monster.” David Collins, the other Umbi, is also dabbling in solo performance this festival, but doing an actual kids show, called The Luck Show, which he is performing in the mornings in the Spiegeltent.
But in the evenings, they’re back together as the Umbilical Brothers, getting a nightly workout. “This show is as physical as any other show we’ve done. That may have been a foolish decision but that’s what’s required of a kids show,” says Dundas. There’s minimal props – just a storybook “because we read the kids a story, as you must” – but there are multiple characters. In addition to each playing the fictional TV hosts Dane and Shavid, “I play the producer of the show, which is a very aggressive hand puppet and David does play a very suspicious character who hangs out at the docks supplying us with stuff.” They also “do some incredibly violent things to the Brady Bunch,” he says.
“The gleeful twisted inner child of every adult is willing to go along with this,” he says. “There’s nothing onstage, and I just love that, I just love that an audience is willing to help create a world onstage with you”.
BY JOANNE BROOKFIELD