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Get distracted with The Umbilical Brothers

SINCE THE LATE 80s, David Collins (pictured left) and Shane Dundas have been making audiences belly laugh as comic duo The Umbilical Brothers – their quick wit, impressive sound effects and distinctive sense of humour winning them a legion of fans across the globe.

This month, they’re bringing their award-winning show to the Top End for five huge performances. Tierney Seccull caught up with David to chat about The Distraction, screen addiction and blowing up people’s heads.

Tell us about The Distraction – what inspired it?
We started developing it before COVID hit, and when it did, we were meant to premiere it at the Melbourne Comedy Festival 2020, but of course that didn’t happen. Even before our addiction to screen during the coronavirus, screens were our life. They still are now – I’ve had two Zoom calls this morning, I’ve written scripts on my screen, I’ve read the news on a screen.

So, screens were so much a part of our lives and we thought, what would happen if we brought a live audience to the theatre – you go the theatre to watch a live show, that’s why you go there – what if we bring them to the theatre, we put a massive screen above them, and did a live show projected onto the screen above?

Doug Bayne, who is a visual effects master, is on stage with us, and he’s putting special effects in, and foreground and background visuals, so the audience can choose to either watch what’s happening on stage in front of the green screens or watch the shiny, visual effects version on the big screen.

Basically we’re bringing people to the theatre to not look at the people on the stage!

That sounds very, very interesting. And Sydney Morning Herald described it as “Marcel Marceau on really good drugs” – how does it feel to get a review like that?
Yeah [laughs]. You couldn’t pray for a better review than that, and it’s spot on, it’s spot on. We’ve met Marcel Marceau, in London. Yeah, I accidentally trod on his foot. He didn’t say much, apparently. I stepped back and accidentally stepped on his foot, and Shane said, “mate, do you know who’s foot you’ve just trodden on? That was Marcel Marceau!” But he didn’t say anything.

Maybe he was on really good drugs?
[Laughs] Yeah, what a review!

You guys have been in the biz since 1988, making folks worldwide laugh ever since. How does it feel as performers to still be so relevant, to still be putting on shows?
It feels really special to have been able to manipulate our talent in different directions. We’ve evolved, our shows have evolved, our performance has evolved, and our audience has evolved as well. It wouldn’t have been humanly possible to do have done this show 30 years ago, but right now, this is the perfect show for this time.

It feels really good to have been able to keep our audiences interested, but even more than that, keeping ourselves interested in what we do.

On the topic of what you do, no one does sounds effects quite like The Umbilical Brothers. Any sounds you haven’t quite been able to crack?
It just comes naturally to Shane, he’s absolutely phenomenal. Just breaking glass or jingling keys are about the only things he can’t do. High-pitched sounds, like a bell, it’s very hard for a human to do a bell. Ding, ding, ding. That’s onomatopoeia – it just sounds like somebody doing it with their voice. Everything else he can do, he’s a beast.

And you’ve got five shows lined up for the Top End?
I didn’t realise we were doing so many shows! I think I had it in my calendar wrong and I mustn’t have done the thing where is says it ends on this date, I just had the start date. Oh god, I’m so excited! It’s a f—king great show, and we all need a laugh.

For anyone on the fence about getting a ticket, what might tempt them?
They’ve never seen anything like this before. And also, there’s a very, very big chance your head will explode during the show. In fact, after the show, if your head didn’t explode, I’ll guarantee everybody – and we always do a Q&A after the show – if they put their hand up and say, “can you explode my head?” I will put them on the screen and explode their head. You will get the best Instastory or Instagram post in your life if you come to this show!

The Umbilical Brothers - The Distraction
WHEN WED 2 – FRI 4 FEB, 8PM | SAT 5 FEB, 5PM & 8PM
COST $55

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