The Umbilical Brothers write a 'weird, cool, comical' children's book
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The Umbilical Brothers write a 'weird, cool, comical' children's book

Shane Dundas and David Collins - aka The Umbilical Brothers - have been a comedy force for 30 years. Now they are extending their out-there humour to a children's book, called, just a little perversely,  A Monster in My House.

Dundas - the taller, less hirsute one - is a born and bred Canberran, who returned to live in the national capital in 2000 while continuing to work with Collins as they took their much-lauded, unique physical and vocal comedy around the world.

The Umbilical Brothers David Collins (left) and Shane Dundas. Shane, born and bred in Canberra, returned to the national capital in 2000 where he enjoys the quiet life between manic touring.

The Umbilical Brothers David Collins (left) and Shane Dundas. Shane, born and bred in Canberra, returned to the national capital in 2000 where he enjoys the quiet life between manic touring.

Now established as a well-known comedy act with fans around the globe, the pair met at Theatre Nepean at the University of Western Sydney in 1988, "when the Umbilical madness began".

Before then, Dundas went to primary school in Griffith and then to Telopea Park High and Narrabundah College. He then attended the Canberra College of Advanced Education, later the University of Canberra, where he got a bachelor of arts in modern languages (Japanese). He now lives on the northside.

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"I may be one of the very few who have moved back to Canberra after leaving," he said.

Shane Dundas, one half of the Umbilical Brothers and all Canberran.

Shane Dundas, one half of the Umbilical Brothers and all Canberran.

"Away from my work I like things quiet. Canberra provides a balance between a healthy life and work that can get crazy and has involved commuting to 38 other countries.

"The air is clear, I can have a house with green around it, the majority of people are pretty smart and not dickheads, and I can jump in a car, drive for five minutes and be at the movies. What's not to like? Apart from the obvious."

The Umbilical Brothers in 1994. Their high-energy physical comedy was once described by The Sydney Morning Herald as
“Marcel Marceau on really good drugs”.

The Umbilical Brothers in 1994. Their high-energy physical comedy was once described by The Sydney Morning Herald as “Marcel Marceau on really good drugs”.Credit:Fairfax Media

Dundas and Collins teamed up with Berlin artist Johan Potma for A Monster in My House, which is about "not making assumptions about people (or monsters)".

"As with most of our work and career, there was no plan," Dundas said.

"We were on tour in Berlin a number of years ago and came across Johan's studio. We loved his fabulous, eccentric work, often featuring weird creatures. And I guess he liked ours, because he wanted to make something with us.

The Umbilical Brothers' new children's book, A Monster in My House. 

The Umbilical Brothers' new children's book, A Monster in My House. 

"It did seem like a great fit, but we went back to our regular lives and he then had to badger us to make it a reality. After repeatedly being reminded of the idea over a period of years, we finally sent him a text and started the back-and-forth."

Their shared comic sensibilities inspired the book, which is published by Puffin.

"Johan's work inspired the text, and in turn the text inspired him. So it was a chicken-and-egg situation, with some weird-arse version of a chicken, as painted by Johan, being the kick-off to the whole thing," Dundas said.

Dundas says the book is aimed for children three and older, but can be enjoyed by anyone.

"If you've got an inner child hidden somewhere, you'll like it. Pick up the book and you'll see what I mean," he said.

"Obviously there's the main story and pictures for the young kids, which has a little message about not making assumptions about people (or monsters). And the weirdness and comical detail works for the olders. It's also a perfect chance for parents to star and enhance their performance skills reading it out."

The Umbilical Brothers teamed up with Berlin artist Johan Potma to create a "strange kids' book''.

The Umbilical Brothers teamed up with Berlin artist Johan Potma to create a "strange kids' book''.

Dundas loved books growing up.

"I really went for Where the Wild Things Are, although I think I got to it later than other kids. It just takes you with it. I don't think I'd be who I am without that book," he said.

"In high school, I even wrote and illustrated my own monster book, with highly unusual monsters and detailed cross-hatching in the pictures, inspired by Maurice Sendak's work. I know David and Johan feel similar inspiration from that one."

Once named as two of Entertainment Weekly’s “100 Most Creative People In Entertainment”, the Umbilical Brothers have appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, followed James Brown at Woodstock ’99, and performed for the Queen. Their online videos are viewed by more than 200,000 people a month.

They will also soon be performing a new show, which they will debut in Canberra in February. They'll be in the Courtyard Studio at the Canberra Theatre from February 18 to March 3.

      The Umbilical Brothers will also be performing a new show in Canberra in February.

      The Umbilical Brothers will also be performing a new show in Canberra in February.

      Dundas lived in Sydney for 11 years and New York for a year, where he and Collins did an off-Broadway run before returning to Canberra. And it's not quite the city he left.

      "It's strange, but the hospital I was born in, the house I grew up in, and the infants' and primary schools I went to no longer exist," Dundas said.

      "Even my high school and college turned into different things. One time I nostalgically drove down our old family street to check out the house, and it was literally a vacant lot. In the middle of a street in Griffith! Like a giant had just plucked it off the ground.

      "Someone's been erasing my Canberra past!"

        Megan Doherty is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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