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Sydney Australia. David and Shane meet in first year of acting school, where they are taught the foundations of modern performance: Lack of Confidence, Abject Poverty, and the power to break a man's nose with a single kick. The following three years result in Shakespeare, Chekhov, a broken nose and their unique fusion of juvenile insanity with comic and theatrical tradition. One day, deciding that the mime classes aren't loud enough, they create their very first Umbilical routine, a charming piece borne of youth and theatrical innocence that climaxes in the end of the world.
During their graduation year Shane & Dave start appearing at comedy venues, with a view to " supplementing their acting careers". While attending a theatre training festival in the U.S.A., they try their unconventional routine out on a host of international theatre students. The result - laughter. Encouraged by the multicultural response, they decide to give their act a name: 'Schwartz & Eggar'. Five minutes later they rename themselves 'The Umbilical Brothers'. The Umbi Bros. enter a major Sydney stand-up comedy competition, winning the coveted first prize: a single ticket to LA.
On a whim, the Brothers appear on Australia's 'Star Search' and capture the grand prize. This leads to other unrehearsed and hastily prepared TV appearances. David & Shane create and perform TWO COATS AND A HATSTAND FROM HELL, The Umbilical Brothers' first " professional" theatre experience.
The Umbies embark on a series of "stand-up" gigs, TV appearances and comedy tours around Australia. One of their highlights: a misguided booking at a local Bar Mitzvah, where they perform in front of a life-sized replica of Jerusalem's Wailing Wall. They start to question their theatrical agent.
For their first international foray they create a proper show, imaginately titled THE UMBILICAL BROTHERS, and premiere it at Edinburgh's Fringe Festival to rave reviews and sell-out houses. They make $66(AUS) between them. This showcase leads to performances at the Hong Kong Fringe and a half-baked tour of the United Kingdom.
The show goes on the road, evolving with each performance. It successfully travels to the London International Mime Festival, The Melbourne Comedy Festival and Montreal's Just for Laughs Festival. Their next creation HEAVEN BY STORM first appears at Sydney's Kinsela's cleverly disguised as crap. They quickly polish the crap to a lustrous sheen. Later that year it opens at the Edinburgh Fringe, winning the Critics' Choice Award for comedy and a coveted Perrier nomination.
HEAVEN BY STORM is a show now, and they take it to the Sydney Festival and the Melbourne Comedy Festival. It is also enjoyed by packed houses during a London season...Until the IRA leave a bomb just around the corner from the theatre. Ticket sales drop accordingly, and the Umbies just miss out on being the West End's latest explosion.
While in London the Umbilical Brothers work with Aardman Animations, who let them hold their "Oscars", if you know what we mean. They take THE UMBILICAL BROTHERS to South Africa and Singapore.
The Umbilical Brothers introduce a new generation (they were getting sick of the old one) of their self-titled show to sold-out audiences in Australia, Spain, New Zealand and Edinburgh. It is called DON’T EXPLAIN, and like all of their shows, it continues to evolve.
They shoot UMBILICAL TV, a set of short films for children's television in the UK.
HEAVEN BY STORM sells out before it arrives in Singapore and at the Hong Kong International Festival. Freaky. It also makes a splashy return to Sydney at the Opera House. The Umbilicals perform at the Köln Comedy Festival, and travel to Frankfurt to win Germany's 'United Slapstick Award'. Back in London they create and record the character voices and sound effects for the new animated children's series MAISY. Returning as presenters at the AFIs, the boys perform an abridged history of Australian film. George Lucas is in the audience; they force him to watch them have a lightsabre duel.
The Umbilical Brothers create and perform their American Stage debut, THWAK, starting at New York's Westbeth Theatre at the beginning of the year before moving to the Minetta Lane Theatre, where they play through the end of the millennium. TV appearances during the year include the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The American Comedy Awards and Late Night with David Letterman. And yes, Letterman is a robot.
Memorable gig of the year: Woodstock '99. They kill on the East Stage, going on after James Brown (Mr Brown doesn't stay to watch their act but Wavy Gravy, a guy walking a fish, thinks it's "cool"); and they die on the West Stage, to the strains of "You suck!", and "What the fuck is this shit?!"
Capping the year, the guys are selected as two of the '100 Most Creative People in Entertainment' on Entertainment Weekly's 'IT' list. Obviously EW missed their West Stage appearance.
THWAK opens at the Tiffany Theatre in Los Angeles. David and Shane go to Disneyland. There they realise that 'Disney On Ice' is not a science exhibit. While in LA David auditions for the crucial role of Achmed, the Scorpion Boy in the film 'Scorpion King', a mega-budget production starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as an ancient Middle-Eastern pro-wrestler. David fails to gain the role, given the spurious explanation of not looking remotely Arabic.
Their next show SPEEDMOUSE makes its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe. It gets a hearty reception in spite of being heavily under construction. The Umbies tour THWAK around the US and Canada.
Memorable gig: September 12 in Austin, Texas. THWAK's towering backdrop, a giant picture of an exploding brick wall, is hastily pulled down 10 minutes before the performance. Just before the show starts the theatre manager asks the audience to observe a moment's silence for the victims of the September 11 tragedy. And now for some comedy.
They start the year by filming embarrassing cameos in the Australian motion picture 'You Can't Stop the Murders', and quite happily die onscreen. SPEEDMOUSE shows up unannounced at the Adelaide Fringe, and then moves to the Melbourne Comedy Festival, and finally back to the Sydney Opera House Playhouse, selling out its entire season and having to add extra shows at the Enmore theatre.
Shane auditions for ‘I, Robot’ and narrowly misses out on becoming Will Smith’s new wind-up toy when the production nicks off to Canada.
Their multi-digit selling dance single DON’T DANCE TO THIS goes nowhere near tin, let alone gold, but achieves its aim: they get to go to the ARIAs. Some people will vote for anything.
Lots of touring, both local and international. A return season of THWAK in New York, and first visits to San Francisco and Tokyo, where the boys win the “Grand Prix” at the inaugural Tokyo International Comedy Festival without even knowing there was a Grand Prix. In fact they have no idea the festival involved Prixes of any kind.
They shoot extended cameos as henchmen in the Oz motion picture THUNDERSTRUCK. Unfortunately their boss gets largely cut from the film, and their own imaginative work sticks out like a sore thumb. So they’re completely cut, apart from about 2 seconds, if you look really hard at the end of the wedding scene.
Edinburgh gets to see what SPEEDMOUSE looks like as an actual show, and it wins the Award for Outstanding Stage Production at the first (and so far only) Australian Comedy Awards. The year ends with the filming of the show at the Opera House, and work begins on their first DVD.
Time for more US touring, a first visit to that Holy Grail of comedy, the New Zealand Comedy Festival, and more work to finish their DVD. Extra effort is put in for special menus, juicy extras and extra extras.
The second half of the year is spent waiting to get the green light for a new six-month season in New York, which ultimately falls apart thanks to incompetent New York producers who shall remain nameless and incompetent. But at least they get the chance to release SPEEDMOUSE: the DVD.
Having wasted the last 6 months they decide to knuckle down and achieve something.
First up, they’re asked to perform in a DVD charades game, aimed at the whole family. Which whole family bought it remains unclear.
THWAK finally heads for a season in London.
Then they co-create and shoot a pilot for a kids’ TV show.
Too much family entertainment? Time for a new stage show. It’s titled THE REHEARSAL, partly because they only have a week to create it from scratch for the Melbourne Comedy Festival (the title is a get-out-of-jail card). Thankfully it yields plenty of comic possibility, and allows them to do insane things with a video camera onstage. The Edinburgh Festival follows, where it is slightly more rehearsed but nowhere near finished. THWAK makes a sell-out debut at the Dublin Comedy Festival.
They end the year shooting the kids’ TV series THE UPSIDE DOWN SHOW, in collaboration with the charming folks at Sesame Workshop. The shoot is interrupted by a quick trip to Wales for the Royal Variety Performance, presided over by the Queen Herself. Hopefully none of their UK comedy colleagues hear about it.
THE UPSIDE DOWN SHOW completes shooting just in time for its world premiere in the UK. Canada, the US and Australia follow.
THE REHEARSAL continues to be rehearsed, here and there, in Oz and international touring repertoire with THWAK and SPEEDMOUSE, which makes its New York debut.
The lads return to Dublin, with slightly less than sell-out results. Their first trip was so successful the promoters didn’t think they needed to advertise.
The kiddies’ TV show gets an AFI nomination.
Quite well rehearsed by now, THE REHEARSAL heads into the Opera House for a run. Will it ever become a show? Who cares?
The Umbilicals head to Sweden and Norway for the first time. The Scandinavians love it! And they get the humour even better than the Americans. It’s all in the detail.
The boys are asked back to Oslo to appear on a gala show for land mine charities, and go onstage directly following graphic footage of mine victims. And now for some more comedy.
Throughout the year the boys are regulars on the ABC TV series THE SIDESHOW, as are their violent travelling companions The Threatening Bears. Lots of work, but lots of fun too. It will be missed.
THE UPSIDE DOWN SHOW is wins a Logie for Most Outstanding Children’s Series, and an Emmy for Best Title Design. (Title design??) It rates well, and kids, parents, critics and stoners love it. So Noggin (the US financiers) decide not to make any more.
The lads finally create and release their second DVD: DON’T EXPLAIN, shooting the show at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, and adding a bunch of tasty extra material, some of which they couldn’t previously get the rights for.
A year highlight: Eric Idle drags a busload of people (literally – they came in a bus) to see SPEEDMOUSE in LA. Very nice man.
The year begins with the boys touring the Netherlands and Belgium. It’s their first time there, with very appreciative punters, some of whom were crazy enough to travel from Germany and Poland. They spend three fun weeks living on a houseboat in Amsterdam, and manage to come out the other side relatively sane.
DON’T EXPLAIN heads to Brisbane with its customary wonderful audiences.
After a 10 year break, HEAVEN BY STORM is brought back to kicking, skydiving life at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Amazingly they manage to remember what’s in it. 10 years older, the lads only just survive their most physically demanding show.
David and Shane make a delusional stab at the Eurovision Song Contest, putting all their energies and considerable capital into the bid. They refuse to discuss this sorry episode, saying only that their costume design let them down.
The Portal of Uncertainty is finally opened, forever changing existence as we know it.​​