Motherhood's isolating enough without being kicked out of a comedy show | Comic Dylan Dodds on the Arj Barker controversy

Motherhood's isolating enough without being kicked out of a comedy show

Comic Dylan Dodds on the Arj Barker controversy

As a comedian, I am a professional fence-sitter. I find audiences want silly, relatable, jokes, and not political opinions masquerading as fact. For that they have podcasts. 

I have thus far managed to avoid publicly commenting on Israel/Palestine and try not to show any preference one way or the other when it comes to Keir Starmer. A position the man himself would be proud of. Damn, there goes my streak…

Yet there is one issue I can’t stay silent on. And that is the news that fellow comedian Arj Barker, kicked a mother and baby out of his recent show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. 

When you read the headlines, they make it sound like the mother was breastfeeding, handily placing it within a ‘culture war’ narrative of woke young mothers against the free speech heroes of comedy. But if you delve deeper it turns out what the baby was doing was much worse. Existing. 

It turns out Arj took umbrage with the baby babbling along to the show. And after ‘carefully thinking’, he decided to ask the mother to leave. Presumably taking the baby with her. You have to wonder what he’d have done if he’d had an audience member with Tourette’s. Or, as is the bane of all comedians on the pub circuit, one with a dog.

The news hit particularly close to home for me, and not just because one of my parents is Australian. Je Suis That Baby. I am Shart-icus.

Despite the sound of babies crying triggering the PTSD I have from my student days, when my morning hangover would be accompanied by next door’s screaming baby, and, despite finding new parenthood harder than most, I have decided my new show will, venues allowing, welcomed babies.

It’s not a new thing, one of my favourite gigs the last few years was AfterMirth, a daytime show for new parents in Bristol. And not just because the city is where all the good drugs are. Those mums know how to load up on Calpol.

I know that, as someone whose new show is based on the premise of Groundhog Day – a film from 30 years ago – I can’t claim to be original. But what I can do, is try to make the arts just a little bit more accessible for people going through one of the most isolating experiences of their lives.

Plus, I’m hoping it’ll work as a sort of aversion therapy for me. And I can replace the trauma of my student days with a whole host of new ones.

The Telegraph claims they found it hard to get acts to comment on Arj. With one anonymously saying: ‘You’d have a better chance of getting someone to talk about Brexit.’ As if the entire comedy circuit hasn’t been talking about that for the last eight years. 

Are we really supposed to believe comedians willing to throw others under the bus for publicity are hard to come by? Sure we pretend we’re better than the leader of the opposition, but spring comes along, we’ve all got a show to plug, and suddenly we’re throwing whoever looks weak in front of that bus quicker than Starmer being asked to comment on small boats.

And I, for one, would like to be the first.

Like a lot of you, I, at first, assumed Arj had booted the woman and baby after a protracted campaign of screaming. So was shocked to hear it happened just ten minutes into the show. Arj kicked that mother out quicker than Paul Currie faced with an audience member the Met Police would describe as ‘openly Jewish’.

As with that occasion, there is an additional, and underreported concern beyond the simple discrimination at play. Arj’s actions is said to have caused multiple audience members to yell at the woman, making an already unpleasant situation worse. I say 'audience members'. I mean ‘men’. Because, obviously. But at least it makes a nice change for the blokes to be shouting ‘Get Your Tits In’ instead of the other way around.

Arj said he did it because of the importance of keeping an audience’s focus, which I understand, but would personally argue that doing a show that’s a little disrupted by a baby, would be a lot easier than doing one in which you’ve pissed off around 50 per cent of the audience by booting out one of their own.

Arj also highlighted that his show is 15+, conveniently missing that age ratings are different to babes-in-arms policies in the theatre. My show is 16+, and therefore I am one better than him. By the way, I really do have to stress mine is a hardline. I’d take a million babies (and a dog!) over having to explain to a teenager what a fleshlight is in front of their parents again…

On the flip side, one of the BEST things about babies is they have no idea what you’re talking about – not dissimilar to when I talk at my wife. But one thing both me and my wife agree on, is that breastfeeding is damn hard, and anyone who’s doing it deserves to be able to do it wherever the hell they want.

One thing Arj didn’t consider, is that no one is more aware of how annoying a baby sounds than their own parent. And I can guarantee that if that baby had made anything more than babbling sounds the parent would have removed themselves quicker than the milk that shot out my wife’s boob the time I jokingly put it near my mouth.

One of my friends came to see me perform with their baby once. (They had the baby, I performed alone…) And the baby was firmly on the breast the whole time. Little bastard didn’t laugh once. 

And so, unlike Arj, I would now like to publicly invite any parent with a new baby to see my new show. And solemnly promise, the only time I'll throw a breastfeeding mother out, is if it’s my own.

•  Dylan Dodds is previewing his new time loop stand-up show GroundDodds Day at festivals across England from next Wednesday before a full run at Just the Tonic at The Mash House at the Edinburgh Fringe. Please confirm with individual venues about their own babes-in-arms policy before booking.

Published: 26 Apr 2024

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