Arj Barker throws breastfeeding mum out of his show | Comedian said baby's noises were disrupting the audience – so had to go

Arj Barker throws breastfeeding mum out of his show

Comedian said baby's noises were disrupting the audience – so had to go

Comedian Arj Barker is at the centre of controversy after ordering a breastfeeding mother and her baby out of his stand-up show. 

The woman said she was humiliated when the American stand-up asked her to leave the US stand-up’s show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival on Saturday. 

However the comic has stood by his decision, saying the seven-month-old was disrupting the show for the rest of the audience at the Athenaeum theatre.

The woman told radio station  3AW that her daughter  ‘wasn’t screaming — she was just being a baby’ and not causing any nuisance.

Responding to the criticism, Barker posted on Instagram: ‘I had just started my show last Sat night in Melbourne. The Atheneum [sic] was pretty full and everyone seemed in a great mood. Then I heard a baby not crying but "talking" as they do a few rows from the stage. 

‘I made a few jokes about the baby not disrupting my show, and they were well received, then moved on. A few minutes later the baby called out again.

‘Now I was quite concerned. In my experience of doing comedy for nearly 35 years, an audience's focus is a delicate thing. If a noise or movement distracts people mid joke, the payoff can be greatly diminished.

‘At this point, with about 50 minutes of show left, I made a difficult decision. I then calmly informed the woman holding the baby that the baby couldn't stay. I felt bad doing so and stated this at the time as well as several times throughout the remainder of the show. As she was leaving, I offered for her to get a refund, as a gesture of good will.

‘I want to be very clear that this was a very tough call which I made on behalf of the other 700 or so audience members who deserved to see the show they had paid for, uninterrupted.

‘I feel that it is also fair to point out that, as is clearly stated on the ticket purchase site, this show was "Strictly for Audiences 15+’"/ The theatre should have flagged this before seating her but for some reason they did not.’

He added that ‘a handful of people left as they were upset by my decision’ but said ‘probably 97 per cent of the audience remained and the show was well received. There were many positive comments after the show, with most stressing that they supported my decision, though they could tell that it was stressful for all involved.

‘It's been mentioned that she was breastfeeding the baby, which may or may not be the case, but to suggest that this had anything to do with my actions is blatantly false as I couldn't see well enough to know if she was or wasn’t… nor would I care. This was all to do with audio  disruption of my show, nothing more. For the record, I support public breastfeeding, as it's perfectly natural.

‘I've nothing against babies, in fact I was one once, for almost 2 years I'm genuinely grateful for everyone who comes along to my show and will always try to do my best on and offstage. This was a complicated situation, and I did what I thought was right, but I do feel bad for any upset it has caused the parties involved, or my fans, or babies.’

The woman  told 3AW her baby had ‘gurgled a little bit, probably the equivalent to someone coughing,’ adding: ‘People weren’t turning their heads. She said she had previously brought her baby to a Dave Hughes stand-up show and he had moved on like a true professional’.

According to some reports, some men in the audience started yelling at the woman to get out once Barker had asked her to leave.

Barker’s show was independently produced as part of the festival, and Chortle has approached the Athenaeum for comment. 

The comic’s decision divided opinion online.

Ellen Sandell, a Greens state MP for Melbourne, posted on Twitter: ‘I am livid at hearing this. It’s hard enough for new mums to participate in society with all the barriers put in front of them - to be humiliated like this, for just trying to enjoy the comedy festival, is awful. Arj Barker should take a good look at himself & apologise

Podcaster Ralph Horowitz added: ‘Don't know what Arj Barker actually said nor how he said it, but imagine being so selfish to choose to take a baby to a comic or any theatre show and not leave if it starts crying.’

Artist Sarah Wolf posted on Instagram: ‘A baby talking at a show (or cinema, or poetry reading, or theatre, etc etc) is just as rude as a grown human talking, and obviously since the baby doesn’t know that, it’s up to the parents to use their grown human brains to act appropriately.’

And actor Rhys Parton said: ‘As a performer, I understand Arj Barker’s frustration at having a baby cry in the audience. But incredibly poor form to speak to a breastfeeding mother the way he did, terrible audience management to not tell other audience members to shut up when they started yelling at her.’

Thanks for reading. If you find Chortle’s coverage of the comedy scene useful or interesting, please consider supporting us with a monthly or one-off ko-fi donation.
Any money you contribute will directly fund more reviews, interviews and features – the sort of in-depth coverage that is increasingly difficult to fund from ever-squeezed advertising income, but which we think the UK’s vibrant comedy scene deserves.

Published: 22 Apr 2024

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.