Standup Comedian Asks Mother With Fussy Baby To Leave Venue, Brouhaha Breaks Out

Comedian Arj Barker’s interaction with a mother who brought a seven-month-old baby to his comedy show in Melbourne on Saturday night has sparked outrage, sympathy and debate about the woman’s decision to bring her infant to the gig and his decision to ask her to leave.

The account of the incident is contested, with the mother Trish Faranda saying the baby was just “gurgling” during the show and that she felt “humiliated” when asked by the comedian to leave the theatre in front of 700 people.

Another audience member, spoken to by the Guardian, said the baby was “crying” and disrupted the performance multiple times before Barker “politely” asked the woman to leave.

The mother and baby, were sitting toward the front of the Athenaeum theatre watching Barker’s The Mind Field show, which is part of the Melbourne international comedy festival. Faranda clarified that she had not chosen the seats and that her group were sitting toward the end of the row so she could make a “quick exit” if the baby made a lot of noise.

Faranda told 3aw that during the show, the baby “gurgled a little bit, equivalent to someone coughing” and said that Barker heard and joked about the noises, saying “I speak baby and she said ‘take me outside’”.

Later in the show, the baby made more noise, which Faranda described as “she gurgled a little bit, she whinged, nothing super loud” and she said Barker came over and told her to leave the theatre.

Faranda said she was “humiliated” and packed up and left. “I was not comfortable to stay … people were out to have a good night, and that’s fine, if he was not coping with [the baby’s noises], I don’t want to impact other people.”

Faranda said that 10 or 12 others – all women who were mothers or grandmothers and could relate to her experience – as well as one “lovely gentleman” left the theatre with her in protest.

However, Steven Adlard, a Melbourne-based doctor, who was in attendance at the show said the noises were more disruptive than the mother had indicated.

“It wasn’t a little bit of gurgling, it was crying. I was on the second level up and I could hear it,” he said. “Arj got distracted, he was trying to tell a joke, he quite politely stopped and said ‘would you mind? Could you please leave?’ and she just sat there, and the baby settled down, and a few minutes later it started again.

“He was trying to perform and he couldn’t, he wasn’t rude to her, he just said ‘all these other people are here to hear the performance, and they can’t’.”

Adlard said the experience was uncomfortable for everyone – Faranda, Barker and audience members.

“Really I thought it was quite an upsetting thing for all people involved. He was uncomfortable; she was, I’m sure, upset.”

Barker said in a statement to ABC radio: “The show is strictly age 15-plus, as clearly stated on the ticket site. She had an infant with her, the baby was disrupting my performance. On behalf of the other 700 people who paid to see the gig, I politely told her the baby couldn’t stay. She thought I was kidding, which made the exchange a bit awkward. I felt bad about the whole situation and stated this on the night more than once. I offered her a refund. Theatre staff should not have seated a baby in my audience in the first place.”

The description of the show on Ticketmaster said: “This performance is suitable for ages 15+ All patrons must have a ticket, regardless of age.”

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Adding to the outrage online, is the claim by Faranda that at the time he asked her to leave the venue, she was breastfeeding her baby.

“I was actually breastfeeding when he came and stood in front of me and then he was basically telling me to leave,” she told 3AW, saying she found the interaction “intimidating”.

Barker clarified in a statement that his decision to ask Faranda to leave had nothing to do with her breastfeeding the baby, and given the bright lights in his face, he couldn’t see whether or not she was breastfeeding.

“For the record, I support public breastfeeding, as it’s perfectly natural,” he said in his statement.

The incident has sparked furious debate online, and taps into discussions around the exclusion of breastfeeding women and parents of young children from public places.

Ellen Sandell, the Greens state MP for Melbourne, wrote on X: “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 and apologise.”

Adlard said that it took Barker a few minutes to regain his composure after the woman left the theatre and he made self-deprecating jokes about the incident afterwards, including that the gig was his last performance for the comedy festival “and probably my last in Melbourne”.

Trish told 3aw she would not go back to see Barker perform again. “No and the sad bit is, I’ve been to lots of his shows before children and you kind of lose yourself a bit when you have kids and I was just trying to get back to something I enjoyed before I had kids.”

Faranda and Barker were contacted for comment.

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