Comedian Defends Decision to Boot Breastfeeding Mom and Baby From Show

James D. Morgan/Getty
James D. Morgan/Getty

Comedian Arj Barker released a statement Monday defending his decision to ask a breastfeeding mother to leave his show in Australia over the weekend due to her baby allegedly disrupting the performance.

The American comic was on stage at the Athenaeum Theatre in Melbourne on Saturday night as part of the city’s international comedy festival when he asked the mother, Trish Faranda, and her 7-month-old daughter, Clara, to leave. Around 10 others also walked out of the show in solidarity, Faranda told The Age.

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Faranda says her baby was giggling and gurgling occasionally during the show and that she began breastfeeding when Clara started to “whinge.” It was then, she claims, that Barker stood in front of her and speaking on the microphone “was basically saying that I was interrupting his rhythm and I should leave,” she told The Age. “Then he turned to the crowd to get support from them to say, ‘Get out.’”

She said some women seated near her encouraged her to stay while other audience members jeered at her as she walked out, feeling too uncomfortable to remain at the show. “It was just quite humiliating,” Faranda said.

Another person in the audience said it was “really awkward” when the Flight of the Conchords star asked Faranda to go, even though the baby “was making a bit of noise, as babies do.” They added that they were shocked to see people heckling Faranda as she left.

In an Instagram post Monday, Barker gave his side of the story in a statement under the heading: “BabyGate: Let’s Clear The Air.”

“The Atheneum [sic] was pretty full and everyone seemed in a great mood,” he wrote. “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, Barker wrote, the baby “called out again.” “Now I was quite concerned,” he wrote. “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.”

He said that it was at that juncture, with around 50 minutes of the show remaining, he “made a difficult decision.” “I then calmly informed the woman holding the baby that the baby couldn’t stay,” Barker wrote. “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.”

Barker described his decision as a “very tough call” he made “on behalf of the other 700 or so audience members who deserved to see the show they had paid for, uninterrupted.” He also said that he feels it’s “fair to point out that, as is clearly stated on the ticket purchase site, this show was ‘Strictly for Audiences 15+,’ and that the theater “should have flagged this before seating her but for some reason they did not.”

The comedian also said that it’s “blatantly false” to suggest that his decision had anything to do with Faranda breastfeeding, claiming that he “couldn’t see well enough to know if she was or wasn’t” due to bright lights in his eyes and the audience being seated in the dark. “This was ALL to do with AUDIO disruption of my show, nothing more,” he wrote. “For the record, I support public breastfeeding, as it’s perfectly natural.”

“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,” Barker added.

The incident has provoked mixed reactions in Australia, with some expressing outrage at Barker’s actions, while others have defended him in light of the age restrictions on the show.

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival told Australia’s ABC in a statement that it was aware of the incident but said it was not responsible for Barker’s show.

“Arj is independently produced and at a venue not managed by the festival, however, any interaction between performers and their audiences requires sensitivity and respect,” a spokesperson for the festival said. “In our festival managed venues, babes in arms are generally allowed but we do ask people to sit up the back with their child so they can quickly and easily leave if the baby gets noisy, so as not to disturb the artist and other patrons.”

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