Comedian Arj Barker’s decision to kick ‘breastfeeding’ mother and baby out of show sparks outrage

American comic Arj Barker ejected a mother and her seven-month-old from his Melbourne show

Nicole Vassell
Wednesday 24 April 2024 11:44 BST
Related video: Breastfeeding can ‘protect infants from antibiotic-resistant bacteria’

A comedian’s exchange with a mother holding her “gurgling” seven-month-old baby during his live show has sparked outrage, applause and debate after he stopped his routine and asked her to leave the venue.

Arj Barker, who was performing at the Melbourne Comedy Festival on Saturday (20 April), was subject to backlash among some female attendees who left in solidarity following his decision to eject Trish Faranda.

Speaking to an Australian radio station, Faranda said she was “humiliated”, while an unrepentant Barker said he was acting on behalf of the “700 people who paid to see the gig”.

“She wasn’t screaming,” Faranda said of the alleged disrupter, her young daughter, Clara, whom she had tried to settle by breastfeeding. “She was just being a baby, she gurgled a little bit, she had a bit of a whinge … nothing loud.”

Speaking to 3AW, Faranda explained was sitting towards the front of the theatre as the tickets had been pre-allocated but positioned herself towards the end of the row for a “quick exit” if necessary.

She added that Barker heard and joked about the noises, saying “I speak baby and she said ‘take me outside’”.

When she was asked to leave, Faranda said she felt “humiliated” and denied Clara was being disruptive.

Arj Barker
Arj Barker (Getty Images)

However, some accounts have varied over how loud the gurgling was.

“It wasn’t a little bit of gurgling, it was crying. I was on the second level up and I could hear it,” audience member Steven Adlard told The Guardian.

“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 added that he thought the experience was “quite an upsetting thing” for everyone involved: Barker, Faranda and the onlooking audience.

Meanwhile, a man identified only as David, who was also at the show said that the baby was not being disruptive. “The baby was just being a baby, it wasn’t doing anything above and beyond,” he explained. “[Barker] stopped the show and said: ‘Can you take this baby outside?’

“The crowd wasn’t sure whether he was serious — but he was dead serious. It was unbelievably awkward,” according to The Times.

Arj Barker
Arj Barker (Getty Images)

Ellen Mahoney, a comedian who was in the audience, said: “Arj did not intervene or ask the men to calm down. Men in the crowd loudly started telling the woman to get the f*** out.”

Writing on Twitter/X, Mahoney added: “The woman then got up and left with her friends. Shortly she was followed by other women in the crowd … it was the worst performance I have ever seen.”

Faranda confirmed that 10 to 12 other women, as well as one “lovely gentleman”, also left the theatre in solidarity.

“I was not comfortable to stay,” she told the station. “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.”

In a statement, Barker defended his actions and insisted baby Clara should not have been present in the first place.

“The show is strictly aged 15-plus, as clearly stated on the ticket site,” Barker said. “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.”

He also denied the woman’s act of breastfeeding had anything to do with her ejection. “I could just make out a woman holding a baby, I had zero idea if she was breastfeeding — nor would that have been a factor, because I don’t have any problem with that.”

The comedian added that he “felt bad” about the interaction with Faranda and had stated this on the night on several occasions.

“I offered her a refund,” Barker continued. “Theatre staff should not have seated a baby in my audience in the first place.”

Barker was featured as a contestant on the first episode of the fifth season of Last Comic Standing in 2007 alongside comics such as Gina Yashere and Amy Schumer.

He has also appeared on other Comedy Central projects and the sitcom Flight of the Conchords.

The Independent has reached out to a representative of Arj Barker for further comment.

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