'Really awkward': comedian asks mother and baby to leave Melbourne show

Anna McGuinness
Updated April 22 2024 - 2:52pm, first published 11:30am

A comedian who asked a woman with a baby to leave his performance in Melbourne said he did it for the others in the audience.

American Arj Barker was performing as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival at the Athenaeum Theatre on April 20.

American comedian Arj Barker asked a woman with a baby to leave his performance in Melbourne on April 20. Picture by AAP Image/Brendon Thorne
American comedian Arj Barker asked a woman with a baby to leave his performance in Melbourne on April 20. Picture by AAP Image/Brendon Thorne

A relative of the woman said Mr Barker asked the mother to leave claiming the seven-month-old baby was "ruining his train of thought".

"A woman has purchased a ticket, for a night out with her sister and friend, to laugh and enjoy herself and you badger her and encourage her to leave and get a refund," she said on X.

"Thanks to the countless women, and one grandfather, who left in protest. Atrocious."

WATCH: Established comedians and hilarious up-and-comers converge on Melbourne for the annual international comedy festival in 2024

Mr Barker said he heard a baby making sounds and made a few jokes about it but as it continued he felt he needed to ask the woman to leave.

"It was really awkward for me to be honest," he told 3AW.

"I think I did the right thing but it was a very difficult situation."

He said the show was for audiences aged 15+ and he shouldn't have been put in the position.

"I've seen already that noise doesn't take much to distract an audience," he said.

"You know when they're watching a show and I've worked on these jokes and there's timing and there's pauses and it's just not going to work with the baby.

"I did it on behalf of the audience, and I can understand that it was difficult and embarrassing for her and I do feel bad about that."

Mr Barker said he would be happy to offer the woman free tickets to a show of his, without the baby.

The woman, whose name is Trish, told the radio station she felt humiliated by Mr Barker who she had been a fan of.

Trish said she was sitting four rows from the front and towards the side of the stage, so could make a quick exit if her baby became noisy.

"She made a little noise and he came and stood right in front of me... she wasn't screaming, she was just being a baby.

"I was actually breastfeeding while he came and stood in front of me and then he was basically telling me to leave."

She said a group of women sitting in front of her told her not to leave, but when she did they left in solidarity along with a few others.

"I was not comfortable to stay and I didn't want to impact other people - people were out to have a good night and that's fine if he wasn't coping with it," Trish told 3AW.

She said she had also taken her baby to a Dave Hughes show during the festival and there had been no issues.

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival said in a statement Mr Barker was independently produced and the venue was not managed by the festival.

"However, any interaction between performers and their audiences requires sensitivity and respect," the festival said in a statement.

"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."

Victorian Greens MP for Melbourne Ellen Sandell said she was "livid" to hear about the situation.

"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," she said on X.

Ms Sandell said not allowing breastfeeding babies in public places was "actually saying women/mums aren't allowed in those places".

"A note to men who don't get it: when a baby's breastfeeding you literally have to be attached to them most of time & cant be separated for more than an hour or so."

In 2023 a Victorian judge told a woman who was breastfeeding a child to leave a courtroom saying it was a "distraction".

Anna McGuinness

Anna McGuinness

Breaking News National Journalist