24 April 2024

Babies at comedy shows - is this a feminist issue?

| Zoya Patel
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Arj Barker

Arj Barker: . Photo: Jim Lee Photo/Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

If you’ve managed to avoid the recent story about comedian Arj Barker kicking a woman and her baby out of a show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival last week, I’m impressed. Many were outraged when they initially heard about the well-known comedian asking a mother to leave his show because he felt the baby was disrupting both his performance and other people’s experience at the event.

The reporting of the incident began with a tone firmly in favour of the mother’s right to be at the show. Parents need to be able to enjoy themselves, and not everyone can always afford or arrange care for their child, right? Shouldn’t comedy shows and other live events try to be inclusive of parents? And OK, fair enough not bringing small children to a comedy show, especially one that’s rated MA15+, but how disruptive can a newborn baby be, anyway?

Well, it turns out, pretty disruptive.

In the aftermath of the story breaking, the mother in question was interviewed on multiple live news programs, appearing with her baby in tow. The baby was grizzly, fidgeting, and generally making a fair amount of distracting noise and movement, leading to one host on The Project suggesting that perhaps the baby could go to her father for a bit, so the interview could continue un-interrupted.

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The mother went to pains to say in multiple interviews that the baby wasn’t as loud when she was at the comedy show. But it was too late – having seen a taste of what Arj Barker and his audience were presumably dealing with, many have admitted that they would have been annoyed by a baby making that much noise at an event that they had paid to attend.

And others even pointed out that, given the baby’s behaviour indicated she was unsettled and possibly overtired, perhaps she would benefit from being at home and asleep rather than at a live event in the first place.

I’m a new mum myself. My child almost four months old. When I heard about the incident, I was immediately conflicted. On the one hand, I know how exhausting it can be to be in newborn land, and I can totally understand the desire of the mother in question to go do something fun and normal, like attend a comedy show.

But equally, I know how distracting and disruptive tiny babies can be. Even if I disregarded the impact on other people at the show, I personally wouldn’t enjoy myself with my baby in tow for an event like that anyway. I would have spent every minute worrying that my baby was disrupting other people’s experiences and also being distracted by trying to soothe them.

The tricky thing about a situation like this is that women have fought long and hard for our right to be present in public spaces with our children, and to still participate in society while mothering babies. It wasn’t that long ago that women felt housebound with small children, unable to breastfeed comfortably in public, and struggling to find public spaces that catered for their needs, like change rooms, parents rooms and areas with pram access.

For so long, the reaction to women being in public with their children has been a feminist issue – and the pressure on women to exist in ways that minimise the space we take up in society has led to mothers being isolated, and unable to participate in important social, community and work scenarios.

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I’m glad that society has evolved to the point where we have ‘mums & bubs’ sessions at cinemas, cafes have high chairs ready and accommodate prams parked next to tables, and breastfeeding in public is normal and at least tolerated, if not completely accepted, by everyone.

And I would fight vocally and consistently for the right for mothers to be present in public spaces that they need access to. The key word here being need because that’s ultimately what this issue comes down to – making sure mothers and their babies have access to the spaces they need, like shopping centres, libraries, health spaces, recreational spaces, dinings areas, public transport etc.

But at some point, accessibility and inclusion can shift to a sort of entitlement that maybe doesn’t consider what other people are also entitled to, and the potential impact you and your baby may be having on others where it could be avoided and isn’t necessary for your/your child’s wellbeing.

Personally, I don’t think that taking your baby to a theatre-style comedy show is a fair thing to do to other audience members, especially when that show is specifically rated as being MA15+.

Just as I, as a mother, want to be able to take my baby out in public, other people have a right to attend events that are clearly not child-friendly, and not have to deal with my baby, especially if my child is fussy and prone to vocalising their discomfort (as most babies are).

Some basic common sense as a parent is required if we’re going to be good social citizens, and also retain a leg to stand on when we come up against actual barriers to our participation.

Do I think that Arj Barker should have publicly called out the woman in question, and asked her to leave in front of the entire audience? No. I feel there could have been a more tactful way of dealing with the situation. But I do think the mother could have made a better choice and saved everyone the drama.

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The hilarious bit is that they got this mother and child on an opinion show to discuss the deplorable incident, and that child was fussing so much the show runners had to ask the mother to put them down somewhere. Way to make the other guy’s point for them.

Love_In_A_Village9:35 pm 30 Apr 24

Watched comedian Tommy Tiernan stop his show and throw two people out because they were talking. If you have ever even done a preso and you have people nattering (just at a barely audible level) it is totally distracting. Comedians have a script to remember and it has to be hard to do it with noises coming from the darkness in front of the stage. It’s just common courtesy.

Common sense – dont take a small kid to a live show. Some people are just a bit dim.

Capital Retro2:23 pm 25 Apr 24

I think I would cry too if I had to watch Arj Barker live for an hour.

Everyone who bought a ticket to the show had a right to hear it uninterrupted. All attendees should respect those rights and ensure that they don’t disrupt the performance or others hearing / seeing it. Simple really. To do otherwise is selfish and entitled, not at all acceptable unless it is unavoidable eg a heart attack.

Why didn’t the theatre operator enforce the admit one 15+ terms of entry clearly printed on the ticket?

devils_advocate4:09 pm 26 Apr 24

They probably had minimum wage teenagers working at the theatre who aren’t paid nearly enough to deal with entitled karens

Most days I can look out my window and see a couple going for a walk. Their culture appears to consider a woman’s place to be 3 paces behind her husband and covered from head to toe.

We have women being murdered because they brought dishonour to their family by choosing to have a relationship with someone from another faith.

We have liars (or seriously deluded people) claiming that spirits (who do not exist) might kill women if they dare to walk up the wrong mountain.

We have terrible domestic violence issues, some of which is undoubtably cultural.

But the important issue is about a woman who is possibly illiterate or just so entitled she doesn’t think age restrictions should apply to her and her child.

Capital Retro10:23 am 25 Apr 24

The husband is actually protecting his wife by acting as a mine detector.

My understanding is that there is a far more fundamental issue, which is that the ticket was clearly labelled for one person 15+ years of age.
The theatre operator should tell all ushers to advise any non conforming patrons that they won’t be seated before they enter the auditorium.

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