Look, it is an absolute, irrefutable fact that no human being has ever uttered anything funnier than when, asked what her name was, my then-18-month-old deadpanned: “bum bum”, before breaking into a knowing grin. Admittedly, her sense of humour errs on the scatological. Toddlers aren’t generally known for their wry or sophisticated wit, or their understanding of political nuance. Which is why I probably wouldn’t take the aforementioned child to an hour-long Edinburgh Fringe show by a comedian hailed as “our foremost satirical stand-up”. It would be terribly awkward. She’d laugh at all the wrong bits.
Still, this week one man bravely chose to cast such doubts aside and took his newborn to an Edinburgh Fringe show by the comedian Matt Forde. It did not go well. Yesterday Forde tweeted: “Someone brought their baby to my show last night. Sadly it derailed large parts of it because they wouldn’t do the decent thing and just leave when it started crying. I get that it must be tough as a new parent but please, don’t bring babies to adult shows. It’s always a problem.”
Cue the predictable reactions. The jokers (“I was dragged to a Matt Forde show once and I cried my eyes out too”, etc, etc), but also the outrage from a certain group of parents who seem to believe it is their god-given right to cart their offspring along with them, like small dogs, wherever they go.
“But not everyone can afford babysitters,” they protested. “And it was a newborn. Breastfed babies can’t be left alone.” Both absolutely valid points – which is why, in the three years since my child entered this world, I haven’t been to a single satirical stand-up show. Not even a bad one. Not even improv.
Places like comedy shows are “adult” spaces for a reason: tickets to these events aren’t cheap and no one has paid to listen to a screaming baby – we have quiet carriages on trains and NHS waiting rooms for that. Other parents would have been just as irritated: on top of the ticket price, they had to fork out for a babysitter, only to get at the show what they get at home for free.
There are others, too. During the four years I spent trying for a baby, adult spaces took on a special significance: they became places where I wasn’t constantly reminded that my friends had all now joined a club I couldn’t gain entry to. One evening at the Electric Diner in Notting Hill was supposed to be a night of grown-up consolation (aka cocktails) after a failed IVF, but the parents in the adjacent booth let their toddler (who was still awake at 9pm – I ask you) climb over the divider to pull my hair, over and over again. I left in tears.
Kids hate this stuff too. I’m as guilty as the next mum of dragging my toddler to the pub, but aim for child-friendly ones. Even the idea of the nice place with the slide and colouring pencils is usually greeted by eye-rolling and sighs from my daughter: if that’s the reaction to going somewhere with space to run around, imagine if you threatened your kid with a nice restaurant. I really can’t understand the people who take little kids to Simpson’s in the Strand or The Ledbury (can you tell I haven’t done much in the way of fine dining lately, either?). What a waste of an outlandish amount of money. And an evening show? No idea.
Becoming a parent isn’t an overnight thing: after the baby is born, it’s a sort of process, and at the beginning of that process a lot of us still think we can live our old lives. Instagram doesn’t help: antenatal class friends post pictures of round-the-world maternity leave tours, or dinner at Michelin-starred restaurants as their newborns doze blissfully. But the reality isn’t like that: babies scream and after a while it becomes clear that, unless you have round-the-clock childcare, really you can’t do everything you used to do. It pains me to say it, but actually it’s easier for all concerned if, for a few years, you get your comedy fix from Netflix specials. Parenthood is, as the old saying goes, all about sacrifice – even if what’s sacrificed is middle-of-the-road political stand-up.
[See also: Do “great artists” really “steal”?]