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Interview: Sofie Hagen on feminism, hatred, and why she doesn't want to be famous

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Following a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe, Danish comedian Sofie Hagan is going on tour this Autumn with her new show, Dead Baby Frog, about her 'psycopathic' grandfather. We talked to the 2015 winner of Edinburgh Comedy Awards Best Newcomer about the show, Twitter trolls and her comedy inspiration. 

Hi Sofie, you’ve just taken your new show to the Edinburgh Fringe, how was it?

Edinburgh’s always my favourite time of year, and it’s a different show to anything I’ve done before so it was quite exciting to see what people’s reactions were. My shows have always been about deep stuff, but this is the most personal show I’ve done yet. Even when I did a show about being admitted to a mental hospital when I was sixteen, I had thought ‘this is funny’ at the time. But with my grandfather, who this year’s show is about, I never once thought it was funny at the time.

Is your aim with these ‘deeper’ shows to make people think?

I think I’m more interested in making them feel. Comedy is such an immediate thing, where you react to whatever you’ve just heard.  Of course I also hope that they think, but really I want them to feel something.

You talk about some quite difficult memories in your show, do they still have an effect on you?

I’m still feeling it very much! I think I would need to do this show a thousand times before it became ‘just a show’. Every time I do it I take back a tiny bit of the life that I lost to my grandfather. Every time I go out and make an audience of 100 people hate him, that goes against everything that he thought his life was going to be, because he just wanted to be loved by everyone without actually working for it. So I’m not done yet. I’m not done until everyone in the world knows that he’s a horrible person.

Do you think that anger at your grandfather gave you the energy to write the show?

Yes, absolutely. There’s a feeling that comes with every show, and with this show about my grandfather the feeling is definitely anger. It’s about allowing myself to hate, and to not forgive. I think especially as women we learn to be nice and quiet and not make a fuss, and people rarely tell us that we should be angry, because people don’t like angry women. Allowing myself to actually be furious was really nice, and really empowering.

Do you think your shows will always have a cause about them, and be different from mainstream comedy?

If you look at in terms of just being a human being, I’ve been trying my whole life to be like other people, and that has always failed. So even if I wanted to be really mainstream, I’m not sure I could! But I don’t think I would even try – you hear stories about comedians who used to be very niche and then realised they could be really famous by doing mainstream jokes, but I don’t want to be famous – that doesn’t sound fun. If I could just do this, have the same amount of audience members and do the same kind of shows, that would be all I needed. Where I am at the moment is amazing.

Do you think you’ve been held back in your career over your feminism?

It’s so funny because I sometimes get Danish comedians who say ‘oh you’re only saying that to get attention’… And I’m like, ‘um, you do know the attention that I’m getting is death threats? That was never something I desperately wanted.' Feminism has definitely held me back: I’ve lost shows, I’ve lost friends because they’ve read my tweets and seen that I have certain opinions, but it would just feel very wrong to keep my opinions to myself.

You’ve been subject to a lot of online abuse over your views. Does it still have an impact?

It’s time consuming having to see 20 notifications and think, oh I have to mute all of these people now. So that’s annoying, but emotionally it doesn’t affect me. It’s the most ridiculous and ignorant thing.

You’ve said in the past that Denmark isn’t a feminist environment. Do you notice a difference between performing there and the UK?

Well, I do my shows to feminists so I don’t really notice the difference there, but I do when I’m doing TV shows. A lot of people wouldn’t say this out loud, but you can feel if the audience doesn’t like women. You can feel the energy go out of the room the second the MC says ‘she’. So in terms of that there’s a huge difference between Denmark and London. It’s getting better though, people are learning, but it takes a while.

Are there any comedians you admire, or have been inspired by?

I found Avery Edison online when I’d just started doing comedy, and I was just blown away. She talked about her dead brother, and it was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. It was really inspiring seeing someone do something so different, and talk about a really dark thing on stage. A lot of my early inspirations were Danish comedians because that’s where I grew up.

Is there any advice you would give to an aspiring comic?

You have to really, really want this. You have to really love comedy. Obviously there are people like firemen and the police and compared to that it’s an easy job, but emotionally this is one of the hardest jobs. You have to want it so much that you like the thought of gigging for five minutes a night, seven nights a week for five years at your own cost, without even getting any laughter. If you don’t think ‘holy shit I’d love to do that’, then you’re just not going to make it, because it’s so hard. You have to love comedy more than you love yourself, because if you love yourself you’re not going to do this. You can’t do comedy because you want to be on TV, or you want to be famous, or rich, that can’t be your goal or you’ll be miserable. You have to want to just stand on a stage and tell jokes. Comedy is my favourite thing in the world. I can’t believe I get to go out and perform every night, I’m so lucky.

 You can find info and tickets for Dead Baby Frog here. The show's venues will have gender neutral toilets and disabled access, and if you have any anxiety-related requirements you can email Sofie at tour@sofiehagen.com.

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