Shed the shame, not the pounds, says Danish comedian Sofie Hagen

Words Claire Smith    

So many people came up to Sofie Hagen after her comedy shows asking for advice that she decided to write a self-help book. And it’s one that’s every bit as sunny, radical and outspoken as she is.

“People would ask me: ‘How do I learn to love myself?’ That is such a huge question with so many points to it. But I had already gathered all this material from learning about it myself. ”

The cover photo of Happy Fat, showing the Danish comic with a huge smiley face drawn on her exposed midriff, is deliberately provocative. Fat, for Hagen, is a political issue. “It is so taboo,” she says.  “People don’t even want to say the word ‘fat’. I’ve had people talk to me about the book for hours and never say the word.”

Happy Fat begins with a heart-rending description of teenage Hagen, desperately trying diet after diet and trying to fit in. It moves to the realisation that capitalism, particularly the diet, fashion and beauty industries, conspire to make women feel that they’re not good enough.

Discovering fat activism helped transform the way she felt about herself.  “In one aspect of my life I’ve been all about facts – that’s why trolls and commentators don’t bother me because they are factually wrong. It doesn’t really touch me because it’s not real.

“It’s not really a choice. What are you supposed to do – say ‘I know there’s a problem and I’m trying to fix it?’  That’s what fat activists call being a ‘good fatty’.”

Hagen moved to London in 2012, having already worked as a comedy writer and performer in Denmark. She reckons English is an easier language for comedy than Danish. “You have to be really, really good to be a good comic in Denmark”.

Growing up in a different comedy landscape also gives her a fresh take on the UK scene. “I didn’t grow up with Live At the Apollo and I didn’t know what the Fringe was until I was on it. Everything I do in the UK is a nice surprise.”

In her first year in Edinburgh in 2015 Hagen walked away with the Best Newcomer award for Bubblewrap. “I’m terrible at show titles,” she says. This year her show is called The Bumswing and is about memory.

“I wanted something that made me laugh, rather than something deep,” she says. “It’s all about a specific swing that I had when I was a child. It’s also about me being a child and wanting to know everything, and how the brain is selective because it’s just trying to make us happy.”

Most of all, she wants to make a show that’s silly and that’s packed full of images and ideas that make her laugh.

She’s made shows about anxiety and about childhood abuse – but for Hagen the comedy is the most important thing. “Because I talk about anxiety, people sometimes say my shows are safe spaces, but they’re not.  I don’t want people to think that. It’s comedy, and in comedy you can make mistakes.”

In Edinburgh she will also be doing a live version of her podcast Secret Dinosaur Cult, with drag king Jodie Mitchell. She loves the DIY nature of podcasting and also hosts Made of Human, which tackles mental health, politics and social activism.

“I love it because there’s no middleman.  You don’t have to ask any other person to do anything. I love meeting people who listen to the podcasts.” Secret Dinosaur Cult listeners are given a special signal to use if they ever see Hagen in the street. The pre-arranged response makes it look as if Hagen is being rude.

“I’m hoping someone will go on Twitter and say: ‘I’ve just seen Sofie Hagen screaming at someone in the street.’ That will make me laugh.”

WHERE & WHEN

Sofie Hagen New York Times Main Theatre, 17 Aug 3.15pm, pay what you can edbookfest.co.uk

Sofie Hagen: The Bumswing Pleasance Dome – Queendome, 31-July-25 August (not 12) 7pm, from £6, pleasance.co.uk

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