Interview: Sofie Hagen – 'I remembered being 15 and unable to function'
The introverted Scandi comic shot to Fringe fame last year with an award-winning debut set. On her return, we get the lowdown on a stand-up making comedic waves with brutal honesty
Amid all the plaudits Sofie Hagen garnered for last year's Best Newcomer award-winning Bubblewrap, the Danish comic was most gratified by that of a teenage girl who approached her after the first show. 'This feels like such a self-indulgent story,' Hagen apologises. 'But this tiny girl came up and said: "I've always felt wrong but I watched your show and it made me feel less alone". And I was like: "Oh my god, I'm going to cry forever now". Even if I never do comedy again, that was all I wanted, one 15-year-old girl. I remembered being that age and unable to function so it felt like the circle was complete, like I'd fixed it. That was the only thing that mattered.'
Hagen's mental illness struggles were at the core of her 2015 hour and she's inviting audiences to even darker places with a follow-up, Shimmer Shatter, which the 27-year-old describes as 'a call to battle for anyone who feels alone. We're a lot of people, we're not alone'.
Although she started out as a shock comic, filling early sets with 'stupid rape and incest jokes that had nothing to do with reality', chuckling that she was one of those young stand-ups who oughtn't be allowed near an audience, Hagen has built a reputation as searingly candid and honest, to the extent that she often wonders if she overshares.
Shimmer Shatter explores social anxiety, 'about being sad, about not feeling like you fit in, about those people who go to parties and hate it, who hide in public toilets so they don't have to deal with other people'. Previewing it, she came to the thrilling realisation that she can't lie on stage. Counter-intuitively, she feels a need to be open about her introvert personality and its counterpart, an ungracious, contrarian nature that prevents her backing down in an argument.
Stand-up gave her a mirror on herself that her teenage friends couldn't provide. 'They would find that what I was saying was too much, leading me to pull back into myself and apologise for sharing my thoughts,' she recalls. 'Comedians were OK with me being so brutally honest. But I guess I still have this idea that some people out there prefer a kind of shield, some things that you keep to yourself.'
Whether performing a routine about sexism in the comedy industry, podcasting on the day-to-day challenges of being a good feminist or blogging about sexual assault, Hagen rarely represses. 'The first place I go to in my head when something bad happens is to think: "oh, eventually I'll be able to take this on stage and work it through up there". If I have a break-up or something really painful like that, the next day I'll be up on stage and talking about it.'
Her candour hasn't always proved so cathartic though. After a relationship ended, she broke down in front of fellow comic Alfie Brown who she describes as 'the last person in the world you want to cry in front of because he reeeeally cannot handle it'.
Intriguingly, Hagen can discuss self-harming, psychiatric hospital and peeing on a man for his sexual peccadillo. But talking about falling in love is one area where she admits to pushing her own limits. 'I find it really, really terrifying talking about it, way more personal than mental health,' she reflects. 'Telling an audience that I opened up to someone? And them thinking: "Well, that's stupid, why would you do that?" That's real vulnerability: an audience knowing immediately that it wasn't going to work out when you didn't.'
Sofie Hagen: Shimmer Shatter, Liquid Room Annexe, 6–28 Aug, 7.50pm, free.