“My new show is about living with my emotionally abusive grandfather and the therapy I underwent because of it,” says Sofie Hagen. “It’s still stand up – there are plenty of jokes in there, it’s funny,” she adds, in case you were concerned.
The acclaimed Dead Baby Frog – which comes to Liverpool’s Unity Theatre next week – is the latest full-length show from the Danish comedian and podcaster known for dealing with her real-life issues, social anxiety and mental health on stage; the Guardian, perhaps unkindly, once called her ‘the poster girl for Generation Overshare’.
But there’s more to it than the showboating of an attention-seeking entertainer, as over the years the 28-year-old has amassed a loyal following of people moved and inspired by her honesty, as well as commitment to the laughs.
“Comedy is my thing, she says. “Stand up is the most important thing in my life, the only way I can communicate.”
Hagen’s show in the city coincides with the Liverpool Mental Health Festival, which this year has named her as a patron. She first met with festival organisers when touring her last show here. “It was about being an introvert, living with social anxiety, and they came to see it and we talked. I’m so happy to be a patron because this kind of thing… it’s easy to support and definitely worth the time and effort. I used to work for charities back in Denmark and it’s a nice way of still doing good things – like I used to do before I left it all behind to talk about myself on stage,” she jokes. “I hope to keep supporting it.”
She has no qualms about dissecting her relationship with her “psychopathic” grandfather in public. “My past with him had come to haunt me more and more and that’s why I started talking about him on stage, trying to come to terms with it.”
He’s still alive, so she checked in with a distant cousin – the only family member who might get wind of Dead Baby Frog online – to warn them what she was doing. And in what might be testament to her grandfather’s unpleasantness, they asked if she needed any financial assistance making it work. But on the whole, Hagen doesn’t think her audience will be shocked by the content of the show.
“Lucky my audience knows me,” she says. “People who come already know the kind of stuff I talk about. And a lot of people tell me they’ve had similar experiences.”
What is important to Hagen now is that her shows are ‘anxiety safe’ and welcoming to anyone who may struggle to attend live events. After considering her own social anxiety, she says, “it felt odd putting on shows I sometimes wouldn’t go to myself, just wouldn’t be able to get myself out of the door. I thought there must be so many of my audience who feel the same way.”
And although it might seem like a contradiction in terms, stand up, she says, is an “absolutely perfect” way to combat her anxieties. “The ideal party for me is a stand up gig. Just give me that hour – for the other 23 hours in the day I’ll be quiet.”
So anyone attending the show who has any specific requirements can email firstname.lastname@example.org ahead of time, and she will do what she can to help.
She explains: “People contact me who would like aisle seats, who feel trapped otherwise. Or I will come and walk people to their seats before the rest of the audience if they are concerned about crowds. Some people ask about the content and if there will be any trigger words or experiences I might mention. Or some people just want to warn me if there’s a part of the show where they feel they might have to leave, and don’t want it to look as if they’re walking out of the show. These are all things that are easy to fix.”
She also requests gender neutral toilets at all venues – a small but growing trend and something she was inspired to do by one of her favourite bands, The Spook School, whose music she uses on stage. The Unity has confirmed they will be obliging on the night.
“If anyone has any problem with that, I don’t care,” she says. “If you’re against that, then you’re a transphobic person and should figure that out with yourselves.” The complaints, it turns out, have had more to do with the size of toilet queues than who’s in which line.
Such thought and consideration can go a long way; but as we all know in this day and age there is a vocal contingent, from professional wind-up merchants in the Daily Mail to Twitter eggs with no followers, ever ready to rubbish such small acts of acceptance.
Which coincidentally leads us to Hagen’s most recent mention in the news just last week, after posting a photo to social media of her posing in a swimsuit. The body shaming trolls invariably came out – and her response went viral.
“My positive view of that – and I’m not a very positive person, at all,” she laughs, “My advice that I gave in response – that if someone makes a trolling comment, to write a supportive status to someone else who deserves it, that was just to infuriate trolls, not to spread positivity – although that has been a by-product. But I just want to make trolls really, really sad.”
It’s been an interesting journey for Hagen, whose stand up career started out, like any other, on the male-dominated club circuit. “At that point, my stand up was misogynistic, I did rape jokes, stuff about how women weren’t funny… and it kind of suited me to act like that, to fit in with that scene and all that masculine energy,” she says. “I could feel the difference as soon as I shifted away from that – I wasn’t so welcome anymore, I became an enemy to some extent.”
Her last show, Bubblewrap, found comedy in investigating her teenage issues, including an unhealthy-sounding obsession with Irish boyband Westlife. She began hosting podcasts, including Comedians Telling Stuff, Guilty Feminist, and her passion, Made of Human. A few times during our chat, she alludes to how her work has helped her create a little like-minded community of which she is proud.
“That’s the thing about trolls and stuff,” she says. “They don’t read, they don’t listen to podcasts, it’s too complicated, it takes time – they need a quick attack. So what I have with Made of Human is a nice space where they’re not going to go.”
Somehow, things have worked out rather nicely for Sophie Hagen.
“Nothing has been planned – even on a day-to-day basis, even deciding to live in the UK was just a decision to I made when I came on holiday,” she says. “I never thought I’d have an audience – I just wanted to be on stage. I remember the first time someone came up to me after the show and said they were shaken [by it], and I couldn’t imagine that had anything to do with me. I sort of found my people – and you don’t have to be that person from Mock the Week, or that person from that advert. You can just be you.”