Here's a heart-thawing tale to offset the onset of - ugh! - January. Danish comic Sofie Hagen seemed set for a disastrous Edinburgh Fringe in 2015 - she wades through the varied catastrophes below - but bounced back to win the Best Newcomer award, and has since been thrust into... well, a series of inconsequential meetings by the sound of it.
Still, the Edinburgh honour has massively raised her profile, in Britain if not yet back home, culminating in a lengthy run at the Soho Theatre for that show, Bubblewrap, the final stretch of which kicks off on the 2nd. In fact, her whole career is pretty bloody inspiring, from troubled Westlife-fixated teen to tremendously watchable storyteller.
The force is meget* strong in this one.
I really enjoyed Bubblewrap at the Fringe - and that was a big venue you were filling up.
I know! When they told us we were placed in a 500-seater rock venue we were all pretty scared about how that would turn out, but I'd want to go back next year to the same one.
You'll get offers from the big Fringe venues next year...
I think I'm gonna stay free Fringe. Definitely. I grew up poor, so I quite like that idea that people don't have to pay if they don't have money.
Where in Denmark are you from?
I'm from a tiny village, then I moved to Copenhagen when I was, like, 18.
I was talking to a Danish band the other night - they were telling me that the comedy scene is pretty healthy there now, there's one guy doing 18,000-seater venues.
That's one guy who can do that. But we all think it's big in Denmark , then we move to the UK and it's like 'oh.' There might be a total of 100 active comedians there, including people just starting out; two or three comedy clubs, and five open mics. It's quite tiny compared to the UK.
When did you come over?
I came three and a half years ago. At the beginning I went back and forth a lot. I did comedy in Denmark for two years before I moved over.
In English or Danish?
In Danish. They tried to do a monthly English comedy night, though, which they sometimes still do - someone dropped out and they asked me if I wanted to try, and I was drunk so I said yes.
I saw a report recently that people who've got two languages have different personalities when using them. Does that happen to you?
Yeah! It's really strange. The intonation of my voice changes when I speak Danish, which gives another feeling as well, but, yeah, it might. You're creating like an identity crisis in my head now.
I suppose it's like going back to your parents' house, where you revert back to how you were as a kid.
There's a lot of that. When I go back to Denmark and see the comedians, it feels weird to talk about things that are going well, because I'm back to feeling like the open spot, whereas they're all famous professional comedians. It feels weird to suddenly be one of them without having really seen them for three years.
How was the award received in Denmark?
Few people know what it means, but the ones who did were really nice, they would post on Facebook and try to explain to people how big it was. One or two of them called the TV stations and said 'it's a shame that you're not talking about Sofie' - it was really sweet. But you don't know how big it is until you've done Edinburgh, I barely understood until I went there, no matter how many people I've spoken to and had it explained.
So I can't blame them for not understanding. The last time they all saw me I was a shitty open mic comedian so it's hard for them to understand that I'm not that shit anymore. When I got an agent they were all like 'oh, what, did you find him in a ditch?'
For a Fringe newcomer it's hard enough to get noticed at all, let alone win something...
Yeah, and my whole run went wrong from the beginning: I fractured my tailbone, and I had to change venues like five times.
What happened there?
So many problems. I wanted to be in a 30-seater, but it didn't get built or something, so we ended up in this big venue, which sounded like a bad thing at the time. There were rock bands playing on five of the dates, so on five of the dates I was in different venues at different times. On the day I won the award we only had half a roomful because no one knew where I was.
And I'd listed it wrong in the brochure so I started on a Saturday, but I said I started on a Friday, so 13 people showed up and were quite upset.
It's amazing how well it all worked out.
Exactly - it feels like karma.
So how did this show come together?
There wasn't a plan. I started digging into my Westlife past, things started happening and I got to meet some of them. I was booked to do a show in Sligo, the Irish town where they're from, so I thought 'ooh I'll talk about that at that show' - that was in April/May or something. I was supposed to do 30 minutes but it lasted 50 minutes, and then I called my agent and said 'I think I have a show' - and they were like 'it's too late!' But everything came together, it made sense - like when you tell an anecdote to a friend, you don't think about how to structure it.
There are some pretty sexy moments along the way - did you offend anyone?
I had a bit of a problem at the beginning. In my previews I mentioned another comedian, in a jokey way, it seemed funny and obviously I wouldn't mention them if we weren't friends. But not all people got that. It reached the other comedian and they were quite upset, so I immediately took it out of the show and really regretted that I'd even mentioned it, I felt really bad about it. That was probably the worst thing I've done in comedy ever, and it happened during the Fringe.
I got a bad review from someone who walked out five minutes before the end, which I will not accept as a review. I don't really accept people who walk in late either, as it's not going to make sense.
There's something about your style that lets you get away with the saucy stuff.
My theory is that if you're just honest and genuine, I can't see how anything can go wrong. I'm not lying to them or stringing them along, I'm just telling them everything that happened and why. That's my raison d'etre for any comedy: honesty.
A lot of comics wouldn't have been so candid about some of your activities there.
Yeah, there's a fine line between brave and stupid, and I'm not always sure where I am on that line.
How have your family reacted to the show?
My mum and my sister saw it. I mention my mum in the show anyway, I think she was just proud that she understood the English. My sister was just a teenager, overdramatically proud. Crying. They know everything that happened, and I think it affected my sister quite a lot. She - I realised - didn't know much about what had happened in my teenage years, so a lot of pieces of the puzzle came together in her head - 'oh, that's what happened when I was a child.' I think my mother is finally beginning to be supportive of my career choice.
It's probably pretty rare for a parent to suddenly find out what their kids were going through, years on.
Yeah, but also it depends how you feel about it. My mum is very private and what she hates about me doing comedy is that people get to have opinions about me, she's like 'ah, I don't want to hear what people think of you if they don't like you.' I get that.
My girlfriend found that tough when I did a few gigs.
Yeah, I've dated a really bad comedian, and it is hard. So cringey.
So what's been going on since Edinburgh?
Yeah, nothing big has changed, but I was fortunate to get pneumonia recently, so that meant I could actually stay in bed for a while. That was the first time I stayed home the whole day since like, May. There was lots of talk, lots of meetings, people being interested but there's no project, then a lot of nice attention, new people being aware of you... oh shit, I have another interview coming through...
That sums it up rather nicely - Have a fantastisk* New Year, Sofie Hagen
*take a wild guess
Bubblewrap is back at the Soho Theatre from 2nd - 6th Jan. Tickets
You can also see Sofie's show at Heroes @ The Criterion, at Dave's Leicester Comedy Festival, on February 7th.