In conversation with Sofie Hagen

Sofie Hagen has been, by all standards, smashing it recently. Fresh from a stint at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Sofie Hagen is back on the horse and ready to dazzle audiences with her new tour Dead Baby Frog. Megan Jones spoke with Sofie to get her to explain her show in her own words.

This is quite a dark show. The title is based on the parable of the boiled frog which were these experiments done in the 1800s where people found out that if you take a frog and put it into a pot of boiling water the frog would immediately jump back out. But if you take a frog and put it in lukewarm water and you slowly turn the heat up after about two and a half hours the water will start to boil and the frog will allow itself to boil to death. Its a metaphor for emotional abuse because the show is about my grandfather being a psychopath, so it’s that question about how do psychopaths make it so people don’t leave. When I played at the Fringe, I think the biggest shock was how many people came up to me afterwards and said, “Oh, it’s as if you were talking about my dad or my uncle or my whatever.” I was kind of shocked about how many people knew someone like this. That was a mixed feeling of being happy that people related but knowing that was a problem. 

My very first joke at my very first gig, seven and a half years ago now, was something about self harm. If I had to talk about puppies or something, that would feel weird. I have to overshare in order to function. From what I have been told, it’s very helpful for some people. I know that I would have loved to see some kind of talk about these things when I was a teenager because all I saw were things about white men buying toilet paper. It would have benefitted me when I was a teenager so I would hope it has the same effect for at least someone.

My tour is anxiety-safe. This means that if a person has any kind of anxiety in regards to going to a live show, which is something I suffer from, they can email me at tour@sofiehagen.com and tell me if I can do anything to make it easier or better for them to attend. So some people email me and ask to get a seat in the corner or by the aisle or by the exit or maybe they need to be let in before the rest of the audience or they have questions about certain topics in the show or triggers and stuff like that. If it’s do-able I’m going to make it happen. It’s on a case by case basis, trying to figure out what the individual’s request is.

I got the idea of having gender neutral toilets on my tour from a friend’s band. When I did my last tour that was just anxiety-safe and had gender neutral toilets, then a few people messaged me and said “what about disability access?” and I was like “of course!” Because I am able-bodied, that didn’t even cross my mind so I’m sure there are a lot more things I could do that I just haven’t thought of doing so I think a lot of people just don’t know they can. I have received messages from other comedians who say “how do I do this?” or from venues who ask about the anxiety thing. I think it’s just not a thing yet but hopefully it will be!

The best thing about my Made of Human podcast (MOHPOD) is that I don’t have to answer to anyone! I decide the guests, I decide the place and time to do the interview, I decide how it’s edited, the music everything: it’s all my decision. I am not good at working with other people, I have tried! I have had meetings with people who wanted me to do a podcast for them and they had all these ideas and it just felt awful not being able to make all the decisions myself. Also, it’s being financed through the listeners so it’s also this little community of incredibly amazing people and we’re just all making this happen without corporations or the people who usually get to decide stuff. That’s really powerful, and it feels like the way to go, that I can basically tour off of the podcast, something that I have created myself.

I owe Susan Calman so much for her amazing episode, it’s understandably the one people always mention and recommend others to listen to. I usually just turn up and try and talk but she knew before I even entered the room that she was going to be telling me about her dark childhood and I was just completely shocked and grateful that she wanted to talk about that. I think Susan Calman was probably the one where I felt the most like this podcast is doing something important. I was quite lucky that she wanted to do that.

On two occasions I have had to challenge my guests on their views, it’s terrifying but you have to do it! Both times have been with white, straight, cis men. With Sean Patton, that was really heartbreaking because he also seemed like an intelligent, heart warming guy so I was really hoping he would understand it [Sofie challenged Sean about his remarks around normalising domestic violence by making jokes about it]. I had seen his show and I had a few thoughts about a few moments that were uncomfortable, which wasn’t really his fault but more about the audience. The other time was Ross Noble, who talked about cultural appropriation. To be completely honest I wish I didn’t have to. I hate it; each time I get so scared they are going to say “I don’t want that bit in” or “I don’t want this episode to get out.” It’s really just terrifying but also, you have to do it and not just on the podcast but that is just something you have to do in life. You have to call out people when they have said something like that and it is so difficult. It’s the most difficult thing about being a feminist and an activist and just a human being in 2017: you cannot let it slide when someone says something like that because they are going to keep spreading that until you kill it.

White women are the ones that need to learn a lot about feminism still. I can’t believe I had someone explain to me what intersectionality was on the Guilty Feminist, that seems so far away now! The people I’m getting on the MOHPOD are more and more radical and more and more outspoken. One of the episodes that’s about to come out is with Blair Imani who is a black, Muslim, queer, 23 year old activist from New York and she is one of the coolest people in the world at the moment. That’s like next level stuff, getting to sit with people like that for an hour and learn. That’s also one of the points because I’m a white cis woman so I am quite privileged and I will get a lot of white cis women downloading the podcast. It is just about using that power a bit, hopefully for good.

It’s not enough to be really empathetic and understanding, we are at the point now where we have to start punching Nazis! I think sharing the acts of disobedience on the MOHPOD started because I heard a story of a women who had someone shout “fat bitch” at her from a car. She said she was one of those people that never did anything when that happened, but that day she had a six pack of coke and all of a sudden started opening them and throwing them into the car and she just kept doing that because they were stuck at a red light, amazing! I just wanted more stories like that! There is this expectation that once you are in the public eye you have to be really nice in case you get a bad headline. People have been really upset and say that I have promoted violence but fuck that. Someone was angry because a women threatened the husband of her daughter who was beating up her daughter and she said, “if you touch my daughter again I will kill you” and people were like “oh you shouldn’t put that on because it’s not nice to say to someone you want to kill them” and I was like “Nah, that’s not how this works.” It’s an act of disobedience in itself in some way just allowing people to say “you know what, this isn’t something I usually do but I fucking did it this time.”

If we are angry and willing to fight, that changes the whole game! I’m in awe of these people that do acts of disobedience. I just admire it. I’m shit at it. I think my only thing is that when you start to realise your own oppression, you start to realise that a lot of the things that happen to you are because of your gender and not because you deserved it. I think it will take you a few years where you digest that and realise that’s really harsh and it’s all sad and confusing. I just hope that everyone will reach a point very quickly where they become angry instead of sad. Because when we are all angry they have got nothing on us, if we are angry and willing to fight that changes the whole game! I want people to find their anger and fight back, of course with their own protection in mind as well.

Megan Jones

Find Sofie Hagen on her website and listen to her podcast here.

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