Sofie Hagen on her new book Happy Fat

Sofie Hagen brings her new book Happy Fat to the Edinburgh Book Festival – we talk audience responses, changing perceptions, and being Danish in Brexit Britain

Feature by Beth Cochrane | 29 Jul 2019
  • Sofie Hagen

Award-winning Danish comedian Sofie Hagen has written a very good book. It’s called Happy Fat. Her quote on the back cover reads: “I am a fat person and I love my body. I feel lucky to be able to say that – it has taken a lot of work and a lot of time. I want to tell you what I have learned and how I got here.”

And this is exactly what she does – with intelligence, wit and humour. Thankfully, the Edinburgh International Book Festival is giving everyone the chance to hear Sofie talk about the book; ahead of this, and a full Fringe run of her new show The Bumswing, we caught up with Hagen for a chat.

Let’s start with the basics: is she looking forward to her Book Festival appearance? “I am! It feels like the adult section of the [Edinburgh] festivals, like the most serious – so, I am very excited and I think it’s going to be really nice, after having done my stand-up show every day, to just talk about something a bit more serious.”

Sofie spent most of last year writing Happy Fat, and though she's spoken about it quite a bit all over by this point, she's still genuinely excited by the opportunity to continue doing so. What does she hope audiences take away from her event (beside the book, obviously)? “I think with fatness,” she answers, “the whole idea that fat equals bad is so ingrained in us that most of us don’t even question it.”

She highlights some negative reactions she’s experienced with past audiences. “There’s always people that are furious, there’s always people that are going to be like ‘this is bullshit, this is outrageous’, and people get really emotional about it, because they might be so invested in thinness. Some of my biggest trolls work in fitness, so they’ve built their whole livelihood around ‘thin is better’.

“Me saying ‘Hey, maybe it’s not like this’ – this could be the first time they’ve heard someone say that. And I want people to at least have that. I know it's really difficult to push people over the edge of ‘fuck diets and you’re perfect the way you are’, but if I just push them a bit of the way then that’s the dream.”

But the Book Festival is only one segment of Sofie’s Edinburgh Festival experience this year. Her new stand-up show, The Bumswing, will be on most nights in the Pleasance Dome. “Basically I’ve done three shows now that were all about quite traumatic things. They were all about emotional abuse and anxiety and depression, and I just got a new therapist and she informed me that talking about very sad things on stage every single night might make me sad. Which makes a lot of sense, actually.” It’s worth noting that Sofie’s voice is never too far from laughter; she takes our conversation with a healthy dose of humour.

“For this show I tried to figure out how to talk about things that are important to talk about but without compromising my own mental health. Can you make a really fun and light experience and still talk about things that matter? Thematically, it’s about memory and about me being Danish in the UK. I’m kinda taking off the gloves. For a few years I’ve been kind of saying, [she puts on an overly polite, high-pitched voice]: 'Oh hi, please let me stay, I’m really sorry!' And now I’m like 'ah, Brexit’s probably going to happen so I might as well be honest'.”

Would she say The Bumswing is linked to Happy Fat? “I spent the last year writing the book and you know, it’s a funny book in many places but it also gets serious and political… I just needed to make a show that’s about something completely different - I don’t think I mention fat even once… So, this year is a complete step away from any activism and it’s just pure me doing stand-up again.”

Conversation winds around her post-Fringe Bumswing world tour, our favourite UK service stations, and her live podcast with drag king and comedian Jodie Mitchell (entitled Secret Dinosaur Cult), which will be in Bedlam Theatre this Fringe. With so many events across the city, Edinburgh audiences will have plenty of opportunities to see Sofie. Her book festival event comes highly recommended, and please pick up a copy of Happy Fat while you’re there – it’s an unmissable read, on exactly what she promises. The story of someone who loves her body, and her journey there – what’s not to love?

Sofie Hagen: Tackling Figures of Fun, Charlotte Square Gardens (New York Times Main Theatre), 17 Aug, 3.15pm, pay what you want (£0-25) 

The Bumswing, Pleasance Dome (Queen Dome), 31 Jul - 25 Aug (not 12), 7pm, £6-14

Secret Dinosaur Cult Live, Bedlam Theatre, 5, 6, 13 & 20 Aug, various times, £8-10