The last time comedian Sofie Hagen performed in Dubai, it was to "20 people in a pub" (she can't remember which one). That impromptu gig – for Dubai Laughing, while she was here on a holiday visiting her brother who does "something with computers" – was a preview of her Edinburgh Festival Fringe debut, Bubblewrap. She went on to win the career-making 2015 Best Newcomer Award for the show.
This week, Hagen returns to the GCC to play to a combined audience of thousands over seven dates in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha, as part of The Laughter Factory tour. Needless to say, the 28-year-old London-based Danish stand-up is the hottest act on the bill.
In the intervening 18 months, Hagen has won thousands of fans with her fearlessness and honesty. Onstage, she speaks frankly about conquering her body-image issues, depression and self-harm. Offstage, she “overshares” through social media, a series of feted podcasts and a “really uncomfortable” newsletter.
Her promotional blurb touts the bittersweet praise by a broadsheet in the United Kingdom: “eye-catchingly odd”. And she never, ever, lies on stage. “Everything I say is 100 per cent true. That’s where I get my kick from,” says Hagen. “It’s the reason I do comedy.”
She describes this filter-free approach as sounding reminiscent of therapy.
“I would be more scared of not doing it – I would be so afraid that people could tell that I was lying,” she says.
“The worst thing is when I find out a comedian is lying onstage, like when they’ve done a whole show joking about their girlfriend, and you find out they’re single – you’re not being yourself if you’re lying to the people.”
Hagen’s ultimate faith in sincerity is the result of an “epiphany” which came just three years ago, when an older comic gave her a piece of career-changing advice.
“He said my problem was I was too scripted – I had to know exactly every single word I would say before I went on.
He said: ‘Try to go onstage without having anything prepared at all’, which is absolutely terrifying,” admits Hagen. “I ended up talking about something which had happened that weekend – being rejected by a man in a really embarrassing way – and I just started talking about it, and how I felt onstage and how the audience reacted was so new to me. So real – they knew I was telling the truth – they knew this had just happened, and it was an epiphany.”
The fruits of this approach bloomed little more than a year later with the surprise Fringe win – Hagen only intended to take a half-hour show but could never wrap on time – which sparked prime time UK TV appearances, including BBC's The One Show and Russell Howard's Stand Up Central.
All of it would have been unimaginable for this unambitious soul, who just six years ago, intended to stay in Denmark and live as teacher of the Russian language.
An adolescent comedy fan who learnt English – and a sense of humour – as a child from "horrible American sitcoms" The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and The Nanny, Hagen never dreamed of getting onstage until, at the age of 21, she met some "open-mic comedians" at a bar and decided to "write a load of bad jokes" and follow them onstage.
“I thought I was cheating,” says Hagen. “Every time I came offstage and people were laughing I was just a bit: ‘Hmmm, I got away with it again’. It was two years in that I told my gran: ‘Maybe I might be good at this’. It was almost more terrifying to know that I was good, rather than just getting away with it.”
Shortly after, Hagen moved to London, in search of more and better gigs. She also found a more liberal society which shaped her increasing confidence and social politics. “In Denmark, it’s a very sad situation,” she says.
“The people – I was one of them, I was a sexist person, too – because that was the culture I grew up in.
“When I moved to England I learnt about feminism and all these things, and I could see Denmark in a new light, and see that it’s actually quite embarrassing how far behind Denmark is.”
Right now, Hagen's star is in ascent. Last year's Fringe follow-up Shimmer Shatter – a further exploration of naked neurosis – picked up another round of five-star reviews.
Made of Human – one of her three podcasts, "about being an introvert and not being able to deal with life" – was recently chosen by iTunes as one of the UK's top 10 podcasts. She begins filming a new web show next month. For someone who has achieved so much so quickly, Hagen's disarming lack of aspiration continues to endear.
“If everything just stops right now, and I have to do the same thing for the rest of my life, I’d be really happy,” she adds. “I’ve never had ambition. I’ve never thought I could do anything. Danes are very humble, so the thought that I might be someone had never crossed my mind. So if I could just be a horrible, bad open-mic comedian in Denmark for the rest of my life, never make any money, and be a Russian teacher during the day, I think I’d still be quite happy because I’d still get to go onstage.
“Fortunately, no one ever tells you, you can’t go onstage.”
• Sofia Hagen will be touring the UAE as part of the Laughter Factory. She performs on Thursday and Friday at Mövenpick, JBR Dubai. She will be at the Park Rotana, Abu Dhabi, on January 18, before returning to Dubai at the Grand Millennium on January 19 and at The Gramercy DIFC on January 20. All shows begin at 8pm. For more details, got to www.thelaughterfactory.com