The Incredible Journey of Soulful Trans Comic Julia Scotti
Author: Trudy Ring
In 2011, a new face burst on to the stand-up comedy scene, a woman named Julia Scotti. She was brash and hilarious, and five years later she wowed the judges on America’s Got Talent, even the notoriously tough Simon Cowell, and finished as a quarterfinalist. During her first appearance, the judges asked why Scotti, who was well into middle age, hadn’t become a comedian earlier in her life. The answer was that she had — under the name of Rick Scotti.
Rick Scotti had toured with Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock, had opened for musicians including Lou Rawls, Chicago, and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and was married with two children. Despite what appeared to be a successful career and personal life, something didn’t feel right deep inside. So in 2000, after 48 years of identifying as Rick Scotti, the performer took a hiatus from comedy, underwent gender-confirmation surgery, and eventually returned to the stage as Julia, now one of the best-known and funniest transgender comedians in the U.S.
Scotti is telling her story in the new documentary film Julia Scotti: Funny That Way, produced and directed by Susan Sandler. It has screened at several festivals and is now available on a variety of streaming platforms.
It chronicles Scotti’s life from the beginning of her career to the present day, when she’s still on road from one gig to another; her transition and the estrangement it caused from the women she loved and from her son and daughter; her reunion with those offspring; and her commitment to making a better world for trans people.
That commitment was what led her to do the film. “There are so many kids out there and adults too who are terribly suffering and feel so alone,” she says. She experienced that suffering and loneliness herself, bringing her close to suicide, and she hopes that by telling her story, she’ll help some of those kids and adults feel less alone.
The film is hopeful and inspiring. It shows Scotti’s renewed relationship with her children, son Dan, who’s interested in a career in comedy, and daughter Emma, an appreciator of comedy. It introduces audiences to other people who are important in Scotti’s life as well, such as manager Cathy Caldwell. And mostly it shows Scotti being out, proud, and funny while performing at comedy clubs, speaking at LGBTQ+ events, and hanging out with family and friends.
Between 2000 and 2011, Scotti worked as a teacher and was for a time self-employed. There were challenges in returning to stand-up comedy that went beyond the issue of gender identity. “The business had changed so much,” she says. Social media had come on to the scene, as had a new generation of club owners. “I was kind of a newbie again,” she notes.
But she forged on, and the people behind America’s Got Talent found her on the internet and asked her to audition. Her appearance on that show made her the first out trans comedian on national television. Not that she was closeted previously; she has been open about her trans identity ever since she returned to stand-up, and in 2013, The Advocate named her one of the five hottest trans comics in the nation. Last year she received more national exposure on the Showtime comedy special More Funny Women of a Certain Age.
Scotti, a native of New Jersey, knew early in her life that she wanted to be a comedian. “I think it’s almost a calling,” she says. One of her first inspirations, she says, was Lou Costello; he and Bud Abbott were one of the top comedy teams of the 1940s and ’50s, starring in films and television. “He was a seminal influence on me,” she says. She recalls walking home from kindergarten, at age 5, and passing an Italian bakery that displayed a signed photo of Abbott and Costello. “It was like a brush with fame,” she says.
Now Scotti has achieved fame herself, and while the road there has been difficult at times, she’s philosophical about it. “I don’t think I could have turned out this way if I hadn’t lived the life I lived,” she says.
And she’s keeping busy. In addition to her comedy and speaking gigs, she’s planning to record her second album this fall, and she’s written a play that she hopes to get produced. It’s about an Italian-American family in the 1960s, and it deals with LGBTQ+ and racial issues. She’d also like to do some acting.
She enthuses about everyone who helped get her life story to the screen, particularly Sandler, who she says “worked tirelessly” to bring the film to fruition. Sandler, the playwright and screenwriter of Crossing Delancey, says in a director’s statement that she became enraptured by Scotti after seeing her perform an “explosively funny and moving set” in 2015. “Julia’s story deepens our understanding of not only the transgender experience, but the human experience of longing to be who we truly are, individuated from the voices telling us to be someone different, someone more known, someone who ‘fits in,’” Sandler says. “And by that example, she invites us to be free.”
That’s the effect Scotti hopes the film will have on audiences — for trans people, making them feel seen and supported, and, she says, “if you’re a cisgender person, maybe you’ll walk away with a little more understanding.”
Find Scotti online at JuliaScotti.com and more about the film, including where to stream it, at JuliaScottiFilm.com. Watch the trailer below.
Original Article on The Advocate
Author: Trudy Ring