Funny Lady

Transgender comic Julia Scotti is the star and subject of a fantastic new documentary.

September 10, 2021 / Buzz

Comedy is often, and simply, telling the truth in surprising ways, especially stand-up comedy. That’s not to say that it’s easy. When it works, an audience connects with a comedian’s authenticity, and it opens the door to a deeply shared laugh at the human condition.

For comedian Julia Scotti, the path to authenticity was transformational—and a path not often taken. She began her career as Rick Scotti and in her late forties realized that she was a woman. That realization began the process of becoming Julia, returning to comedy, and beginning the most productive creative period of her life.

Her journey is chronicled in a new documentary, Julia Scotti: Funny That Way, available on streaming platforms. It’s an honest, poignant look at the process of discovery, transition, and emergence into a revitalized career.

Like so many people who came from broken or dysfunctional homes, Scotti spent a lot of her early adult years looking for “normal.” “I wasn’t feeling normal,” she says. “I didn’t know the issue was my gender identity.” In her search, Scotti says, she married several times. “Having multiple marriages was not unusual for trans people of my age because you are looking for that white picket fence. You want the feeling of being like everybody else. And I wasn’t.”

At first, Scotti thought she was a gay male. “Back then, there was no information about being trans. There was no Internet. There was nothing really.” So, she tried to enter that world, only to find that each encounter ended “disastrously.”

It was after one awful date when Rick was complaining to a psychologist friend about a lack of romance, that she said, “You’re a woman.”

That came as a shock to then-Rick.  “I was, like, I can’t be, but the light went on, and it fit. It was truly a ‘road to Damascus’ moment.” From that realization began the process of discovering, revealing and becoming Julia. It was not an easy process, but “the day came when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk to blossom, and I had reached the point where I couldn’t stay in the bud, and I suddenly just blossomed.”

That is not to say it was easy. Julia gave up her career, became estranged from her children, and struggled with the process of living as a woman, prior to transitioning in 2002. It was not an easy journey, but she was willing to bear the costs to become and live as who she truly was.

All of this is told in the documentary with a level of deeply felt humanity that Julia says would not have been possible without her director and producer Susan Sandler. As Julia tells it, Sandler came to Nantucket and was going to help her refine her one-woman show. As they worked, Sandler realized that there was a documentary to be made.

“Who thinks about having a documentary made about their life aside from Donald Trump?” Julia mused at the time. Yet as the project developed Julia and Sandler thought it might help others.

Julia Scotti: Funny That Way is in its own way a tiny epic. It has a quest, tests of foundational beliefs, demons to be fought, transformations, and a hero to root for. Like any classic epic, it’s virtually impossible not to be drawn in, moved, and come to care deeply for the hero. And, at times,  you’ll laugh yourself silly.

—Christopher Byrne

Julia Scotti: Funny That Way
73 minutes
Available for rent or purchase on Prime Video, Apple TV, and other streaming platforms.
$4.99 and up.

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