Rebirth of a comic: 'Julia Scotti: Funny That Way'

A transgender comic gets a new lease on life in Julia Scotti: Funny That Way


Julia Scotti would probably be the first person to say she was a hack back in the 1980s. Her stand-up routine was full of self-deprecating pathos, in the tradition of Rodney Dangerfield but with way more thinly veiled desperation. She pointed her humor at herself, but she also lashed out. In one bit, she went off on a tangent about transgender women. Watching it on video more than three decades later, Scotti squirms in discomfort. She says that, at the time, she already knew something was amiss with her gender identity, and it’s hard to watch what her self-hatred and confusion prompted her to put into the world. Back then, Julia was known as Rick. When she was in her late 40s, Scotti gave up her family and her career to start life over as a woman. She tells her story in Julia Scotti: Funny That Way.

Using performance footage, home movies, photographs, and interviews, director Susan Sandler pieces together Scotti’s trajectory from a rambunctious little boy with dramatic flair, to a vaguely unhappy man who couldn’t make multiple marriages work, to a father who didn’t know how to parent his kids appropriately because he didn’t like the male version of himself. Fellow stand-ups talk about how much stronger Julia Scotti’s act is than Rick’s ever was. They say that Rick was so uncomfortable in his mind and body that he made others uncomfortable — but Julia owns the stage. In 2016, she proved her comic chops when, at 63 years old, she was a finalist on America’s Got Talent.

Scotti doesn’t present herself as a victim of a biased society. The journey she reflects on is personal, not political. She isn’t proud that she hurt people along the way, both by denying who she was to herself, and then by the need to shed past relationships after her transition. She was separated from her two children for 14 years after she came out. Her grown son and daughter are interviewed at length, and both admit to feeling tremendous guilt about choosing to see their father’s gender transition as a betrayal of their family rather than something she needed to do to survive. Scotti becomes overwhelmed at her daughter’s poise and self-possession, even as her daughter displays some continued discomfort about their relationship. Scotti’s son is an aspiring stand-up comedian, and a chunk of the film is dedicated to their reconnection. Scotti gives him pointers on pacing his act, but the way they easily relate through similarly self-deprecating — but not self-hating — humor, showcases their undeniable genetic connection.

Documentary, not rated, 73 minutes, Fandango Now, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV, 3 chiles

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