Comedy is often, and simply, telling the truth in surprising ways, especially stand-up comedy. 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 said she realized she was a woman in her late 40s, a realization that began the process of 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,” Scott said in an interview with Gay City News. “I didn’t know the issue was my gender identity.”
Scotti married several times, she said. “Having multiple marriages was not unusual for trans people of my age because you are looking for that white picket fence,” Scotti explained. “You want the feeling of being like everybody else. And I wasn’t.”
At first, Scotti thought she was a gay man, and she recalled the lack of available information about transgender individuals. “There was no Internet,” she said. There was nothing really.” So she tried to enter the gay world, only to find that each encounter ended “disastrously.”
It was after one awful date when she was complaining to a psychologist friend about a lack of romance, that she said, “You’re a woman.”
That came as a shock to Scotti. “I was, like, ‘I can’t be,’ but the light went on, and it fit,” she said. “It was truly a ‘road to Damascus’ moment.”
That moment began the process of coming to terms with her gender identity. It was not easy, she said, 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.”
Scotti went on to face adversity. She gave up her career, became estranged from her children, and struggled with the process of living as a woman prior to transitioning in 2002. Still, she was willing to be her true self.
All of this is told in the movie with a level of deeply felt humanity that Scotti says would not have been possible without her director and producer, Susan Sandler. As Scotti tells her, Sandler came to Nantucket and was going to help her refine her one-woman show.
As Scotti recalled, “The more I told her about my life, the more she said, ‘This is way bigger than a show. It’s a movie. Have you ever thought about doing a documentary on your life?’”
“Who thinks about having a documentary made about their life aside from Donald Trump?” Scotti mused at the time. As the project developed, however, Scotti and Sandler thought it might help others — though Scotti admits that trust does not come easily. “It’s the comic’s creed: We don’t trust anyone.” Yet she did, turning over archival footage and giving that trust — another breakthrough for Scotti. The result is a wonderful, and often hilarious, story.
When she transitioned, Scotti had thought that she didn’t have a place as a comic, but she after 10 years and with some encouragement from friends and fellow comics, she started doing comedy again… and was sucked right back in. Since then, she was a quarter finalist on “America’s Got Talent” and has built a thriving career.
Today, Scotti’s comedy has an incisive honesty and authenticity that gives it a depth that isn’t limited to her gender identity; it is broadly human. Her jokes about marriage in particular benefit from what she calls her “two spirits.” It’s a concept she says derives from Native American sensibility that believes she embodies a balance of traditionally male and female energies. The one thing she promised herself when she returned to comedy was that no matter what, she would be “fearless.” That she is, and the result is a truly original performer who can make us laugh at the entire range of human experience.
“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.
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