Comedian Julia Scott, aged 63, aka “the crazy old lady of comedy,” took to the stage of America’s Got Talent as Simon Cowell, Howie Mandell, Heidi Klum, Mel B, and millions of viewers looked on. Her mission? To show that age has nothing to do with anything, you don’t stop just because you have gray hair. She killed her set. This innocent-looking granny’s routine was bawdy and hip, and the audience couldn’t get enough. In her words, “I got a standing ovation, all four of them voted to pass me – and I didn’t have a heart attack!” Particularly taken was fellow comic Mandell who asked Julia why she started so late in life. A tearful Julia paused, and carefully replied, “For the first 28 years of my life, I was known as Rick Scotti.” The judges looked shocked as the audience applauded. Howie responded, “You know, whether you’re a man or a woman, you’re human. And you’re funny! You are talented. And you’re brave.” Brave indeed. At age 48, after doing comedy for 28 years, Julia gave everything up to live her authentic self.
Julia’s success on America’s Got Talent and her triumphant comedy comeback are only a small part of what makes the documentary Julia Scotti: Funny That Way so powerful. The film, with classic footage, family photos, and intimate (and often heartbreaking) revelations from Julia’s friends, family, and past lovers, follows this New Jersey native who, as Rick Scotti, was having a successful run in the 80s era of comedy appearing with big names that included Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock and winning Showtime’s Funniest Person in New Jersey contest (barely losing the Showtime national competition to Ellen DeGeneres). Whereas some of the trans community wants no connection with their dead name or prior life, Julia unabashedly embraces the life of Rick Scotti.
I mean, there is no getting around it. I’m a public person, it doesn’t take a whole lot. You don’t have to be MacGyver to figure out who I was before. I’m not ashamed of who I was. I lived 50 years like that. I understand why some people don’t do it and they want to forget, but it’s part of who I am.
At a time when the words gender dysphoria and gender reassignment surgery were rarely heard or were discussed as a perversion, Rick was trying to find out who he was. He just knew that he felt different.
I had a number of failed attempts at being gay, and I guess if you really have to try to be gay, you’re probably not gay. I couldn’t understand why it seemed like the guys I knew who were gay were really enjoying it. And with my couple of experiences, throwing up afterward is not really a good sign, you know? So, um, there had to be something else. And, and so (my ex) Kate, helped me get to that point. I had been told by numerous ex-wives that I was a woman. One of them said it genuinely, the others said it as a derisive remark, but something about the way Kate said it, after my last event with a guy, the light went on. I realized she was right.
She came out. She lost the relationships with her former wives, her gigs, her comedy friends, and most tragically, her children. One of her exes used Julia’s coming out as an opportunity to wrench her children away, using mental health as a scapegoat.
I agonized over telling them. I self-talk a lot and what I asked myself was, “How can I, as a parent, ever tell my kid to be true to themselves, if I can’t be true to myself?” I have to have the courage of my convictions. It’s going to hurt everybody. There is no pleasant outcome here. And so, it was a difficult decision 22 years ago. It is a different world now. Back then, we were psychopathic killers.
The most painful thing I ever did was to walk away just because I was asked to. My gut wanted me to fight tooth and nail, have the cops there, and go to court and do whatever I had to do. But I came from a broken home and so I know that feeling of fathers and mothers arguing constantly in front of the kids and I just didn’t want that to happen. And so, I walked away, separating for 14 years with the hope that someday they would grow up and want to know who I was and make a decision based on who I was now … who was really all I always was.
Over the years, Julia would send instant messages to her kids on a birthday or holiday with no response. As they got older, Julia’s son was the first to respond. Reconnecting with her kids has been a very slow process, gradual, and still ongoing. But they are present, and they are supportive, even if they don’t know the right terms or what to call Julia. She, in her jovial laugh and typical humor, is still not sure of what the right terms or pronouns to use in today’s politically correct arena.
I get the whole idea with the pronouns and all, but I’m old and it does confuse me. I’m probably going to get all kinds of shit for this, but it’s like the Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s on First?” It gets confusing and it puzzles people who are not in the LGBTQ community. So, in that sense, it’s off-putting sometimes, but I get why people are doing it because they’re fighting for identity. I understand that. Believe me, nobody gets it more than I do. So, if it makes you happy, then fight for your pronouns, that’s all.
Julia’s big reveal (to which Simon Cowell said, “You’re just full of surprises tonight, aren’t you?”) was not premeditated or used as a gimmick. She was not being used as a token member of the trans community who happened to be funny. Perhaps Julia could have used being trans as a way to ensure her place on national TV, but first and foremost, she’s a comedian. That’s her talent.
They left it up to me as to whether I was even going to do the reveal or not. And I didn’t know up until I went out there, but I told them specifically, “If I do the reveal, it won’t be until after my set, because I want the set to be judged on its own merit.” And they were good with that. And now with this documentary, people get to see how it all turned out. It’s kind of cool.
Julia has been working the circuit with a second wind, courtesy of the show, and while she appears at LGBTQ events and PFLAG symposiums, the majority of her gigs are in the straight world, a very important factor for the comedian.
There are oftentimes stereotypes that the straight community has about who we are and what we do. 99% of the places I play are filled with cisgender people. I want them to walk out saying, “You know, she’s funny, she’s a human being. And as far as I’m concerned, I see her as female.” And that’s all I’m asking for, just give me a chance to show you what I can do.
The comedy world of the not-too-distant past has been notorious for being a hotbed of misogyny, homophobia, racism, and transphobia. How have comics from Julia’s past as Rick and her present peers responded?
I know the people who are not so accepting. That’s fine if you want to be that way. I steer clear of them and they steer clear of me. So far, we haven’t conflicted at all, but I must say that almost everyone who was my friend before, is my friend still. The comedy community is a very special one.
A shocking part of the documentary reflects the comedy of the past where Julia, as Rick, makes a series of gay and transphobic jokes. It’s a chilling reminder of how self-hating we can be to our closeted selves and also of the culture that existed that separated Julia from her kids.
Let me address what I did first. Okay. It was the nineties. I was struggling with everything at that point. I forgot that I had done the bit, but I remember the period and I know that I was looking for whatever it was that was “wrong” with me. There was something going on and the only way I knew how to be a man was to imitate what other men were like. You saw my reaction in the movie when I saw myself doing it and was horrified, and I wanted to take that person and just beat the snot out of them. But it’s all part of the growth process.
Very recently, comedian Dave Chappelle discussed the death of his friend, trans comedian Daphne Dorman, who had opened for him. She committed suicide. He made a joke that purposely misgendered her, stating that she would have loved it. His jokes and statements regarding the trans community have come under fire with pressure on Netflix to pull his specials. Does this kind of comedy telling reflect what’s happening in the comedy world, what’s happening in the world, or what’s happening between the Black and trans community? And should Chappelle be canceled?
I get that Chappelle maybe made his statements out of ignorance. He made it sound like because he took a Daphne as a comic to open for him that he was somehow doing a favor. Well, she killed herself, and I assume partly because of that terrible opening set that she had for him. You don’t take a newbie and throw them out in front of a national act for 40, 45 minutes. It took me like four years before I could do 45 minutes. She had no business being there. I think he’s tried to make up for a lot of his sins by doing that. I hope he evolves, but Chappelle’s entitled to his opinion. I’m entitled not to listen to it.
This is a First Amendment issue. The First Amendment doesn’t mean that only the people who agree with me should be allowed to speak. There were Nazi rallies in New York City in the 1930s. They were allowed to do it because that’s what the First Amendment says. Comics take pride in the fact that we still have the First Amendment, we hate it when other people try to censor us. Who am I to say to Chappelle, “You can’t say that. I’m offended!” Well, I can be offended. He’s still got the right to say it. I just don’t have to listen to it.
Making jokes about her age, smoking, and health have been part of Julia’s routine, and even Rick’s routine. But it was no laughing matter when, after Julia received X-rays to prepare for back surgery, the doctors noticed a severe blockage issue. Two days before Christmas, Julia received a quadruple bypass, one valve repair, and one valve replacement. She almost died.
It changed everything in my head about life. When you come that close to it, you see everything through a different lens. Again, it’s a blessing because I lived through it and now, I talk about it on stage. So, it was just, you know, more material!
During her stay in the hospital, she dealt with transphobia. Coming years after she needed medical attention after her gender affirmation surgery, when she was told they didn’t handle “her kind,” to now, during a crucial recovery from her bypass, she would have to deal with hate in her own hospital room.
He was a respiratory therapist. He kept calling me “Rick.” He kept calling me by my dead name throughout and I kept correcting him as best I could. I was very weak. He just kept doing it. He kept calling me “he, he, he” and finally, my daughter just went, “SHE! SHE, SHE, SHE!” Just like that. I thought, “that’s my girl.” Personally, at that point, I would’ve liked to have just kicked him in the nuts and thrown him out the window because he didn’t want to change, to have his consciousness raised. And he was young!
In true Julia nature, she turned her medical scare and her treatment in the hospital as a way to make a statement under the guise of comedy. She called her next appearances part of her I’m Not Dead Yet tour. All jokes aside, what does more does Julia want from life?
I am complete. My bucket list, with the exception of one thing, is full. I’ve done everything I ever set out to do. I want to go to Italy and I want to see where my ancestors came from. My heart called out to Italy, and I’m attached. I have to see it before I go. And then I’ll be fine. I’ve had this wonderful, wonderful life. I’ve got a movie about my life! Yeah. I’ve been loved. I have loved people. I have performed everywhere I wanted to perform. What more could you ask?
More at https: juliascottifilm.com
Last modified: April 5, 2022