Trans comic Julia Scotti says her work is more authentic and fearless

Comedian Julia Scotti will perform at the Palace Danbury on June 19.

Comedian Julia Scotti will perform at the Palace Danbury on June 19.

Contributed photo

After 15 months of having its doors shuttered due to Covid-19 restrictions, the Palace Danbury will be back in a big way with its first show upon reopening: a night of stand-up comedy featuring Julia Scotti, the “crazy old lady of comedy,” on June 19.

The show is especially fitting since June is Pride month. Julia Scotti, who performed comedy for decades as Rick Scotti, transitioned in the early 2000s and returned to doing comedy in 2011. Opening the show will be comedian Anita Wise, who has appeared on the “Tonight Show” and “Seinfeld,” and Scotti promises audiences are in for a comedic tag-team romp. A quarter-finalist on “America’s Got Talent” in 2016, Scotti’s irreverent act delighted judges in her initial appearance, earning her four “yes” answers from the judges.

Scotti is quick to say that she has always loved doing standup but the last decade has given her freedom to speak her truth and be authentic on stage.

“I am much happier with my comedy now. It’s a lot more honest, a lot more fearless,” she said. “I am developing as a comic in ways that I never did as Rick. Coming back as an older person too is kind of weird, because I didn’t know how the public would accept an old lady, much less an old trans lady. I had everything going against me at that point so I had nothing to lose. I just went out, put it all out there and the public seemed to respond.”

Scotti was the first transgender woman finalist in the New York-based Ladies of Laughter competition and has been named one of the Top 5 trans comedians by Advocate magazine. Her act leaves audiences roaring with laughter.

Audiences can enjoy her act on stage, but they also learn more about her life in the new documentary, “Julia Scotti: Funny That Way,” which was released on June 1 (coincidentally Scotti’s birthday). Film producer and director Susan Sandler met her during one of her comedy shows on Nantucket about six years ago. “We hit it off, all of us went out for drinks afterwards, all of us talking, and I had mentioned I wanted to do a one-woman show,” Scotti said. “She has a theatrical background so she offered to help me and one thing led to another. I start telling her about my life and she goes ‘Oh wait, we should do this as a documentary’ and six years later here it is.”

Like her act on stage, the film is raw and honest and takes people deep into her emotional journey. Being authentic to one’s truth is a cornerstone of Scotti’s comedy these days. She says truth is important today because it is such a premium now.

“I just felt like I had gone through all of these changes, I wasn’t about to hide again,” she said. “I had lived what I call my prison all those years, I wasn’t going to put myself in another one. I think the movie kind of shows that too, because it shows me before and there are parts of the movie where you can see that I'm dealing with something. I didn’t know what it was either [at the time] and then post-transition coming back I think it is pretty evident that I am a lot happier. I am at peace now and I am enjoying the hell out of my career.”

Most comedians, trans or straight, worry if audiences will find them likable but Scotti now finds herself navigating a new set of challenges her old self never had to worry about — personal safety, a topic especially relevant to the trans community.

“Will they think I’m funny or will they like me is a constant no matter whether you are trans or not,” she said. “The safety thing is interesting because I feel vulnerable in a way that I never felt as Rick, and I think that’s a woman thing as much as it is a trans thing. I am not thrilled about walking into parking lots late at night by myself and I will often ask someone to walk with me. Safety is always a concern especially in these times.”

Asked what advice she would have given her 20-year old self, she demurred. “I wouldn’t have said anything to my 20-year-old self because then I wouldn’t have turned out the way I turned out and I kind of like the way I turned out,” Scotti said. For people who might be struggling with their identity, however, she is crystal clear. “You are not alone, I can say that. I was alone back then but there are so many resources for people today. You don’t have to suffer in silence, you don’t have to go out on the streets just to live. you don’t have to commit suicide, which is a big problem in the trans community. There are resources: find them, get help and follow your heart. It knows what’s good for you.”

Andrea Valluzzo is a freelance writer.