Julia Scotti Is Funny That Way

Comic Julia Scotti chats comedy ahead of aGLIFF documentary screening

Julia Scotti apologizes to me for her voice. “My allergies are going nuts,” she says, “and this is like the fifth interview I've done today.”

I tell her no worries, Austin’s got some gnarly allergens – thinking she’s already arrived for the Saturday, June 4, aGLIFF Pride Mini Film-a-Thon screening of documentary Julia Scotti: Funny That Way and the post-show comedy set she’s performing.

“Oh, thank you. Great.” Scotti’s tone is perfectly sarcastic, her comic instinct sharp even in casual conversation. “Just what I need.”

Unlike the high allergy count of ATX, Julia Scotti: Funny That Way is well-needed and truly great. A thoughtful look at her life and career pre and post gender-transition, Scotti says the documentary began as a request from director Susan Sandler for archival material of her early comedy work. “I happened to have boxes and boxes of videotapes, press clippings, and things of that nature,” the America’s Got Talent finalist recalls. “So I stuck everything in a couple of boxes, drove up to New York, and dumped them right in her apartment.” Sandler quickly worked through the materials, and her meticulous work on the film stretched over six years. “She gets all the credit for [the film],” Scotti says. “All I did was live the life.”

Scotti’s life has spanned a few culture shifts in the comedy scene, and one shift she dislikes is the lack of mentorship the younger comedic generation gets. Working gigs at two or three New York City clubs, she honed her skills under more seasoned comics and took on their good habits, weaving those instincts into her sets. Many younger comedians today aren’t exposed to the same coterie of older pros, she says, and have to create their own shows and learn from each other, “so they pick up the bad habits that they're passing along to each other.”

Julia Scotti: Funny That Way

Yet she too has changed a lot as a comic since her first gigs. Part of the documentary has Scotti rewatching her pre-transition stand-up work and she says much of the transphobic or homophobic material therein masked deeper identity struggles. In her experience, the best comedy comes from honesty rather than “uber macho” posturing. After transitioning, Scotti left the comedy scene for 10 years and became a teacher, only to return to stand-up just to, as she says, “put my tootsies in the water.” Once she was back on stage, there were two commitments she made to herself – to be honest and to be fearless. “And that meant talking about, you know, the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” Scotti says, referring to her being transgender. “So I just took a big deep breath and decided to come out on national television. It seemed like as good a place as any to come out.”

My final questions to Scotti are a little silly. I ask how her cat is doing (“Right now, she is out on the porch sound asleep. It's 95 degrees out. She's curled up out there … I love her. She's a good girl.”) and I ask what the most annoying question she gets from reporters during interviews is.

“It's not so much a question,” she says. “It's when they refer to me as transgender comic Julia Scotti, you know, that's like my name now … I wish they would just sort of go, ‘She's a comic, and she happens to be transgender.’”

Julia Scotti, a comic who happens to be transgender, is proud of the documentary about her life. “I gave [Sandler] full rein to do what she wanted to do and trusted her … I knew that this was a case where I would have to trust her instincts,” Scotti says. “And it turned out I was right. And anybody who's seen [the film] has told me that they laughed and cried. That's good. That's what the film should do, right?”

Julia Scotti: Funny That Way screens as part of aGLIFF’s Pride Mini Film-a-Thon on Sat., June 4, at 7pm at Galaxy Highland Theatre. General admission is $40, which includes the film, Scotti’s post-film comedy show, and a reception at Vivo Restaurant in the Linc. Get tickets here.

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