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Review: 'Julia Scotti: Funny That Way' - Elder Trans Comic Gets Last Laugh

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Oct 6, 2020
'Julia Scotti: Funny That Way'
'Julia Scotti: Funny That Way'  

Director Susan Sandler takes audiences behind the scenes and into fascinating personal history with "Julia Scotti: Funny That Way," which follows 70-something comedian Julia Scotti to different standup venues where she lets loose with memorable punch lines — but her status as a transgender woman isn't one of them. Instead, it's the circumstances around her transition that make for comedic material, as when she describes "the conversation" with her former wife: " 'Is it another woman??!' 'Errmmm... ' "

Serious background material includes how her transition, at age 50, affected her children, Emma and Dan. What's revelatory, however, is how both children, now adults, look back on their childhoods and how they reacted — not angry at the transition, Emma says, so much as the fact that their father was having an affair with another woman.

That, too, is a painful and poignant aspect of Julia's story: She fell in love with a woman named Kate who understood, affirmed, and supported her throughout her transition, giving Julia "that secure feeling when somebody loves you." After Julia's transition, though, the relationship got rocky; as Kate recalls, "We were trying to fill the mold where she was the woman, I was the man. And we were both women." All the same, Kate still reckons that their relationship was beneficial to both parties: "I became me with her. I began to feel good about myself as a human being."

While daughter Emma has an appreciation for comedy, it was son Dan who grew up to follow in Julia's footsteps, becoming a standup comic in his own right. In one scene, parent and child pore over one of Julia's old notebooks, analyzing a joke; in another, they watch a video tape from the 1980s when Julia — still Rick at that point — makes homophobic wisecracks. When they come to old footage of Rick telling a transphobic joke, Julia — in shock — exclaims, "Oh my god! Shut up!"

Things come to a turning point when Julia is invited to appear on "America's Got Talent," where she pretty much brings down the house... especially when she explains to the judges, who are curious about why she "started so late" in life with comedy. In truth, having started at the age of 28, Julia hasn't so much started anew as started over again — with her life, career, everything.

Now that she's who she feels she was always meant to be, it's clear that Julia is at peace, whole and fulfilled thanks to having embraced authenticity. Still, she admits, "I'm pissed" that she was fifty years old before she made the transition.

All the same, however, her status as an older person gives Julia valuable perspective. Having been married three times in all, she can see how she was looking for something that she was simply never going to have while she was trying to lead a life that was never her own. Having found and embraced her true self has given Julia strength and confidence as well as a fresh source for comedy; following quadruple bypass surgery, she encounters a medical provider who consistently misgenders her. (Hostility and prejudice are part of the health care disparities that trans people routinely face.) Though bedridden and still recovering, Julia gives that medical professional a few clear-cut tops on how to do his job with the proper respect owed his trans patients.

"Julia Scotti: Funny That Way" is a triumph not only for the comedian herself, but for audiences who need to hear from trans people about their own lived experiences... and who, not incidentally, need a good laugh.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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