How Julia Scotti became America’s most beloved trans comedian: ‘I’ve never been happier’
Trailblazing comedian Julia Scotti opens up about transitioning later in life, making her big comeback, and her revealing new documentary Julia Scotti: Funny That Way.
“When I realised that I was trans, that’s when the joy began,” declares New Jersey-born comedian Julia Scotti.
Sitting at home, cat by her side, Scotti is describing why she now chooses to find pleasure in every day she has. At 70-years-old and with an illustrious, decades-spanning career spent making others laugh, you’d think finding joy came naturally to Scotti. Yet for the first 47 years of her life, she felt a deep longing that she couldn’t understand.
“Prior to realising who I was, there was an emptiness,” she tells PinkNews. “In my mind, I had this visible black hole. I could see it, I could feel it. It was empty. The minute I understood who I was, this light started to grow inside me and it never left. It’s only gotten stronger.”
Before transitioning and stepping into her true authentic self as Julia in 2000, Scotti had spent years building her comedy career, gaining notoriety in the ‘80s while touring the US with the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock. She had a family, got married, and while attempting to comprehend her gender identity, entered a long hiatus from the comedy industry to become a teacher.
Her upcoming documentary, Julia Scotti: Funny That Way, tells the powerful story of how she found peace, rebuilt family bonds, and crash-landed back into comedy as her true self.
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“It was never my intention to come back, but you can’t stay away,” Scotti says, explaining how her friends convinced her to get back into stand-up after more than ten years away.
Returning was a “weird, petrifying” experience, considering how long she had spent being known, and well known, as someone else.
“I had to face all my peers who knew me before and I had to address that head on, and also I had to address the public. You didn’t see a whole lot of trans comics at comedy clubs,” she says. “You didn’t see any.”
She fought to carve a space in an industry that was dubious of her transness, but also of her age – Scotti believes women comics are “written off” when they get older. This time, though, she was coming back knowing fully who she was.
“I decided this time I had two criteria. One was to be totally honest,” she says, calmly. “The other was to be totally fearless.”
On stage, Scotti addresses her transition with hilarity and passion, putting herself at the centre of her jokes. It means she never has to “punch down” at other oppressed groups, but also that she gets to explore who she is now.
“Ever since transitioning, I’ve never been happier. But it doesn’t mean I’m not going to poke fun at myself”
“I know what I look like. I mean, I’m old, I’m fat. But it doesn’t mean that I’m ashamed of being who I am. I love who I am,” she smiles. “I’m at peace for the first time in my life. Ever since transitioning, I’ve never been happier. But it doesn’t mean I’m not going to poke fun at myself.”
As an out, trans woman, she also now sees it as her responsibility to use comedy to stand up for her community. In one old stand-up clip from the documentary, she mocks the notorious North Carolina bathroom bill. It’s her way of “standing up” for those who can’t speak up for themselves. In conversation, she has thoughts on her fellow comedians who insist on making trans people the butt of the joke – and suggests we just switch off.
“You look at the person, you can determine if they’re an idiot or not. If they’re an idiot, you just changed the channel,” she says, with a charming air of nonchalance. “Watch my special, I’m a lot funnier!”
The world saw just how funny Scotti is back in 2016, when she auditioned for America’s Got Talent, leaving the judges in awe of her routine and her story.
In one particularly touching scene in her documentary, we see the comedian welling up, her phone alight with adoring messages following her performance. She’s with her son Dan, who, while once estranged, is now her biggest supporter. It’s an emotional moment of validation.
“It was vindication for all the cr***y one nighters in all the cr***y bars that I had done for 20-something years, where people throw c**p at you and yell at you and tell you you suck,” she says.
While it was a mere seven years ago, Scotti was one of the first ever openly trans comedians performing on national TV in the US. She opens up in her documentary about mourning the years she lost before she transitioned, but now, as she surpasses her seventh decade on this planet, she’s focused on prioritising her pleasure, being her authentic self, and making people laugh.
“The older you get, you see the end somewhere not far down the road. At first, it’s scary. Then I say to myself, well, it’s inevitable. So why don’t I just stand in this moment and enjoy it for what it is,” she says, defiant. “There’s an inner peace that comes with that.”
“You’re the only person who can define yourself. And if you love yourself, nobody can take that away from you“
“Even though I’m walking slower and it’s hard to get out of the chair sometimes, when I hit the stage I’m 26-years-old again. I want to die in front of a microphone on stage. What a way to go!
“Do I want my last moment to be a bitter, angry human being? No, I want it to be joyful and exuding love.”
Her story of reclaiming her life, she hopes, is a source of strength to all younger trans people who are being told daily that their existence and their futures don’t matter.
“Those people that hate you, don’t define you. Their hate defines them,” she says.
“You’re the only person who can define yourself. And if you love yourself, nobody can take that away from you.“
Julia Scotti: Funny That Way is available on Prime Video and Bohemia Euphoria in the UK from 31 March.
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