After a 10-year hiatus, a new and improved Scotti has been described by colleagues and press as, among other things, “a comedy chainsaw flying through the room.”
Julia Scotti will make you laugh and lighten up already. I can personally attest to her disarming, self-deprecating style, and after watching Susan Sandler’s excellent 2021 documentary, “Julia Scotti: Funny That Way,” you’ll see what I mean.
First, some context: Sandler is perhaps best known for her play “Crossing Delancey,” a modest arthouse success during the Reagan era. At the same time, Julia Scotti was performing stand-up as Rick Scotti.
Fast forward to 2015. Sandler and Scotti met on Nantucket at one of the latter’s comedy shows. A professional connection formed over drinks and a character study was born. Because Scotti’s personal story is so compelling, as she is both a transgender comedian and now an older adult, Sandler envisioned a documentary film rather than the one-woman show Scotti had in mind.
As filming was getting underway, Scotti became the first transgender contestant to appear on “America’s Got Talent,” in Season 11. She wowed all four judges, as well as the audience. She then appeared on Showtime’s highest-rated comedy special of 2019, “Funny Women of a Certain Age.”
Simply put, do not miss her upcoming show at the community asset called The Foundry on Saturday, Oct. 23. When Scotti and I spoke the other day, I learned about the four rules of comedy: 1.) start with the truth; 2.) stay human; 3.) don’t reach for ugly; and 4.) be vulnerable. She attributes these to Bill Persky and Sam Denoff, writers for “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” She also adds a fifth rule: Let the situation carry you.
Indeed, after gender affirming surgery in Canada in the early aughts, she followed her own advice. Returning to the stage in 2011, she now appreciates how ageism and sexism combine to stunt the careers of so many funny ladies. Because this is empirically true, I raise no objections.
But Scotti also believes comedy presents unique challenges to career success, unlike other performing arts. I’m less sure about this. Employment gaps due to post-transgender surgical recovery make sense to me regardless of what type of performer you are. On the other hand, what makes us laugh is constantly … transitioning.
To prove this, a quick sojourn back to the Reagan era. You may recall the wildly successful mass market franchise from the 1980s known as Truly Tasteless Jokes. Long published under a brilliant pseudonym, Blanche Knott, the real author finally outed herself in 2011. You can read the whole NSFW-but-maybe-okay-for-WFH-story in her excellent piece for Harper’s magazine.
Ashton Applewhite created Blanche Knott. As a friend, I can attest to her wicked sense of humor, one of the many reasons I adore her. Writing primarily now about ageism, her comedic chops remain wide open. Likewise, the person who made me laugh the most during the Trump era was the brilliant Sarah Cooper, impersonating him on Twitter and Tik Tok. When he blocked her on Twitter, she called him her head writer — hahaha! But times have changed, because people change, and Cooper has moved on, though “how to medical” still makes me laugh until I cry. Ditto for truly tasteless jokes … unless you’re Dave Chappelle.
Speaking of, I did ask Scotti for her thoughts on Chappelle. These are off the record, but use your imagination. We also talked about the wondrous Jean Smart playing Deborah Vance in the award-winning show “Hacks.” Something in the public record? The origin of Scotti’s name change. She adopted “Julia” after Dixie Carter’s character Julia Sugarbaker on “Designing Women.” If that’s not a perfect serving of Southern Comfort, I don’t know what is. Scotti’s humor actually reminds me of funny wine tasting notes — gentle, silly, and good for the soul.
If making others laugh is such a noble calling, and if it truly is harder than most other performing arts, all the more reason to support those who practice this craft. From speaking with her recently and watching the film about her, I know Scotti will make you laugh because she made me laugh — especially when she announced authoritatively, “Bob Hope was trans!” For this zinger alone, you know I’ll be in the audience.Online Version