On a recent episode of her podcast, comedian Sarah Silverman said, “comedy isn’t evergreen,” a sentiment that would not be lost on the focus of the triumphant documentary Julia Scotti: Funny That Way.
We have probably all have revisited comedians, films, or jokes from our past whose shelf life has long since passed and perhaps winced in regret. One day, stand-up comedian Julia Scotti was watching old stand-up routines on television with her son, and a man decked out in a suit and hat was on-stage whose act included mocking trans women. She paused it and rewound to listen to it again. “Wow!” she said, looking over at her son. “I told you, I was having issues.”
That performer was Rick Scott, a comedian who shared the stage with such names as Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock back in the 1980s and enjoyed a healthy, steady comedy career. But he was hounded by a feeling that no number of marriages (three) or children (two) could remedy. It wasn’t until late in her 40s that Scotti decided to be her true self and undergo a procedure that would alienate her from her family but bring her the comfort and satisfaction of realizing who she really was.
“It wasn’t until late in her 40s that Scotti decided to be her true self…”
In Julia Scotti: Funny That Way, an honest, intimate, and revealing documentary, Julia Scotti takes viewers through every step, regardless of whether it results in pain or pride. In it, we venture into her former life in stand-up as Rick Scott, her roaring comeback that escalated into a finalist spot on America’s Got Talent, and her two children with whom she had a several-year gap in communication due to her transition.
Directed by first-time filmmaker Susan Sandler, the film captures the ebullient, fiery Scotti on and off stage, still honing her comedic skills at the age of 65, celebrating her true identity, all the while grappling with her own age-related health issues. Julia Scotti: Funny That Way was filmed over five years and focuses on the transformative power of self-healing, with Scotti at the center. Joining her are a group of comedian friends and Scotti’s now-adult children who affectionately embrace Julia’s “second act.”
Speaking of second acts, it should be noted that Sandler’s assured direction behind the camera is from a 72-year-old rookie filmmaker. Piecing together archival footage, home movies, and quaintly animated asides, the director handles the delicate material with equal measures of candor, compunction, and celebration to produce a truly inspiring journey. The movie is equal parts intimate portrait of a life in transformation and observation of the current state of comedy.
Whether she is on a stand-up stage, speaking with families of LGBTQIA members, or just hanging at home with her family, Scotti’s passion for performance and healing with humor pervades every scene. It’s hard not to share in the joys she finds in life’s idiosyncrasies and desire to hear her take on them. While all comedian’s acts may never be “evergreen,” Julia Scotti: Funny That Way proves what a delight it is to see it blossom again from the same source. It demonstrates that no matter what, there is humor to be found in even the darkest of moments.
"…a truly inspiring journey...."