A new documentary profiles comedian and parent Julia Scotti. After a ten-year hiatus and a transition to her true self as a transgender woman, she came back to her career in 2011 with more shows, a CD, an appearance on “America’s Got Talent,” and a reconciliation with the children from whom she’d become estranged.
Funny That Way, from director Susan Sandler, is a touching, funny, and inspiring film that shows us Scotti’s life through her own words, clips from her shows, and conversations with her children (now grown) and others. At the beginning, Scotti explains why she agreed to the project, saying, “Most of all, this is for me … a me that didn’t exist for nearly 50 years.” She hopes it will help her children understand why she had to transition and that it may help young transgender people who may be contemplating self-harm.
She talks of her own growing realization of her true identity, transitioning in the late 1990s at age 47, the difficulty of telling her kids, who were “the only thing I was truly happy about,” and the 14-year estrangement that followed. She also stepped away from a burgeoning career. After performing in clubs and theaters throughout the U.S. and Canada since 1980, appearing on bills with Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock, Scotti left comedy. She went back to college and taught junior high school for a decade. Several years ago, she decided to get back on stage at a small comedy club; this led to a reentry into the business now as an “old lady,” performances at LGBTQ events across the country, and an appearance on Season 11 of America’s Got Talent, where she became a quarter-finalist and the first transgender comedian to appear on national television. During this period, she also reconnected with her children.
The film doesn’t avoid showing us the challenges she and her family have faced, but the focus is much more on how she and her children have come through them; it’s not just a litany of struggles. We see her son Dan as an adult, sharing a stage with Scotti as she talks with a PFLAG group, and clearly comfortable with their renewed relationship. Her daughter Emma looks back on her earlier rejection of Scotti’s transition, and reflects, “I made the unkind decision to prioritize fitting in over my family.” Both children share her love of comedy, though, and this is one of their points of reconnection.
The film is an inspiring story of a trans parent but also simply a story of reinventing oneself in midlife, of healing, second chances, and the power of laughter. It’s funny—as any film about Scotti would have to be, to do her justice—but it’s also moving on many levels.
You can watch it being streamed as part of this year’s virtual NewFest festival of LGBTQ films, October 16 to 27. Get a ticket for $12 here. (I make nothing from this referral.) Scotti is also currently featured in the Showtime special, More Funny Women of a Certain Age.
Here’s a trailer of Funny That Way: