Julia Scotti is a transgender comedian with roots in the 80s comedy boom. Now, only weeks after her documentary, Julia Scotti: Funny That Way, hit streaming services, she returns to Richmond with a hilarious weekend at Sandman Comedy Club.
This week I got to talk to the one and only Julia Scotti. She was a comedian back in the 80s, and performed on bills with people like Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock. But when she came out as transgender and began appearing in public as Julia Scotti, she was ostracized by the comedy world. After decades away, she returned to comedy in her 60s and jumpstarted her renewed career with an appearance on America’s Got Talent. You can find a lot more detail about her life story if you watch the documentary Julia Scotti: Funny That Way. It’s available on Amazon and iTunes/Apple TV, among others.
Julia will be at Richmond’s own Sandman Comedy Club June 24-26, so we talked about her gigs in Richmond back in the 80s, as well as her new documentary and her experience on America’s Got Talent. Read on.
Gabe: First things first: have you ever been to Richmond?
Julia: I have. I haven’t been there since, probably… the late eighties, early nineties.
Gabe: Oh wow!
Julia: I worked the Richmond Comedy Club. Do you remember that place?
Gabe: Well, I was born in ’89.
Julia: [laughs] So you would have no idea about this place.
Gabe: [laugh] Yeah. I’ve heard stories of that time. Richmond has so much history.
Julia: Oh yeah. I love it. I used to love going down there. It was a lot of fun.
Gabe: I don’t know if you remember, but do you know what part of town the Richmond Comedy Club was in?
Julia: Yes I do. It was right somewhere on Shockoe Slip. Right in that area there.
Gabe: I feel like you started out in comedy twice, in a way.
Julia: You could say that.
Gabe: Getting started now is a lot different than it was getting started back then, right?
Julia: When I started out, I started out in New York. I’m from Jersey, and at that point, there was a club system. You had a major club that was your home club — mine was The Improvisation on 54th and 9th — and you had to pass audition and you worked your way up. You know, you got on maybe late night, if you got on at all. And then you work your way up. This is just before the [80s comedy] boom started. I got in, and then the boom hit, and suddenly there was work in the metropolitan area, the tri-state area, and I was getting work all over the place. As an MC. It helps if you had a car.
Gabe: [laughs] Of course.
Julia: I got there and within a year, I was making a living. I never looked back.
Gabe: Well, let me fast forward a bit. I want to talk about Julia Scotti: Funny That Way. How did this documentary centering around you come to be?
Julia: I was working on Nantucket, and I did a show up there in the theater. After the show, I met this lady, Susan Sandler, who was the producer-director of the movie. She was a friend of the person who put on the show. We went out for drinks after the show and we were hanging out and talking and… I don’t know if you know this about Susan Sandler, but she wrote the movie and play Crossing Delancey. I was thinking about doing a one-woman show at that point, and we were talking about it and kicking it around. She was going to help me with it. And then about a month after we were talking about it, she goes, ‘You know, there’s too much here. This needs to be a documentary.’ So I said, ‘Yeah, I have no problem with that,’ never thinking it would actually be a documentary. Five years later, here we are.
Gabe: Is this around 2015, 2016 time?
Julia: Yeah. It’s just before I did America’s Got Talent. Just before that happened. But they both sort of overlapped each other. They both coincided.
Gabe: That’s kind of good timing, though.
Julia: [laughs] Wasn’t it? Oh yeah. I believe the Universe was smiling on me, I suppose.
Gabe: I love to see it. Your America’s Got Talent set — it’s a short set. Do you see it as more pressure, trying to fit in jokes in such a short amount of time? Because if one joke falls flat, there’s not a lot of recovery time.
Julia: Oh gosh. You get ninety seconds.
Gabe: I remember watching it and thinking ‘she only got out like three jokes or something.’
Julia: Yeah. I was happy it went as well as it did, because, you know, the laughs ate up all the time. They gave me extra time because they’re accommodating like that, but yeah, you only get to do like three, four jokes tops. Maybe.
Gabe: Anything you wanna tell the folks in Richmond before you come down?
Julia: I can’t wait to get to Richmond and I hope you all come out. We’ll just have a great time after this pandemic stuff’s behind us. So please come out, especially if you’re part of the Rainbow Coalition. I’d love to meet you too. So thank you for bringing live comedy back to the city of Richmond.
Gabe: We can’t wait to have you.
Julia: Thank you.
Julia Scotti is a real stand-up comic as well as a stand-up person; an inspiration for being comfortable in your own skin. Check out her documentary, Julia Scotti: Funny That Way, and catch her in Richmond this weekend at Sandman Comedy Club, featuring Anita Wise opening. Five shows. Thursday through Saturday. Be sure to get there early for food and beverages. Tickets are available at Sandman Comedy Club.