Julia Scotti: Funny That Way (2023)

Susan Sandler

Running Time: 72 Minutes

Certification: 15

In the grand scheme of things, Julia Scotti questions whether her story amounts to much. Self-described as a baby born male who never felt quite right, what followed includes many marriages, children, and a busy career during the 1980's comedy boom. Nothing felt right for this comedian until age 47, when Julia awakened as her true self and finally began her life.

After reinventing herself and a decade of teaching, Julia stepped back onto stage and began her journey returning to her children. Shot over five-years, director Susan Sandler captures the story of this transgender comedian who is full of joy and finds life important, considering this version of her did not exist for almost fifty-years. To her, the day she became aware of her identity was both a blessing and a curse.

A combination of archive footage and photographs capture the family's past, highlighting the connections which were lost courtesy of the children being kept away from Julia. Her sadness is felt alongside the children's, as this broken marriage led to a fourteen-year estrangement with remorse felt by those looking back on the past.

With such weighty history covered, Julia's stand-up sessions are intercut to offer a more light-hearted take on what's being shown. This is an excellent example of how comedy can be used to disarming effect for discussing important issues like identity. Comedian Larry Nichols wonderfully addresses this, sharing how being a Black man performing in conservative states led to the necessity of finding his voice within a "happy medium", where he can simultaneously entertain people and get his points across while worrying about leaving the venue alive. This shows how comedy can be a shared language which leads to healing and joy.

Director Susan Sandler offers a peek behind the curtain of a comedian's life, from considering their car a second home because of the time spent on the road, to their work process. A scene following a stand-up routine offers feedback on how to rework a joke to make it more identifiable to audiences, an important element which is also seen when Julia takes an idea she considers funny, and puts it in a new context to make a wider audience laugh.

This process for garnering laughs contrasts with who Julia used to be, as she's described as previously being a sad-sack who hated life. The difference is further highlighted when she watches an old stand-up video, and is shocked by the homophobic and transphobic material used in her past set. It feels like an unfortunate mask to cover how she was feeling, and her successful appearance on America's Got Talent is a big step as she puts her true self out there to great reception.

Difficulty comes during a trip to the hospital, when a doctor constantly misgenders her despite repeated corrections. The situation resolves with a diplomatic conversation explaining the harm of such casual negligence, in lieu of Julia's desire for an approach involving kicking the doctor's testicles. Despite what others may say, she's trying to live her life while being annoyed that it arrived so late. Regardless, this charming documentary ends with her happy at knowing who she truly is, while promising to leave this world complaining.

Julia Scotti: Funny That Way is available on Digital Platforms now