A year ago, Julia Scotti was coming off of a career high Rick Scotti could only dream about.
Rick had headlined comedy clubs and opened for the likes of Lou Rawls and Frankie Valli, but this Jersey funny boy wasn’t living in the truth. Approaching age 50, the comedian transitioned and became Julia, and started a new life and career away from the stage.
Julia Scotti couldn’t stay away from comedy forever, and began performing once more in 2011. And in 2016, Julia celebrated her coming out on a nationally televised scale as a contestant and eventual quarterfinalist on NBC’s America’s Got Talent.
She has just released her first stand-up comedy album, “Hello Boys…I’m Back!”
As she joked on both NBC and on her album, she’s not so much hoping for fame as a comedian at this point. Rather: “I do this for burial money!”
On the phone with me from her home in New Jersey, she said recording her first stand-up now truly is better late than never. “I don’t think I was ready,” Scotti told me. “It took me 37 years to get ready to do this album.”
How has her year post-AGT treated her? “I thought doing this show would be the pinnacle of my life. I could just go somewhere and die. And then I did the album, and thought, this could be fun. It just built on the TV show. I’m getting recognized on the street which is weird, because usually only people I owe money to recognize me. It’s been great. It’s been life-changing.”
She obviously knows of what she speaks. She had to start stand-up comedy twice: Once as Rick in 1980, then as Julia in 2011. “That was surreal, too. I remember my first night ever onstage in 1980. That was petrifying. This was even scarier. I’d made a promise that I wasn’t going to hide who I was.” But her opening line, in which she listed all the things in her life that had changed since her break from stand-up, got nothing. “It was crickets,” she recalled. “It looked like that scene from The Producers, where Hitler comes down…and nobody was responding. So I said it again. And that’s when I realized they didn’t believe me. So I restructured it. And then they got awkward.”
Five years later, Scotti found herself backstage at America’s Got Talent, waiting to audition. Although AGT makes a big deal out of profiling the backstories of its contestants, Scotti maintained “they left it up to me as whether I wanted to come out. Right up until I went onstage, a producer came up to me and asked, ‘Are you going to do it?’” Scotti hadn’t decided. “I wanted to like the set first. If I had a good set, I wanted to come out afterward. The set went really well and I felt a little better. When Howie asked me that question (“Why did you start so late in life?”), I was still unsure. In my head, I took an executive meeting very quickly while I was onstage. While all the board members said should we do this, before I knew it, it was coming out of my mouth. I’m 64. I’m working again. What do I have to lose? And I could help a lot of people.”
Facing a crowd that’s not hip to transgender issues or people is less common now than it was in 2011, although nobody in her crowd in Seattle for her album taping had seen her on AGT. That surprised Scotti, but in a good way. “Again I have to win them on my own.”
“First and foremost, you have to be funny. I had to write a whole new act, obviously. Initially I did stuff they could relate to before I came out (onstage). But after AGT, there was never any reason to hold back so I’d open with that,” she said. Most of her crowds are predominantly straight or cis, so her act reflects mainstream premises and punchlines.
“I don’t talk about Trump in my act. Look what happened to George Lopez a couple of nights ago (getting booed offstage while hosting a charity benefit). It’s just a divisive subject,” Scotti said. Joking about North Carolina’s bathroom laws is another matter. “But this law, everyone would agree its stupid. It’s just pee. So I point out the absurdity of that. It’s just pee. You’re going to legislate that? If you bring it to an absurd level, they can laugh.”
Susan Sandler is producing a documentary about Scotti now, and she’s back on the road doing clubs across the country. This coming week she’ll perform at Cobb’s Comedy Club in San Francisco, followed by the Throckmorton in Mill Valley. It’s a symbolic stop on the road for Scotti. “Kevin Meaney and I were great friends and toured a lot. Kevin was the reason I ended up at the Throckmorton to begin with. These two dates coincide with the anniversary of his passing. It’s bittersweet that I’ll be there. I miss him. I never saw him give anything less than 100 percent, and I just miss him.”
Find Julia Scotti’s tour dates here. Her new album, “Hello Boys…I’m Back!” is on sale now.