Julia's Got Talent

  • by Ronn Vigh
  • Saturday October 21, 2017
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Comedian Julia Scotti brought me down memory lane as we talked about my home state of New Jersey, where the comic was during our phone interview. We constantly shifted off-topic to discuss our favorite Italian pastries (we both agreed on sfogliatella), the Jersey shore, comedic legends and much more. Scotti, who says she's a woman of transgendered experience, made it feel as if I was talking to an old friend rather than a comic promoting their upcoming show. Scotti will be at Cobb's on October 22.

Ronn Vigh: "The Advocate" magazine named you one of the Top 5 Transgendered Comedians in the country. Beyond comedian and trans, how would you describe yourself?

Julia Scotti: As a cranky old person; I bitch and moan a lot.

RV: Is that because you're old or just because you're from New Jersey?

JS: Well, we're never happy here in New Jersey. I'm 65, an old fart. One of the benefits of being old is that you can be cantankerous and speak your mind. I would be considered a cute old lady and I take advantage of it.

RV: While people may just be learning your name, you're not entirely new to stand up?

JS: I had a long career in stand-up before as comedian Rick Scotti. I left for a while. Then I came back and nobody knew me anymore. Boy, did they not know me! People were kind of nervous about giving me stage time. I was a newbie again and much older than the first time.

RV: While a lot had changed since you initially did stand up, was anything similar?

JS: Yes. I was scared to death both the first time I did stand up and the second time, when I returned. The first time, I didn't know any better. If I got a laugh, I was happy. The second time was monumental. Like many trans people, I didn't go around broadcasting it. Now I had to go up in front of a room full of strangers and make a statement that I was trans. It was frightening but once it came out of my mouth, it got a lot easier.

RV: You appeared as a contestant on "America's Got Talent." Was that a big turning point in your career?

JS: Absolutely. AGT reached out to us and my manager at the time said, "Are you going to do it?" I didn't know. I thought that they got dancing bears on the show, people setting themselves on fire and juggling their kids... I didn't know if I fit in being old and transgendered. My manager said, "If you don't do it, I swear to God, I will f---ing kill you."

RV: Well, it seems like it worked out for you.

JS: Yes, it was life-changing. "AGT" was nothing but supportive. They were really terrific.

RV: Did anybody at "America's Got Talent" know that you were transgender before you made your appearance?

JS: Yes, but the judges didn't know. Just before I walked onstage, the producer asked me, 'Are you going to do it?' I really didn't know until it came out of my mouth. First thing, I dropped the F bomb on TV. Then, Howie Mandel asked, 'Why did you start so late in life?'

I still wasn't sure I was going to say it. I was taking an executive board meeting in my head and had to finally make a decision. I was so flustered that I gave them the wrong age and then suddenly I heard myself saying it, that I used to be known as Rick. They looked genuinely shocked, but then I looked at the audience and they started cheering and standing for me. It was such a catharsis.

RV: Did that change how you perform now?

JS: Before "AGT" happened, I would go up and do stuff the audience could all relate to. Then, I would drop the bomb of being trans in the second chunk of my set. I get them to like me first, then I could pretty much take them wherever I want them to go. But I would have to wait; I knew it.

Now, after "AGT," everybody knows and I don't have to announce it anymore. I address it right up front. The goal for me now is that I want them to understand that I may look different but I'm the same as you, with the same needs, wants and desires that go along with being human.

RV: You're an inspiration for many. Who were your inspirations?

JS: I was a huge Abbott and Costello fan when I was a little kid. I came from a broken home and identified with that sort of sad character, and they were both from Jersey. I bonded with them and used that as a way to get attention and not feel the pain of what was going on in my home life. Since, I've taken some of the things that I learned from them and use them in my act, like how I use my body and face. I'm surprised how many comedians only use ten percent of their tools. I tell stories. I need to use my face, body and eyes, too. The audience won't know you from a hole in a wall, but you have to find a way to paint that picture.

RV: Do you discuss onstage any of the recent issues regarding transgender rights that have been questioned by the Trump administration?

JS: I do talk about the bathroom bill on my comedy album, but I'm not all that political on stage. I'm too lazy to keep writing the material every week. However, I do feel a responsibility to get my point across in a way that's not going to get anyone's hackles up.

RV: Tell me about your album!

JS: It's called "Hello Boys, I'm Back," and it is on the Uproar Comedy label. You can get it all over... Amazon, iTunes, Laughly, Target, and I'll sell them at the show.

Julia Scotti performs Oct 22, 7:30pm at Cobb's Comedy Club, 915 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco. 928-4320. http://www.juliascotti.com/ www.cobbscomedyclub.com