Julia Scotti: Funny That Way

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Julia Scotti: She's Funny That Way
"Whatever your own personal circumstance, if you are trans, there is much here that you are likely to find very recognisable."

I like Funny That Way. It is a fun, touching documentary on trans coming out. I mean, what’s not to like? It speaks very directly to me and my own experience of coming out and it includes some genuinely entertaining moments of stand-up comedy.

And whatever your own personal circumstance, if you are trans, there much here that you are likely to find very recognisable.

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It is the story of Julia Scotti who, prior to coming out, in the late 1990’s was doing well. Then, as Rick, Julia was what critics would have described as “one to watch” - working clubs across the USA and regularly billed alongside the likes of Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld.

Then the roof fell in. At age 47, Julia realised that her life as a man did not fit. After an amount of soul-searching, she began the process of gender transition – hormones and, eventually, surgery at a small clinic in Canada - and started from scratch.

Because, also familiar to anyone trans, doors began to close. Pretty much everyone in her acquaintance rejected her: ex-wives, friends, comedy world buddies. Most painful of all, Julia found herself excluded from contact with those dearest to her, her children.

What followed was a long and difficult reinvention. A period spent teaching at a junior high school, followed by a nervous return to the stage. And eventually, reconciliation with her children.

As for points of contact: it is not the case that every trans person is like every other. Perish the thought. But there was much I recognised of myself in Julia. Her choice of comedy as career: I do not count myself as full-time comedian; I dabble, but had my life taken another turn…who knows? How she talked about her pre-transition experiences, and how she dealt with them.

More, it was interesting to find Julia facing many very familiar issues - creating a style of comedy pre-transition, yet increasingly unhappy with it. At the time, because she was struggling with not understanding who she was but also because she was attempting to shoehorn herself into a masculine role that was starting to chafe. Her finding that everything about her life just sat that much easier once she had transitioned.

I smiled as, during one set she came out with a line that I had myself “invented” for a set of my own. But hey! That is the thing about comedy, much of the time, it is about exposing the incongruities in our daily lives; and if we share incongruities, we will sometimes find similar comic solutions to them.

Interesting, too, both for the reasons why individual family members rejected her and why, in the end, they got over that rejection. Beautiful.

If I have criticism of this documentary, it is to do with the fact that we have been here before. Many, many times. A close up, fly-on-the-wall insight into the challenges and vicissitudes of an individual trans person. Usually, a trans woman. The arc is familiar: a difficult pre-transition life; a moment of self-revelation; rejection and, in most cases (sadly not all), the establishment of a new and positive personal narrative.

In this case, the story is mostly onward and upward, for which I am glad, no need to be spraying trigger warnings around for personal tragedy.

But there have, now, been many such documentaries and, therefore, I wonder if sooner or later we are going to reach saturation point. Perhaps. That is not the case here, in large part thanks to the fact that the subject of the documentary is a comedian and there is much that is entertaining in its own right on display. It would probably have worked less well if the hero of the show had been an accountant.

Also thanks to sensitive treatment by director/producer, Susan Sandler. So if you want to watch a good heart-warming story of a transition, this is a good documentary for you. Though looking forward, it may be that this genre is beginning to reach the end of its shelf life.

Julia Scotti: Funny That Way screens at Bentonville Film Festival on Friday, August 14 at 9 PM Eastern Time, followed by Q&A with Julia Scotti and director Susan Sandler

Reviewed on: 11 Aug 2020
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Documentary tracking Julia’s comeback, the rough life on the comedy circuit, and the return of her children after a 15-year estrangement.

Director: Susan Sandler

Starring: Julia Scotti

Year: 2020

Runtime: 73 minutes

Country: US

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