Comedian Reinvents Herself and Finds Unexpected Success

Julia Scotti the Headliner at June 18 Show at Surflight
Jun 12, 2018
Julia Scotti

Surflight Theatre’s 2018 Monday evening Comedy Tonight series will kick off on June 18 at 8:30 p.m. when one of the most improbable stars of contemporary comedy, Julia Scotti, will headline a show that will also feature comic Mike Burton and emcee Paul Spratt.

Scotti made a big splash on the comedy scene when she advanced to the quarterfinals of the 11th season of “America’s Got Talent” in 2016. Now 65, she immediately captivated the judges during her audition by riffing about her age.

“I’m at this age where if I were on a sinking ship, and there weren’t enough life boats to go around – right? – and I was getting the last seat on the last boat, and just as I was about to climb on board this young girl comes up, gives me that sad face, like I’m supposed to change places with her, seriously, I’m supposed to say something noble, like (slipping into an elderly Irish accent) ‘you know, dear, I’ve had a good life, you take my seat on the lifeboat.’ F**k that! I didn’t get this old by giving up my seat on a lifeboat, you’re going to have to learn to live with disappointment – at least for a couple of more minutes.

“So, in addition to being old, I’m fat, single and broke. My 401(k), I got enough in there for about a month-and-a-half of Netflix. I’m a complete and utter physical wreck – you know, my primary care doctor is a paleontologist. I don’t work out because I’ve got the really bad arthritis, not like my cousin, my cousin is 70 years old, she ran a marathon at 70, 26½miles – I know, making me look bad. I smoke two packs of cigarettes a day, I jog a block and a half and I’m starting to see dead relatives at the end of the street (motioning like they’re waving her over to join them).”

“Thank you. You’re going to make me cry,” Scotti sincerely said as the audience roared after her short stint.

Now, when a grandmotherly cross between Barbara Bush and Jean Stapleton’s Edith Bunker of “All In the Family” fame – the Edith of later in that TV series when she got up the nerve to stand up to Archie – can be that good on stage, it isn’t surprising that judge Howie Mandel said, “Oh, my God, you are a joy. You have so much to offer. Can I ask you a question? Why did you start so late in life?”

What was surprising was Scotti’s answer.

“I was 28 when I started, and I did it for 20 years and then I took 11 years off, I became a teacher and there were other issues. Do you want to know what they were?”

“I would like,” said Mandel.

“Well,” Scotti continued, “for the first 28 years of my life I was known as Rick Scotti. So this is big for me.”

The judges’ jaws dropped practically to the floor.

“Boy, you are a piece of work, Julia, aren’t you?” said judge Simon Cowell. “I mean, you know, like the nice little granny schoolteacher, all sweet, and you go into your routine and it was like ‘whoa!’ Talk about surprises, they’re never ending with you, aren’t they?”

Scotti doesn’t often work a transgender angle into her shows, trying to relate to a larger audience with her hilarious yet authentic slightly-potty-mouthed-grandmother persona. She told a blogger in 2014 that “I prefer to think of myself as a comedian who happens to be transgendered as opposed to being known as a transgendered comedian. There’s a big difference. … Being funny trumps everything else because if I am not, no one will come see me.”

She is also wary of concentrating on senior citizen humor too much.

“I try to remain relevant for everybody”

So she keeps up with current events, as some recent tweets show.

. “I just want ABC to know that I would be more than happy to step in as head of the Connor family. I’m just saying …” “In a tweet today, Trump welcomed his wife ‘Melanie’ home from the hospital. I hope the first thing she did was tell him, ‘I really missed you, Raoul.” “Kim Jong Un on de-nuclearization. ‘Let them eat yellow cake.’” ‘The pretzel was invented in 610 AD by an Italian monk. So there is precedent for a religious baker providing products to gay people.”

Wow! Where did she find that historical tidbit? She’s obviously a reader or a serious watcher of historical documentaries, how else would she be able to tweet “I have a terrific headache. Each time I get one, I am reminded of FDR’s last words, which were, ‘I have a terrific headache.’ Thanks FDR, for freaking me out.” But seriously, where did she learn about the history of pretzels?

She explained during a delightful interview with The SandPaper. When she was a kid growing up in New Jersey – Scotti currently lives in Whiting – she liked Bachman pretzels. Well, when the Supreme Court ruled on the Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, she remembered a factoid on the back of a Bachman bag and hit the internet to confirm her memory.

Scotti’s first incarnation as a comedian started in 1980 when she appeared in the amateur night shows at the famous Improv Comedy Club, getting a whole three minutes to perform her routine – perfect training, as it turned out, for her “AGT” audition.

The New York city clubs – the Improv, Catch a Rising Star and the Comic Strip – were steaming cauldrons of young comedic talent at that time, with so many of the future superstars of comedy perfecting their craft in them. If they caught on in the clubs, they might get an invitation to appear on “The Tonight Show.” And if Johnny Carson liked them and invited them over to his interview couch, well, a star was born.

“The ‘Tonight Show’ doesn’t have that impact on comedy in these days,” said Scotti, reflecting how the world of comedy has changed over the years. “Now you can become famous from the internet.”

Tickets for Surflight Theatre’s June 18 show are just $15 and may be purchased online at surflight.org, by phone at 609-492-9477 or at the box office, located at 201 Engleside Ave. in Beach Haven.

— Rick Mellerup

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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