A SPECIAL COMEDY SPOTLIGHT: JULIA SCOTTI: Appearing at Catch a Rising Star in Princeton June 3rd 4th By Calvin Schwartz May 30th 2016
NOTE: JULIA SCOTTI APPEARED ON AMERICA’S GOT TALENT ON JUNE 21ST NBC AND MOVES ON TO NEXT ROUND!!!!!!
ANOTHER NOTE: JULIA SCOTTI MOVES ON AGAIN ON AMERICA’S GOT TALENT ON JULY 13TH!!!!!
I love comedy. I loved Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor. I love Catch a Rising Star in Princeton. My journalism gig the last few years with NJ Discover has afforded me back stage stuff, precious interviews and reflective time. My comedy infatuation began back in the sixties with Lenny Bruce who opened comedic doors and free speech horizons. I came full circle a few years ago when I met Lenny’s daughter Kitty, who was in Jersey to raise money for Lenny’s House (for abused women). A month ago, I met Richard’s daughter Rain. For me, both full circle opportunities. And the opportunities continue as I got the chances to meet and interview special headlining acts at Catch a Rising Star. Of recent, were Mindy Rickles (Don’s daughter) Jill Kimmel Ryan (Jimmy’s sister) Sheba Mason (Jackie’s daughter), Marsha Warfield (Night Court) and Marc Price (Skippy, Family Ties). When I heard Julia Scotti was coming to Princeton, I jumped at the prospect of an interview in about a second.
Julia is a national headlining comedian, a former teacher, speaker and woman of transgendered experience (today’s headlines replete with subject). In the 80’s and 90’s, she was known as comedian Rick Scotti and appeared back then on Showtime and Comedy Central. In 2000, she left the comedy stage to undergo her life changing transition and become a teacher. In short order, Julia realized she had more comedy in her soul, and in 2011 came back to comedy. There is an energetic hilarity and wondrous story telling in her act. We talked for nearly an hour.
Right away she mentioned that “this is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.” Julia started comedy in 1980; did 20 years and took time off. Firstly, I asked her how and why she came into comedy. “Since I was a little kid, I was drawn to comedy, almost like a religious calling.” Her mother was a single mom from an Italian family. “I wanted to be a drummer and played in bands in North Jersey. But always in the back of my mind, I wanted to do stand-up.”
In 1980, the opportunity came along. There was a Chinese restaurant in Paramus having a comedy show outside of New York and auditioning locals. “I put five minutes together. There were 20 people and I got picked…. That’s all I needed. I got a couple of laughs. Later that year, I auditioned at Improv when the comedy boom started.” By the late 80’s she was headlining all over the country. “My first time at Improv, Joe Piscopo was the emcee. That’s how long ago.”
I asked where she pulls her comedy from. “I’ll see an event. I’ll see something. I found a piece on Lifetime Achievement Awards; something so pretentious. I wrote a whole piece about it; a phrase; a word; a feeling. Jerry Seinfeld does observations. I’m more of a story teller. I can’t tell a joke to save my life.” She is a huge fan of Jean Shephard who wrote and narrated the iconic movie, ‘A Christmas Story’ (Ralphie). “If you watch me and know Jean Shephard, you’ll see the influence. He used to broadcast from WOR radio late night. I was under the covers with a transistor radio. That’s how much influence.”
Julia grew up in Fairview, Bergen County. I questioned her comedy role models. She was expressively fortunate to have the masters as guides. “Chaplin, Keaton, Abbott and Costello, Jack Benny, Fred Allen. Keaton knew his audience and never said a word. At an early age, I was careful how I used my body, my face. It was as important as what I said. Like a musician with an instrument. You all have these tools.” She told the story when she was in Mill Valley, California performing. “I found out when Charles Chaplin came over, he worked this theater with Stan Laurel (an understudy). Just standing on the stage knowing who was there. I actually kissed the stage; A sacred place for me.” I was moved by the depth of her comedic soul.
I am what I am; An old movie guy so I’m always curious as an interviewer. “My favorite movies are ‘Postman Always Rings Twice,’ ‘Double Indemnity.’ I have a weakness for westerns.” I added, “So do I!” She recently rediscovered TV’s ‘The Rifleman’ and ‘Gunsmoke.’ The radio version dealt with social issues. She loves musicals like ‘Singing in the Rain’ (my very first movie) and Fred Astaire. She also mentioned the next time I watch ‘Casablanca’ to pay attention to ‘Major Strasser’ and how he views Humphrey Bogart’s character Rick Blaine. I am intrigued; wrote my first novel, ‘Vichy Water’ based on ‘Casablanca.’
Julia drifted sentimentally. “My parent’s divorced in the 50’s. It had a huge impact. I didn’t have a father at home so I felt alienated and retreated into myself. Did puppet shows in my bedroom. I used humor back then to mask insecurities. Had Three Stooges puppets; Moe and Curly. I only had two hands…. I got a reputation in my neighborhood for being funny. It felt good when I made people laugh.” This remark really resonated with me. I was talking to a consummate caring comedian.
It’s funny (a play on words); when I interview comedians, I like to take a serious journey for a while. I asked Julia permission to ask this question. “What is the best time and worst time in your life?” There was silence for a couple of seconds. “Having kids. Losing kids. For a period of 13 years, we were apart. They are back in my life now. In fact, my son is an aspiring comedian and my daughter just began an internship with a talent agency. It’s a wonderful feeling to have them back; my life is complete now.”
Still on the serious side, I asked about the philosophy by which she lives. “Actually I do have a philosophy. Never give up. Never give in. I used to have expectations about everything and they never came true. I don’t keep negative influences around.” She bought a plaque which is hanging in her room. ‘Well behaved women rarely make history.’ She continued being serious. I asked if she wanted me to write about this. Julia said yes. “With transgendered community, there is a 41% suicide attempt rate which is obscene. A lot are kids whose parents threw them out of the house. And the stupid BS going on in North Carolina where I’m not allowed to pee where I want to.”
Then Julia said something which really moved me and brought us back to comedy. “If it weren’t for flaws in humanity, I wouldn’t have a job. I like to think people coming out to my show have a good time and learn something. It’s the best job on the planet. I’m like a reporter with laughs.” I added, it’s a gift to make people laugh. She said, “There’s nothing like it. It’s better than sex. I’ve had sex and standing ovations. Standing ovations are better.” And I added (trying to be funny), “And longer.”
One of my favorite interview questions, “Before I leave this earth, I won’t be satisfied until I…….?” Julia didn’t have to think long, “I’ve done everything I’ve set out to do in life.” I asked if there’s anything I left out that needed to be said. She liked that question and thought for a quick moment. “I don’t want to be limited by my age or gender. On the age part, I want people to understand that I can be just as relevant as a 20-year-old, if not more so. There is something for everybody in my show. It is not gender specific. I don’t dwell on my being transgendered. I bristle when I see my name in the paper as a transgendered comedian because newspapers don’t say straight comic or black comedian. Being transgendered is part of who I am. It’s not all of who I am. It’s not all I talk about.” Julia reiterated how important this was.
I watched You Tube (which I love) and caught her act and absorbed. I told her, “you are frenetic, and rapid fire and you bond with your audience; it’s so evident. In part because you are a story teller. They bond with you.” She thanked me. “The best laughs I ever got were around the kitchen table having coffee. I do bond with my audience. I love my audience. When you are on stage, what comes out of your mouth is automatic; another altered stage of consciousness. It’s a team of people working in my brain; looking for people who might be a good foil; an event; something spontaneous that happens. All this in the blink of an eye. It’s a skill I developed over the years. Robin Williams was like that. I wanted that skill in my toolbox.” And I added how much she reminded me of Robin Williams (Mrs. Doubtfire); the supreme compliment to which she thanked me.
A perfect segue. I asked Julia why does it seem many comedians have so much baggage. “Soulful comedy does come from pain; like Richard Pryor. I talk about my mom being child abusive which is very painful to get it out. People come up to me after a show and thank me and say that I show them how to laugh about things.” Her next comment is very profound. “A 20-year-old comic just doesn’t have that life experience. It’s a shame we throw old people away. Old comedians have so much to offer. Young kids laugh at me because I’m like a crazy grandmother. Middle age people say I remind them of their grandmother and my age people say it’s so true what I say. I feel comfortable binding all generations.”
I can’t wait until her shows this coming weekend June 3rd and 4th at Catch a Rising Star. Let me get cryptic here, why you all should come on down to see Julia. There are a dozen powerful and visual reasons. Pop culture. Purist comedy and laughing. We need a Julia Scotti infusion. It’s going to be a bumpy next few months and I think we’ll need to start laughing. That’s just one reason. There’s more. See you all soon. Get off the sedentary sofa.
FOR MORE INFO: www.juliascotti.com
Complete Julia Scotti story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRQnfHQaDv0
CATCH A RISING STAR PRINCETON & TICKET INFO: http://bit.ly/2416Feh
Hyatt Regency Princeton
102 Carnegie Center
Princeton, NJ 08540
To purchase tickets
visit the Hyatt box office,
or call 609.987.8018