FAIRVIEW, N.J.– When Fairview native Julia Scotti returned to stand up comedy, she had two goals in mind: To be truthful and to be fearless.
"If you’ve done it for a living it’s almost like a religious calling," said Scotti , 64. "Once it's in your bloodstream you can never get rid of it.
"I love the freedom of it. I love being able to express myself on stage."
During her 7 years of working as a sixth grade teacher in Freehold, Scotti "came to understand that I was transgendered."
"After I transitioned I couldn’t use the material I used before. But I had a lot more to say," she said. "I was going to be a lot more honest and fearless than when I was Rick Scotti."
"I began to look at the things I wanted to talk about as Rick Scotti but was afraid to," Scotti added. "You reach a certain point in your life where you say, 'I don’t want to hide what I'm thinking.'"
She had a 20-year career under the name Rick Scotti, using material influenced by her childhood in Fairview, Cliffside Park and later Palisades Park.
"It was a very Italian neighborhood where I grew up," the Palisades Park High School graduate said. "That environment lends itself to a lot of comedy."
Her parents divorced when she was six. That's when she first learned to use humor to "mask the pain."
Born Rick Gagliardi, Scotti took her mother's maiden name for when she performed.
"I was working a lot in the south and people couldn’t spell [Gagliardi], let alone pronounce it," she recalled. "There’s no winning with Italian last names unless you’re Italian. No one can spell them."
Since 2011, Scotti has been performing across the tri-state area and recently appeared on "America's Got Talent."
"The scariest [performance] was the first one when I actually came out on camera," Scotti said. "We’re in this huge theater with 2,500 people and there’s 12 million people watching the show [on TV]. I took a deep breath and hoped for the best.
"When I said that and they erupted, I broke down in tears. I realized this is bigger than I am."
Scotti stopped performing stand up because her dream of getting on a sitcom seemed to be dying. But a return to comedy wasn't easy, either.
She had to write a whole new act, basically start from scratch. Again.
That entailed proving herself at open mic nights and auditions.
"There was some skepticism because I was older and transgender," she said.
Her AGT appearance helped.
"[The producers] left it up to me," Scotti said. "I wanted to do it because there are a lot of people out there that need to see that we’re not all freaks.
"We’re just people. There are a lot of transgender people who look to see someone just like them doing something mainstream."
The response was overwhelmingly positive for Scotti, whose dream of being on a sitcom has resurfaced.
Scotti hopes to make strides for LGBTQ persons, but in the end, "I just want to be recognized for my work," she said.
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