OF YOUR LIFE
S TAND AND ELIVER “When I was younger, I waited for a break. Now I am in control of my destiny,” says Rinaldi.
A comedian plots to leave corporate America—forever
When Mary Ellen DePetrillo Rinaldi was a producer at a Toastmasters
International conference in 2004, her job was to run the show, not steal it. So she
was surprised when the headliner—Darren LaCroix, a renowned public speaker—told her a few weeks beforehand, “You’re doing 20 minutes. I’ll call your
name, so be ready.” Rinaldi, now 53, had worked the Boston comedy circuit from
the late 1980s into the ’90s, but that was a long time ago. She felt sick to her stomach—but exhilarated. “I sat down and wrote from scratch,” she says, eventually
banging out a 20-minute set about corporate America, marriage, and parenting.
Despite the years off, Rinaldi—
as comedians would say—“killed.”
The show was a rim-shot reminder
that she still loved to perform. “I had
a genuine, deep-in-my-heart feeling
that the stage is where I needed to
be,” she says.
A native of Cranston, Rhode Island,
Rinaldi had left the stage years earlier for a more stable job—she’d felt
burned out and wanted to help support her family. She eventually earned
six figures as a global-accounts
manager for a technology-training
company. And when she missed
comedy, she volunteered to produce
shows (like the one for Toastmasters)
in her spare time.
But as the years passed, volunteer-ing wasn’t enough. When her father
died in mid-2007, she remembered
what he’d always told her: “Don’t
ever let your dreams go.” She says,
“I just knew I had to make the move.”
So in March 2008, soon after her
50th birthday (and with enough
money saved to cover 18 months of
expenses), she finally left her job.
Over the next two years she performed wherever she could. “I was
out there doing a lot of stuff for free.
Anybody I could get in front of, I did.”
A friend introduced her to a speakers’
agent, and Rinaldi began appearing at
corporate events for pay.
Today she has her own production
company and speaks three to four
times monthly, also continuing to do
stand-up comedy. “My subject matter
is real life,” she says. So it makes sense
that Rinaldi’s jokes feature her lack of
fitness motivation—“My idea of exercise is to fill the tub, unplug it, and
fight the current”—and her hot flash-es: “I’ve ripped my shirt off so many
times, the only place I can have dinner now is Hooters.” —Melissa Walker