Lino Rulli is late for our phone interview.
Fifteen minutes past our designated
time, he finally calls, seemingly
winded and noticeably
frustrated. Immediately he begins
free-associating, but it isn’t about
God or religion or his show on Sirius
Satellite Radio’s The Catholic
Channel. The topic of this particular rant
concerns the car he no longer drives.
A Midwest native, Lino moved to New York City in late
2006 for the job at Sirius, and the adjustment to public
transportation hasn’t been easy.
“I miss my car,” he says.
“I hate my car,” I retort, frustrated with my own.
“What do you drive?”
I confess the make and model.
“Oh. I hate your car, too.”
The rest of our hour-long conversation would follow a similar
tone. Lino, never short on sarcasm, has spent a lifetime
making people laugh: It’s fair to presume that his sense of
humor has gotten him into trouble just as often as it’s gotten
him out of it.
As host of The Catholic Guy, a show that blends comedy
and Catholicism, Lino can nail a one-liner and, in the same
breath, discuss uptight Catholics or meatless Fridays. It’s a
unique marriage—blending faith and funny—but it’s been
a thriving union.
And though Lino is known for his wit, it’s his wisdom that
is truly disarming: His master’s degree in theology proves that
his knowledge of all things Catholic is no joke.
Carbs and Catholicism
Lino was born 36 years ago in St. Paul, Minnesota, to Angelo,
a probation officer, and Gina, a high school teacher. Growing
up in a deeply Catholic—and very Italian—family
exposed Lino to religion and to the old country early on.
“Every two years or so my family would go to Rome,” he
says. “We’d visit the churches—there are pictures of me at
St. Peter’s. So that’s always been a huge part of my life. So
Lino has vivid memories of being one in a crowd clamoring
to see Pope John Paul II.
“It was like we would go to see aunts and uncles and
cousins and then we’d go down to see the pope. Not like,
‘Wow, it’s the successor to Peter and the Vicar of Christ!’ I
wouldn’t have articulated it like that. He was like a family
As if being an international traveling tot wasn’t unusual
enough, hope of a normal life was further dashed when
Angelo quit his job in the mid-’80s to be an organ grinder
in the circus. His young son soon followed.
“So I joined a circus called ‘Circus Flora,’” he recalls.
“Flora was the name of the elephant. I used to ride the elephant.”
Lino eventually attended St. John’s University in Collegeville,
Minnesota, majoring in communications. His flair
for comedy and interest in Catholicism were about to bear
In 1998, Lino began hosting Generation Cross, a television
show from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Aimed at Generation X Catholics, the program ran
for six years.
“I was 26 at the time. It came out of this odd idea of trying
to do something on TV for Catholics my age,” he says.
The premise was certainly different: Lino would engage in
unusual activities with interesting Catholics. On one show
he rock-climbed with a priest; on another, he swing-danced
with a nun. All the while, inspirational lessons were imparted.
“By our second episode I took a priest to the state fair. He
was eating corndogs and going on rides. For some reason,
it was really funny.”
Many agreed: The show garnered a following among Gen
X-ers in the community and it was critically acclaimed,
winning Lino two regional Emmy Awards. Thanks to a
grant from the Catholic Communication Campaign, Generation Cross was shown in several other
Catholic dioceses, including the Archdiocese
of Boston and the Diocese of
“It felt like nobody had ever done
anything like this,” Lino says. “It was
me hanging with priests and nuns
doing things you wouldn’t expect them
to do. It was a riot.”
Lino still marvels at the show’s
appeal. “Wherever we would go, if I
was on the street or at a bar, people
would say, ‘Hey, I’m not Catholic but
I love your show!”
The program also had significant
evangelical reach. “During our first
year, one viewer decided she wanted to
become Catholic. She said to me,
‘You’re to blame for this.’ So I had to be
her sponsor for RCIA,” Lino says. “It
was just awesome.”
Generation Cross ended its run in
2004. Though Lino started a production
company soon after, he was something
of a tumbleweed, traveling to China
and Japan, as well as Western and Eastern
“I didn’t do anything in front of the
camera, which was a personal insult—
nobody wanted me anymore,” Lino says.
Instead, he dipped his toe into the
pool of radio, hosting Lino at Large, a
half-hour weekly program geared
toward young-adult Catholics that he
still hosts today. Sponsored by the
United States Conference of Catholic
Bishops (USCCB), it airs on the Relevant
To Lino’s surprise, he found his
One thing to know about Lino: He’s
something of a contradiction. The
bookshelf in his New York City apartment,
he says, boasts titles ranging
from the biography of John Paul II to
the memoirs of Peter Jennings to
Howard Stern’s Private Parts.
That diverse blend of interests would
prove useful when fronting The Catholic
Guy. The show airs on The Catholic
Channel and is operated by the Archdiocese
of New York.
It’s infotainment with a simple
agenda: Everyday life, Catholic issues,
theological matters and totally random
topics are addressed by Lino and his
crew. From 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern,
Monday through Friday, on channel
159, thoughtful religious discussion is
mingled with complete absurdity.
For Lino, it’s about offering listeners
something different. Rehashing another
program’s formula wouldn’t work.
“We wanted to do a different kind of
Catholic radio show. If we tried to compete
with something like Catholic
Answers Live, we would obviously lose,”
he says. “That show has got some of the
smartest people in the Catholic world
on. Only an idiot would want to compete.”
So he doesn’t try. Not even close.
Lino and his on-air team—Maureen
McMurray, producer; Tom Falcone, who
handled the phones (he has left the
show since this interview); and Lou
Ruggieri, technical advisor—have each
had a hand in creating something different
for Sirius Catholics who crave
some levity with their religion.
Highlights from the show include
“Free Therapy Tuesdays,” where Lino
discusses his most recent counseling
session; “Let’s Make a Catholic Deal,”
in which participants choose one of
three doors for a “semi-valuable prize”;
and “Name Your Pet Lino,” a popular
feature among fans.
Guests—and listeners—needn’t be
Catholic, but a sense of humor is a requisite.
Some notable visitors to the studio
have included Ed McMahon, Mike
Rowe from Discovery Channel’s Dirty
Jobs and boxer “Sugar” Ray Leonard.
Topics vary: Lino and the others
might delve into Scripture before discussing
the perils of bladder incontinence.
Keeping listeners guessing is a
Maureen, who has extensive radio
experience, marvels at both Lino’s work
ethic and his creative energy.
“He’s uncompromising when it
comes to the balance of humor and
faith. Lino is always concerned with
incorporating both of those elements,”
she says. “He is extraordinarily creative
in terms of his approach to the content
because Catholic content is not the
easiest thing in the world to make
And he is ably supported: Maureen
and Lou, who were both born and
raised Catholic, are still learning the
faith, while Tom’s agnosticism added an
engaging element. But diverse personalities
aside, Maureen knows the lively
banter among them is an essential component
to the show’s success.
“We joke around and get along, on
and off the air,” she says. “And because
of that, it allows the listeners to feel that
they can relate and participate in the
Maureen admires Lino’s broad
knowledge of Catholicism coupled with
his desire to conquer the grind of radio.
In many ways, he is both scholar and
“I think Lino walks that fine line of
being an expert at something while
being someone you can really approach,”
she says. “Every day is new
with him, and he is willing to experiment
and try new things on the air.”
Maureen credits the show’s ability
to reach a younger Catholic audience.
“We are their peers. With other
media it’s sort of the old guard,” she
says. “We are trying to be a little bit
edgy. We are young, we have young
voices and we have different frames of
reference that I think young people
will be able to identify with.”
Joe Zwilling, general manager of The
Catholic Channel and spokesman for
the Archdiocese of New York, remembers
the day he came across Lino’s name
during the planning stages of the channel.
“I got a bunch of CDs from the
USCCB as programming possibilities
and I got to Lino at Large. I said, ‘Wow,
this is somebody I need to talk to.’
What he was doing is exactly what we
wanted on The Catholic Channel.”
Over the course of several conversations, Lino accepted the job offer as
host. And Joe couldn’t be more pleased
with his performance so far.
“Lino presents the faith in a way that
is accessible to people who might not set
out to listen to religious programming—those who aren’t interested in what I like
to call the ‘audio equivalent of stained
glass and incense,’” he says.
Though Sirius cannot scientifically
track ratings—satellite radio is different
from commercial broadcast radio—Joe
feels that Lino and the others are on the
“First off, the average Sirius subscriber
skews younger. So that’s on our side,”
Joe says. “Also, Lino doesn’t always
invite listeners to call in but when he
does, do the people call? Yes.”
Joe remembers a contest last September
when listeners were invited to
register online for tickets to a Notre
Dame football game. The station
received contacts from more people in
the first day than in any ticket contest
Sirius had done up to that point.
But Joe knows that listeners tune in
for more than contests and raffles.
“Lino brings his experiences, his
humor. He talks about things that people
can relate to, especially young people
in their 20s and 30s,” he says. “He
speaks their language and puts that
Catholic perspective on it. And that is
Joe broadens the praise to the others
as well. “Lino leads the way but he’s
assembled a really strong group of people
around him. They play off each
other so well. I’m hoping that this is a
mainstay of The Catholic Channel for
many years to come.”
It has been said that one must know
tragedy in order to do comedy, and
Lino is no exception. The events of
9/11, in particular, derailed a tradition
he had been practicing for some time
“I was in a groove with the Liturgy of
the Hours. I was really in a rhythm
with prayer. It was probably one of the
times when I was most at peace in my
life,” he says.
That peace was shattered on 9/11.
“I remember the words of the prayers
seemed hollow,” Lino recalls. “I said,
‘This is miserable. These are just words
on paper right now. How could God
allow this to happen?’”
Though he wasn’t living in New York
and didn’t know anybody killed in the
attacks, that day shook his faith to its
foundation. Lino went to church in
search of answers, but he encountered
a period of spiritual desolation, as did
“I was looking for somebody to help
me make any amount of sense out of
this. I had a tough time with prayer
for months after that,” he says.
Not that it takes a tragedy of that
size to do so. Lino’s faith has been
tested over matters that now seem trivial
by comparison, such as the cancellation
of Generation Cross.
“At the time I said, ‘Well, God, where
are you?’ I had been working for all
these years trying to serve the Church
in this very odd way,” he says. “I just
remember being wildly upset with
But a faith tested means a faith
strengthened. Lino is philosophical.
“I think just day-to-day life is enough
of a test for me. If you don’t have a test
of faith, then you must not have a
strong faith in the first place. The devil
must not be working on you.”
It may surprise some that Lino’s three
biggest influences are David Letterman,
Pope John Paul II and—brace yourself—Howard Stern. But it shouldn’t: He
has Letterman’s sharp delivery and
Stern’s penchant for pushing boundaries.
Yet Lino is also pious. Well, he
tries to be.
Take, for example, his fondness for
the Sacrament of Reconciliation—a
source of amazement and strength for
Lino, and limitless comedy.
“I go to Confession regularly and I
talk about it regularly. To me it’s the
most embarrassing thing you can possibly
do,” he says, chuckling.
“But the more I learned about it, the
more I was like, ‘This is really cool. I sin
a lot and this is an interesting thing to
have at my disposal.’ It’s embarrassing,
but who doesn’t want to hear embarrassing
stories on the air?”
Providing a forum for his own humiliation
is commonplace for Lino. And it’s
all about making people laugh: Comedy
is more than jokes and punch lines to
him. It’s outreach.
“What I like most is that I do a funny
show. I love the fact that when you
make people laugh, it gives them hope.
And when you give somebody hope, it
makes faith.” Lino pauses. “It makes
the subject of God a lot easier to take in.
“And at the end of the day whether
people realize it or not, by their laughter,
they’re getting hope.”
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