Interview by Maria Wiering
How do you get a lobster, pub grub and a whole day named after you? If you’re Lino Rulli, you just ask. Sept. 29 was Lino Rulli Day in St. Paul and Minneapolis, officially declared so by the cities’ mayors, Chris Coleman and R.T. Rybak.
Fans of Rulli’s afternoon SIRIUS XM Radio show “The Catholic Guy” probably aren’t surprised by the Lino Rulli Day stunt. They know him as an ardent Catholic with sometimes off-the-wall, always self-deprecating humor, often about being single or having a big nose. Others know the New York-based Catholic media personality for his work in TV and film production.
Rulli, 38, won two Emmy Awards for “Generation Cross,” which he hosted and produced in Minneapolis from 1998-2004, and and he was co-executive producer on “The Last Flagraiser,” a World War II documentary that won an Emmy Award, the Scripps-Howard National Journalism Award, the National Headliner Grand Award and the RTNDA Edward R. Murrow Award.
Locally, Rulli’s known for his work as a reporter and commentator for WCCO-TV and KMSP-TV in Minneapolis, or as a graduate of St. John’s University in Collegeville. His young-adult column “Lino’s Lines” ran in The Catholic Spirit from 2001-2007. Rulli grew up attending St. Ambrose in St. Paul (since relocated to Woodbury) and went to high school at Hill-Murray School in Maplewood. He moved to New York four years ago.
Lino Rulli Day included a menu in his honor at Kieran’s Irish Pub in Minneapolis and drinks named for him at Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub in St. Paul. Stella’s Fish Café in Minneapolis named a lobster for him, which he ate. The Memory Lanes bowling alley in Minneapolis dedicated a gutter to him, and he was knighted by the members of the Minnesota Winter Carnival’s Royal Family. His associates voted on which animal at St. Paul’s Como Zoo was most like him (they chose a spider monkey). Rulli also received the key to the Cathedral of St. Paul. Rulli broadcasted some of his Twin Cities adventures on “The Catholic Guy,” which airs Monday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m.
The Catholic Spirit asked Rulli to recap his day of hometown glory and to answer the obvious question: What’s the point?
TCS: How did the idea for Lino Rulli Day begin?
Rulli: The idea was born out of complete insecurity, that’s the fact of the matter. You know how in the church everyday we have a different saint that we honor? Well, I’m never going to be canonized, so the only way I’ll ever have any honor is by having the state recognize me. With that knowledge in hand, we went about finding out if anybody wanted to have Lino Rulli Day, since I’ll never have that day on the church calendar.
TCS: Did you come home just for Lino Rulli Day?
Rulli: I actually told my parents the last time I saw them — my mom said, “When are you coming back?” and I said, “Honestly, I won’t be coming back until they name a day for me here,” and that was in June. So the city of St. Paul decided they would declare it Lino Rulli Day, and then the City of Minneapolis . . . got jealous.
TCS: How did you get the businesses to collaborate? The food, the drinks, the lobster?
Rulli: Once the word got out, then we started saying that if we really want to make this work, if we want to make it a big deal, then we want people to participate in this thing and not just have me benefit from it. We just started contacting restaurants and bars, and some people hung up on my crew. . . . And some people would hang up on them, and some people said, “Yeah, okay, we’ll do that,” because they thought it was funny. We almost got Famous Dave’s changed to Famous Lino’s, but we couldn’t do the paperwork in time.
TCS: Did people come out to see you to say hi?
Rulli: No, we didn’t want anybody to. We didn’t want to make a big weird thing where everybody’s coming in person. . . . It was just a show.
TCS: Do you hope that this draws more attention to your show or the church? Do you hope it gets people to reconsider people’s conceptions of the Catholic faith? What do you hope comes from this day?
Rulli: Of course, at the end of the day, what this is also about is Catholics being normal. Having Catholics in the public eye not for the negative publicity that Catholics are always in the press for. To be doing something entertaining in Catholicism — to have a drink named after you, to have a meal named after you, to have all these things.
This is the way the church always used to be. The church was always a huge part of culture, and for 50, 60, who knows how many years, Catholics, especially Catholics in media, have been completely unknown. Nobody’s known anybody in Catholic media, nobody’s paid attention to people in the church. Even when C.J. from the Star Tribune writes about me, it’s just funny because that means we’re making an impact on culture, and that’s what the church is supposed to be doing.
We’re not in the church for ourselves, but to be influencing and impacting culture, and this is one more reminder of what we’re supposed to be doing as Catholics — being in and among the people, and impacting the culture, sometimes in a sincere way, and sometimes in a comical way. Obviously, I never do it in a sincere way so I do the comical part.
TCS: Any final thoughts on your day?
Rulli: They say a prophet is never recognized in his hometown. The fact that I’ve been acknowledged proves what everybody’s already known — I am not a prophet.
TCS: Did they let you keep the key to the Cathedral?
Rulli: No comment.