By Matt Levy
Most people only have to potty train once.
What makes New York comedian Joey Rinaldi different is he learned the process twice.
Rinaldi, 26, is the writer, creator, and star of the hit long-running, award-winning one-man show “Potty Training” about a traumatic experience he underwent while in a middle school rehearsal for “Godspell.”
We won’t get into the gory details but Joey basically broke his penis — his words — when he was fourteen. He did everything he could to make sure nobody knew.
As an adult, it’s the only thing he talks about.
Joey quipped, “There are not many people who can say they had their literal manhood stripped while entering manhood.”
The acclaimed show that kickstarted Rinaldi’s career began in his last semester at a small Pennsylvania liberal arts school he attended right before transferring to NYU.
It was there that Joey took a creative writing course where students were assigned to write personal essays about something crazy that had happened in their lives. Joey quickly churned out an early version of “Potty Training” about the time his bladder stopped working the summer between eighth grade and freshman year of high school causing him to urinate through a catheter for six months because he landed wrong while performing an American Ninja Warrior stunt during a rehearsal for a middle school production of Godspell.
The day after he performed the stunt, 14-year-old Joey peed blood in front of the cast and crew. He was mortified and quickly decided there was no way he’d let it get out that he was “the kid with the broken penis.”
So, young Joey spent six months trying to craft a narrative to own the story. He lied and told people he had a life-threatening disease to cover up the fact that he busted his penis and bladder.
He became reckless and started smoking weed and partying like any fun-loving bar mitzvah crashing teen would. This terrified his poor mom who did everything she could to help, sending him to the best doctors, disinfecting his wounds, and having nurses over to the house to check on him.
Still, he would sneak out and damage his bladder even more. When he’d return his mom would wake up to take him to the ER at midnight because his stitches were popping out.
When all was said and done, this was more a traumatic injury for her.
The class instantly fell in love with his story. Joey wove in observations on identity, religion, middle school dating stories, and the awkwardness that comes with puberty and it caused a stir.
Some classmates laughed and others cried. His teacher even pushed him to submit to his school’s non-fiction magazine who published the anecdote-turned-tall tale.
After the semester ended, Joey moved on to NYU, and “Potty Training” was accepted into the school’s arts festival who asked him to perform a reading. At that point, he’d only been doing stand-up for three months but after he performed that night to big laughs, comedy started to click for him.
Jumpcut to Joey’s senior year of college, he somehow convinced NYU to give him eight credits (half the credits you need in a semester) to make his own comedy special — the first-ever real version of the one-man Potty Training.
The only thing holding him back was that he’d never done more than five minutes of material in front of a live audience and Potty Training was clocking in at a cool 40 minutes.
So, he got creative and found out that an NYU dorm’s little black box theater was empty around midnight every night.
Joey came up with a plan where he would bribe students with snacks if they’d watch him rehearse.
Soon, every night, anywhere from two to ten students would watch him perform. When these rehearsals first began, students would leave once they finished their Starburst and Pringles. But, Joey beamed, “The last two weeks before the show, they stayed the whole time.”
To this day, some of those late-night students still attend his shows.
The practice paid off too. Joey sold out two shows, destroyed in front of the big crowds, and even got a pretty good tape from it.
Needless to say, he earned his well-deserved A.
That was five long years ago though. Now, at 26, Joey has half a decade’s worth of experience under his belt as a long-form storyteller. Whereas before he was skating by on natural talent, Rinaldi has now punched in on the proverbial comedy clock enough times to know how to make a story as funny as it is emotional.
He’s now ready to marry his newfound skills with the material that helped him jumpstart his comedy journey and make the best possible version of Potty Training.
Comedian Aditya Mayaa agrees that the latest iteration of the show really lets Rinaldi flex. He recently saw Potty Training and said it’s “hilarious, evocative and Joey at his most Joey. If you want to get to know who he is while laughing your ass off, watch this show.”
Joey wouldn’t have gotten this far though without his key collaborators.
There’s his day one writing partner Kevin Mezick, a Connecticut-based filmmaker, who helped craft “Potty Training” since its inception way back in 2017. There’s also his podcast co-host Sam Wolff who knows the story so well that he can keep Joey honest, calling him out on minute details and tiny flaws.
The icing on the cake is that Joey occasionally throws pizza nights where he’ll feed comedian friends who will suggest new punchlines in exchange for slices. So if you hear a joke you find funny, Joey generously suggests “it was probably something Austin Locke or Nick Hopping wrote.”
Most importantly though, there’s Mrs. Rinaldi who was with him every day when he lived Potty Training. Joey uses her as a fact-checker to this day to make sure he’s got the story straight.
Also, she’s pretty funny in her own right and even punched up a few bits that made it into the show.
Since the naturally funny, sad, and intriguing Potty Training took off, it’s landed Joey on the Risk! Podcast, something he’d aspired to ever since he started sharing personal stories onstage.
“The whole experience working with the Risk team made me feel like all my hard work crafting stories paid off,” he said.
Other accolades include a pre-pandemic five-show run as a part of the off-Broadway FRIGID Festival in New York where it won Best Comedy of 2020.
When he’s not “Potty Training,” Joey has been producing comedy shows in Manhattan and Brooklyn since 2017.
His major hustle is his monthly “Bad Trip Storytelling Show” that’s run in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Jersey City. Each Bad Trip, audiences ask comedians questions after their stories and can win free drinks if they ace storytelling trivia.
Currently, the show takes place every third Thursday of the month at the Bushwick Public House with pop-up shows all over the tri-state area as well.
Over the years, Joey’s cultivated a bit of a reputation as a crowd-pleasing showman too. These days, he’s known for greeting audience members at the door, taking them to your seat, flagging the bartender down to take their drink order, and standing by the door to say goodbye to everyone as they leave.
In turn, his fans really get to know him. Whether he bought their friends a round of drinks, read their niece’s screenplay, or thanked them for sending a critical review of his comedy via DM’s.
You read that right. Joey has turned trolls into fans. One audience member trashed his comedy online and rather than getting sensitive, Joey responded with “Thank you! These are good notes.” Shortly after, the digital heckler came to a live show to see if he took the feedback.
Well, in five years, Joey sees himself touring as a storytelling comedian performing at colleges. Since “Potty Training” in many ways is a coming of age story dealing with becoming comfortable in one’s own skin during awkward and stressful times, it would fit right in at universities.
For now, though, the first showings of Potty Training will be Thursday, March 3rd at the Vino Theater in Brooklyn at 8 p.m. and then Saturday, March 26th at the Curtain Call Theater in Stamford, CT at 8 p.m.
If COVID doesn’t shut the world down in 2022, Joey will take Potty Training to the Kansas City Fringe Festival in July and then the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August.
When Joey was 14, he never thought messing up his penis would be something he’d be proud to share.
Now he’s grown up and is telling strangers all over the world about it every night.
Looks like Potty Training paid off.