When Angel Rentas gets people to laugh, it’s healing.
Rentas brings a light touch to patients as a nurse practitioner at Hartford Hospital.
Along with his medical skills, though, Rentas has another tool in his arsenal: He’s a professional standup comedian.
In fact, comedy helped get him through nursing school, and now his sense of humor helps brighten the days of his patients, his colleagues and others in the area.
He’s even appeared on stage in New York, Boston and Los Angeles, as well as charity events around the state. He’s also played at local comedy clubs, such as Billy Jack’s in Glastonbury and Joker’s Wild in New Haven, both of which are now closed. He’s appeared, too, at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center in Old Saybrook and Mohegan Sun Casino.
It started when he was studying nursing in 1982, starting at Capital Community College, moving on to get his bachelor’s in nursing at Central Connecticut Community College and his advanced-practice degree at Quinnipiac University.
In college, “I was going out and I needed money, and somebody said to me, you know, someone’s open for a fashion show, just go up and do some jokes.”
He did the show, got paid $20, “and I thought, ‘You know what, I can do this.’ That’s the beginning of my career. And fashion, by the way, because I’m a good dresser.”
Rentas throws in those sideways lines, part of his shtick, though he said his original models were Richard Pryor and Jerry Seinfeld, on the way to developing his own style.
Taking a patient’s history, Rentas might say, “How many glasses of water you drink a day? What are your social habits? Do you do any alcohol? Any smoking? Any drugs? Have you ever been involved in karaoke? Then you keep going and they’re awesome. They start going, ‘karaoke,’ start laughing.”
It eases what can be a stressful time in a person’s life.
“We take very seriously this karaoke thing,” he’ll say. “This is all medical. We don’t mess around here. … And then they become a little bit more interactive with you. They talk to you.
“They’re not concerned about your white coat. They’re not concerned about the IV going in. You can have a conversation with them and they feel like they can relax a little bit.”
Rentas, 59, provides his colleagues the same service, especially during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. During an online meeting of the hospital staff’s wellness program, “I did a lot of what they called virtual comedy,” he said.
“Basically I just did a couple of things about humor and health and how they can use it as a stress relief,” he said. “But then after that, I basically just go into a standup.”
He’s done similar routines for the pharmacy staff, residency program and at the Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain.
He’s turned the tables on his colleagues at events where, instead of roasting CEO Jeffrey Flaks or another higher-up, he’ll have the guests get together and write their own jokes, with Rentas filling in between the amateur roasters.
What’s really helped Rentas in his day job, though, has been performing for large corporations. One helped him on his way to his advanced degree to become a nurse practitioner.
“I did a couple of companies, and so the companies paid well,” he said. “I did a talk for some company that paid me enough so I can pay for one semester.”
Besides his comedy work, Rentas has a podcast, “Healthcare Un-Reformed,” on health and humor.
What’s most rewarding for Rentas, though, is giving back to the Hartford community where he grew up, after moving from Puerto Rico in 1967. He lived in the North End and South End.
“What I like, really, actually is you can help the neighborhood, the neighborhood that I grew up in, in the community I do a standup,” he said. “So with the advanced-practice committee that we had several years, for three years in a row I did a comedy show to raise money to buy book bags and supplies for the school system. And that was fun.”
He’s also done a fundraising event to help a friend’s child through school. “Stuff like that is real gratifying,” Rentas said. “I joined a show in November  in Wallingford to raise money for the food bank,” Connecticut Foodshare.
He’ll do it again at the Library Wine Bar and Bistro on Nov. 4. For more information, email him at [email protected]
With Rentas on hand, patients, schoolchildren and hungry families can see things a little brighter.