Second Act: Police Officer Leaves the Streets for the Stage

PHOTO: After 20 years on the police force, Gina Scarda decided to follow her dream of becoming a stand-up comedian.
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For 20 years, Gina Scarda never broke a sweat while patrolling the streets of New York as a police officer.

"I did everything in Coney Island," she told ABC News, "from bike patrol to being an undercover prostitute, so I never got bored. ... I was on foot, and I got to know all the community leaders. It was great."

But as retirement neared, Scarda believed she needed a break from being a police sergeant, a job she enjoyed.

"Everything was just going wrong," she said. "I was up to 200 pounds. I just really felt like my life was going absolutely nowhere. I had to make a change, and I think that what people have to do, they have to get to that point, they have to decide, how long can I stay like this?"

Today, 54 percent of baby boomers say retirement isn't about relaxing, but rather reinventing.

Click Here for Help Planning Your Second Act

So Scarda decided to follow her dream -- being a stand-up comic.

"Thank God I had my husband's support," she said. "He's like: 'You have to follow your dream. If you were that unhappy, then follow it.' As soon as I did, I knew I was on the right track."

Scarda Attends Stand-Up University

First, she took a class at Stand-Up University based in Plainview, N.Y.

"That was just a whim," she said. "I remember my first show. ... They just kind of pushed me on the stage. I didn't have time to panic. But when I got off that stage, it was the best feeling I have ever had in my life."

She's now been a comedian for nearly four years. She said being a cop was nowhere near as terrifying as being a comedian.

"I have to tell you: 'This is probably the scariest thing I ever did in my life,'" she told ABC News. "It's funny because every day I have a show, I get so nervous."

It has been an unusual transformation for the veteran cop. Scarda, who said she was a painfully shy child, told ABC News that never in a million years would she imagine herself as a comedian.

"When I first became a stand-up comedian, some of the people on the job found out. They were like: 'When did you become funny?' I was the one who loved to laugh so if there was a class clown or a cop who was a clown," she told ABC News. "I was their best audience."

These days she's not just telling jokes in the basements. Scarda has won a local comedy contest and has a high-profile gig with a group called the Italian Chicks, which performs up and down the East Coast.

"I think one of the first shows we did with the Italian Chicks, we were at the Columbus Theater in Rhode Island and I drove up and there on this huge billboard, it said 'The Italian Chicks.' ... I knew I had made the right decision," she said.

Her material has been mined from her job and her well-seasoned life.

"I'm talking about midlife," she said. "I am talking about 'Gilligan's Island.' The Italian Chicks have a niche audience. It's a boomer audience. People can relate to so much of our sets and our stories."

Scarda said she finds this second career all the richer because she's had to go way beyond her comfort zone.

"I think a lot of people are afraid to even take a first step to doing something they want to do," she said. "They don't want to fail at it. No one wants to fail. You just have to take that first step. ... Anything you do toward your goal is a first step, then second."

She said she also had a role model. "I have Rodney Dangerfield," Scarda said. "He didn't start comedy until he was 50."

Tips for a Happy Second Act:

1. Live forward: Don't dwell on past problems.

2. Look for positive reinforcement from friends and family as you make the transition.

3. No shortcuts: Relish the chance to work your way up again and be confident in your abilities.

4. Keep moving: Physical activity is critical.

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