University of Wisconsin alumni often do well for themselves following college graduation. Some have become educators, politicians and scientists, while others go on to become professional athletes. One alumnus, however, has found success through roughly 60 seconds of YouTube comedy. His name is Charlie Berens, and he’s the stereotypical Wisconsinite who hosts the comedy series “Manitowoc Minute.”
Now going on almost 40 episodes since June 2017, the show parodies local news broadcasts by replacing hard news headlines with packed punchlines, beer-drinking forecasts, tavern shout-outs and Chicago Bears trash talk.
“The Craigslist Kicker” is a fan favorite segment, featuring ridiculous listings from the online marketplace, resulting in comical commentary from Berens. The kicker is that Berens actually purchases these items.
“That’s where I got this old, 1982 Volkswagen Rabbit, ‘Getting 45 miles to the gallon there guy.’” Berens said, switching over to his anchor accent to properly show appreciation for the efficient automobile.
His jokes can now be seen live on campus at the Wisconsin Union Theatre in Shannon Hall, delivered in the former UW students’ signature camouflage jacket. Berens will perform traditional stand-up before launching into his character full of Sconnie overtones known all over the state.
Beyond what fans can find on YouTube right now, Berens will incorporate stories and videos from his “Craigslist Kicker Road Trip” into his set.
“We took that around the state to explore Wisconsin from a different perspective,” Berens said.
The Midwest dialect Berens conjures up every week mainly comes from life experiences living with his family in Elm Grove, roughly 20 minutes west of Milwaukee. Coming from a clan that includes 11 other siblings, the dozen’s second-oldest admits state stereotypes get factored in to his final product, jumping off into finding all the nuances within to keep surprising the audience.
“Comedy is all about surprises,” Berens said. “If you just beat a dead horse — which is already established in brats, cheese and the Packers — it doesn’t surprise anybody. If you embody it and find all the layers of the Wisconsin onion, there’s so much more that people relate and connect to.”
Before Berens became a Wisconsin celebrity, he was in the news business. He ventured to places like Dallas, Washington and Los Angeles as an entertainment or local news reporter.
That’s where Berens got the inspiration for Manitowoc Minute, an anchorman with an accent which executives didn’t exactly prefer in local news. When Berens was first in Los Angeles, he reported from the red carpet, then went to producing digital content for local stations under 20th Century Fox.
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Exciting Hollywood glamour? Not quite. Rather, it was “kind of boring,” as Berens remembered it.
Like seemingly every producer in Los Angeles, Berens performed stand-up at night. It was from his sets that he began to develop and later applied the character who Badgers see behind the anchor desk.
Half of the comedy Berens plans to perform will be presented in the classic stand-up format which he says everybody can relate to.
Berens said everybody knows somebody from Wisconsin or the Midwest, or at the very least hates somebody from the region. It’s easy to find the comedy, because Berens tailors it so that having simple background knowledge is all it takes.
The “Oh My Gosh!” tour has been well received so far, and Berens hopes the support continues. The positive reviews even extend beyond Wisconsin. He spent the summer working on the material, making the show one that can tour the country and find a connection with everybody, not just Wisconsinites.
There are strong fan bases of the Manitowoc Minute outside America’s Dairyland. Berens hopes to hit Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan. He’s even hopeful about tour stops in Denver and Tennessee.
The comic’s travels don’t stop there, as Berens has also spent time on the West Coast since leaving UW.
“I do stand-up in Los Angeles quite a bit. I introduce the character differently because there’s a different highway to get it to people out there,” Berens said.
Closer to home, Berens’ upcoming show won’t be the first time he’s taken the Manitowoc Minute to campus. In Jan. 2018, he was in Madison for his “Keep ‘er Movin” tour before returning a few months later to give the UW School of Journalism and Mass Communication commencement speech. It’s no coincidence that if Berens is on tour, he comes to Madison.
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He was disappointed he didn’t get to go to a Badger football game this season, though he didn’t miss much.
“We lost the axe, what the hell? But I love Madison,” Berens said. “What is three times a year too much?”
Berens said he always has fun when he’s back in Madison, and that getting together with old college friends makes it easy for him to put on a strong show.
The comedian is pleased with how much the city has changed and is impressed it continues to progress.
But the city has changed in ways he didn’t anticipate. Last week, after turning a street corner, Berens was surprised to see five buildings lined up behind one another where he expected to see just a one-way street.
“It’s like someone was playing the Sims when I wasn’t there,” Berens said. “Someone came and built an entire town on my town.”
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When Berens isn’t doing stand-up or transitioning between important stories during segments with catchphrases like “Keep ‘er movin’,” he tinkers with side projects. Though Manitowoc Minute has taken off and remains his focus, Berens has plans currently in various points of development which he hopes are received well in the entertainment industry.
“I have a couple fun sketches that I’ve been working on that will come out in some videos soon,” Berens said. “I’m writing a couple pilots and pitching some of those out.”
The 2009 graduate teased events planned leading up to his show. The surprises include a launch party for Beren’s very own brew from the Ale Asylum, appropriately titled “Keep ‘er Movin’.”
Special guest Hank Chen, currently cast in Amazon’s Emmy-winning “Transparent” and TV Land’s “Lopez,” will open for Berens. The variety show will run about 60 Manitowoc Minutes at Shannon Hall Friday, Dec. 7, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $15 for UW students, with $45 meet-and-greet tickets also available.
“Everyone should leave with a smile on their face,” Berens said. “You’re hearing that from a very unbiased source, I have no reason to tell you that.”