There’s no better way to bring people together than through laughter, and Charlie Berens does that each week — Wisconsin-style — with the Manitowoc Minute.
Since June 2017, Berens has served as host of the comedy news show that strives to be “da best minute of your life once a week.” In each online episode Berens shares headlines from the Dairy State and beyond, gives shout-outs to points of interest across the state and offers a Craigslist kicker, a hilarious look at an obscure item for sale. And he does it all in the thickest of Wisconsin accents.
The show’s become a hit, with most episodes garnering about half a million views on Facebook and fans around the world picking up his catch-phrases like “keep ’er movin’” and “hey der, guy.”
The Milwaukee-area native graduated from UW-Madison in 2009 with degrees in journalism and geography and is now a comedian based in Los Angeles. While he was in Madison recently, headlining a sold-out show at the Wisconsin Union Theater, we caught up with him to find out how he became Wisconsin’s most enthusiastic ambassador.
After college, broadcasting jobs took you to Texas, South Carolina, Michigan, California and Washington, D.C. Where did the Manitowoc Minute come from in all this?
Where it came from was going into news and having an accent and having people tell me that you say these words wrong or those words wrong — and it's always the same words.
What were those words?
"Opinion," accentuating the "o." Or "bag," like "baaag." "Tag." Just anything that rhymes with "bag" — and there are a lot of things that rhyme with "bag."
So, you leaned into the accent as the host of the Manitowoc Minute?
I basically am that character; he's an extension of me … I like to laugh at myself, I'm self-deprecating and I think Wisconsin culturally has that sense of humor. I think people get it. It's all in good fun.
When you started, did you have any idea of how big the show would become?
I had some indicator that the accent worked. I did that Jack Dawson video [in which he gave Leonardo DiCaprio's character in Titanic an exaggerated Wisconsin voice], so I had some sense that people liked this accent. And when I did my standup, it always did well.
Where'd you get the camo jacket you wear in each episode?
Oh, the camo jacket. So, I stole that from my dad. But actually, I found out recently that he stole that jacket from his uncle. So basically, it's a very old jacket. And it's starting to fall apart. Apparently if you go water skiing with a jacket, it really wears on it.
I like to laugh at myself, I'm self-deprecating and I think Wisconsin culturally has that sense of humor. I think people get it. It's all in good fun.
Aside from waterskiing, do you have a favorite aspect of the Manitowoc Minute?
I really like the Craigslist kicker. I feel like you can tell a lot about a place just by looking on the classifieds. For example, there are so many silos for sale.
Really? I had no idea.
Neither did I.
And I didn't even know you could sell them and move them.
Neither did I. But, you know, coming from the perspective of a geography alum, what does that say about where we live? It's almost symbolic of the larger farming community - you're selling your silo? It's interesting.
While all in good fun, the show does take a point of view on some issues. How does that work out?
The point of the Manitowoc Minute is to make people laugh, but also to bring people together. When everyone is laughing we're all on the same page, even if it's just for a joke. But Wisconsin really seems to come together around a lot of issues. I see it in our Keep 'Er Movin' Wisconsin initiative, which basically gives fans a platform to donate. Last year, we gave away over $10,000 to causes like Wounded Warriors, hurricane relief, the Boys and Girls Club of Milwaukee and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Sheboygan.
Is there anything else you'd like to do with the show?
I think there's a way to bring the show to outside of Wisconsin. Maybe there can be a full-on newsroom. I think it would be fun to have other people who represent where they're from and do it in the same way the news networks do it.
Do you have any advice for current students trying to figure things out?
Follow your passion. If you want to be a comedian, but think real estate is more practical, it's really not. Spending 40 to 80 hours a week on your passion is a lot more practical than spending that time on something you don't enjoy. Your passion will carry you through the inevitable hard times. That said, my passion didn't pay my student loans. So look for jobs that'll build skills related to your passion. Beyond that take risks, have fun, make mistakes and keep 'er movin'.