When Marie Marshall woke up April 26, she had no idea she’d be seeing comedian Charlie Berens perform at Rice Lake High School. Actually, she didn’t know who Berens—star of internet series “Manitowoc Minute,” Emmy Award winning journalist and traffic regulation nonconformist—was.
Marshall had come inside the school during the afternoon track meet and didn’t leave until the auditorium lights came up over nearly 400 people.
“I loved it,” Marshall said afterwards.
Berens’ performance is a melding of two distinct personas. Manitowoc Charlie measures distance in Culver’s (1 mile = 2 Culver’s) and is not allowed to swear, and Other Charlie Berens is a former Catholic incense boy and can swear, but typically holds off. Both love Craigslist.
A majority of the audience knew Berens solely as host of “Manitowoc Minute.”
Before going on stage, a video projected above the stage introduced the characters’ concurrency.
Berens isn’t trapped in his character like Larry the Cable Guy or Stephen Colbert’s “Colbert Show” host.
He doesn’t switch often—it’s not a Good Ash vs. Bad Ash “Army of Darkness” struggle—and for the first transformation he asked the audience if it wanted to meet “the other Charlie.” Yeah!
Having the audience in on the process allows Berens more leeway to transform and break character for comedic effect.
A University of Wisconsin-Madison alumnus, Berens earned a journalism and mass communications degree and began doing news comedy on internet platforms before transitioning to traditional television to do an untraditional news show and, later, asking famous people red carpet questions.
Berens draws on his journalism experience to gather pertinent headlines and hyper local to national news stories and riff on them.
It’s bizarrely educational, akin to Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show,” and alerts viewers to national events.
Unlike “The Daily Show,” “Manitowoc Minute” doesn’t dwell in the political realm, but a good joke’s a good joke and it isn’t uncommon to hear a political shot fired. The show’s main political message is to get out and vote.
Some things though, Berens said, shouldn’t be political. Environmental issues exist, we should support the troops, current race relations are bad, those are just facts, he said.
Let’s stop pretending we have to be either one side or the other, he said.
There is one national, or at least regional, division Berens does antagonize: Packers vs. Bears.
His Manitowoc sign off—found on his made in America T-shirts—is “Go Packers and F**k Da Bears.”
Bears fans aren’t uncommon at Berens’ shows. Provocateur Jim Anderson, visiting from Batavia, Illinois, wore his white Bears jersey and yelled a hearty, “Da Bears” from the audience. He said his former license plate was “FIB 1.”
Berens doesn’t hate Bears fans. “I just wish you made better life choices,” he told them.
The ribbing is not exclusive to Chicagoans. Shows are tailored for the hometown crowd using local internet posts, social media accounts and traditional media.
He shared a Chronotype police blotter describing a man who called 911 because he had stayed up all night sipping brandy and talking to his dog and wondered if it was safe for him to drive to work.
“Okay,” Berens asked, “which one of you was this?”
He ripped on Rice Lake’s meager Wikipedia page, saying, “I made fun of this last year and no one updated the Wikipedia page. Stop laughing and get on your computers.”
Wisconsin people really love to laugh at themselves, Berens said before the show. Being in on the joke goes a long way in taking a joke.
A show highlight was the auctioning of a turkey perfume bottle Berens had bought off Rice Lake’s Craigslist. The opening bid was $1, but the winning bid, by brothers Trent and Josh Syryczuk in the first row, was an even $100. Berens matched the $100, and the money was donated to the local VFW.
The brothers were seeing Berens for the first time for Trent’s birthday, and they left with a souvenir that Josh said, “Smells like a funeral home.”
In the future, Berens wants to lengthen “Manitowoc Minute” and bring on more regional correspondents. For example, Barry McGunthrie Jr. from South Carolina checked in on Berens’ April 15 show.
He’s also been working on his music. Early arrivals could hear him strumming his acoustic guitar and singing in the green room.
To end the night, Berens led the audience in an oddly moving, crowd fueled rendition of “Hallelujah,” with a Wisconsin twist.
And so, on the same day a man in red lumberjack flannel pedaled his green mountain bike down Augusta Street with one hand on the handlebars, the other pulling along a tired red push mower, Charlie Berens was in town, dining on walleye, potatoes and cheese curds.
All was right in Wisconsin.