Cripes Alfrighty! Charlie Berens Knows the Outdoors
Updated: Jul 2, 2020
Hunters and anglers can instantly identify posers just by how they grip a spinning rod or shoulder a shotgun.
Likewise, good comedians know the traits and subtleties of those they parody, realizing jokes or imitations flop if they lack insights and basic truths everyone recognizes.
Maybe that’s why comedian Charlie Berens, 33, of Milwaukee is so consistently hilarious, whether on his weekly “Manitowoc Minute” YouTube segments or his live standup bits at West Hollywood’s Comedy Store.
Berens is a lifelong hunter and angler who grew up in Elm Grove, a Milwaukee suburb. He loves and understands his Wisconsin tribe, and he knows by their cheese-head hats that they can take a joke.
But Berens didn’t go to college to become a comedian. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s journalism school in 2009, he worked as a TV journalist and gameshow host. By 2016, however, he was acting and capitalizing on his comedic talents. Four years later, his comedy tours sell out, and his “Manitowoc Minute” and YouTube mashups trigger millions of views.
Much of Berens’ material comes from his family, including memories of “Grandpa TG (Thomas Gregory)” and “Grandpa Bob,” who taught Berens his love of walleye fishing.
In a telephone interview June 22, Berens answered questions about hunting, fishing and Wisconsin.
Q: Your age? “I’m 33, or “Turty-tree.”
Q: You're the second of 12 kids in your (Catholic) family? “Yes. Two of 12, or one of six if you simplify the fraction.”
Q: Have you ever lived in Manitowoc? “No. I was doing a bit at the Comedy Store, and I always ask if anyone’s from the Midwest. I hear a ‘Me,’ and asked, ‘Where from?’ He says, ‘Manitowoc,’ so I kind of named it after him.”
Q: Do you self-identify as hunter/angler? “Yeah-yeah. I'm not a good hunter, but I go hunting. I’m better at fishing than hunting. That whole ‘aim thing’ is problematic for me. With fishing, there’s nothing you're totally aiming at. You just try to get (your bait) to a relative spot. That doesn’t work with hunting. You gotta be more precise, and I'm not precise.”
Q: How did you start hunting/fishing? “My dad’s a big fisher, and so was Grandpa Bob. It's in my blood. Grandpa Bob grew up in Fond du Lac and had a place on Lake Winnebago, so I always fished Winnebago growing up.
“One of my earliest memories was waking up and finding my dad had put a package of swivels under my pillow; kind of like the tooth fairy but more like the fishing fairy. My brother got some jigs. It's debatable who got the better presents from the fish fairy. Dad probably had an Old-Fashioned or something that night, and thought, ‘I'm going to go mess with the kids,’ but I appreciated it none the less.”
Q: Are you into catch-and-release? “I look at the lake and species, and if it’s a well-populated species, I love a fish fry. I’ll do perch, obviously, and walleyes of a certain size, but I won’t pull out a pregnant fish. My aim is sustainable populations. I do catch-and-release hunting, too, because I usually miss. I catch them in my eyes, and release them after I miss.”
Q: You can hunt or fish one thing. What is it? “Walleyes. They’re the gold standard. Some people say muskies are the gold standard, but I never eat muskies. I fish somewhat to eat, and I catch a lot of smaller walleyes. But I also want to get a monster walleye, just for the fun of it. I think it’s because Grandpa Bob was always after walleyes.”
Q: Your mom’s dad, Grandpa TG, fished too? “Yes. I went with him a couple of times, but he was more of a cast-off-the-dock guy. Some guys like to go find the honey pot, and other guys like the honey pot to come to them.”
Q: Top three Friday night fish fries? “Wendt's on the Lake (Van Dyne). That’s one of the best perch fries I’ve had. Then I gotta go with our (rental) cabin up north in Vilas County on the Cisco Chain. My dad would be upset if I don’t include his fish fry. He's got a deep-fryer. I used it in one of the videos, and brought it back dirty. He wasn't happy. And then there's Pass Da Peas in Milwaukee. They have a really good catfish fry.”
Q: My sister-in-law Megan loves you, and Megan asks: Smelt-Fest or Salmon-a-Rama? “Oh jeez. Jeez. If I gotta pick one, I’ll go Smelt-Fest. But I like smoking salmon, so obviously Salmon-a-Rama. (Pause) These are hard questions. Tell Megan I don't appreciate hard questions. These are gotcha questions. Is this gotcha journalism?”
Q: Best thing the Catholic Church has done for Wisconsin? “The bimonthly fish fry and bar crawl to get the new boiler in the basement. You gotta appreciate that. The Catholic church always comes to the table with fundraisers. It’s not just fish fries. They also do Bingo, sheepshead tournaments, and potlucks where most people just bring fried fish. ‘Sheepshead’ is a great game, but you never want to catch sheepshead on Winnebago.”
Q: A reader asks: Why do we need licenses to hunt and fish, but not to have kids? “Think about policing that. You'd have to send out the DNR to go to the back of every Buick LeSabre and start knocking on doors. (Pause) That's probably the wrong way to answer that. You know, it's kind of like getting caught without your fishing license. You have the kid, and then you pay for 18 years of their life.”
Q: From Kendra Meinert, Green Bay Press-Gazette: When is camo inappropriate attire? “At a funeral for a duck. That’s the last pattern the duck had seen.”
Q: You’re married to Alex Wehrley? “Yes. That's true. Why? Did she do something I should know about?
Q: No, but you have female fans who hope you aren't married. “Yeah, well, I am, so I can't do anything now. She's a wonderful woman. She’s great. She’ll fish every now and again if I force her, you know.”
Q: Why do young guys always drink Miller Lite and Bud Light? “Probably because it’s the cheapest beer you can buy, and they can put a bunch of them down. Young guys out with their buds aren’t trying to impress anyone, so they go with light beers.”
Q: Your favorite beer? “I got my own beer y’know; the (Ale Asylum) ‘Keep 'er Movin' light lager, so I’ll plug that. Plus, it's got Grandpa Bob’s name on the packaging.”
Q: Are comedians the smartest people in the room? “Comedians are in a unique position to take news, humor, entertainment and other disciplines, and combine them. If you can make somebody laugh, you can make them listen and get beyond the laughs.”
Comedian Charlie Berens of Milwaukee, host and creator of “The Manitowoc Minute,” is also a lifelong Wisconsin outdoorsman.
Charlie Berens and his late grandfather, “Grandpa Bob” Berens, caught muskies while fishing on Green Bay in 2017. — Charlie Berens photos