Charlie Berens spoke with UpNorthNews about how he finds ways to lighten the mood during a crisis
There’s not a single aspect of life left untouched by the coronavirus pandemic. But at least there’s comedy.
And Charlie Berens, perhaps Wisconsin’s most recognizable comedian, isn’t shying away from joking about the crisis — look no further than his recent videos “Coronavirus: Panic Mode vs. Moron Mode,” which pokes fun at both toilet-paper hoarders and stubborn hand-shakers; and “Quarantine Kitchen,” in which he gives a brandy old fashioned recipe perfect for filling out the 2020 Census while you’re stuck inside.
“We’re definitely in uncharted waters,” Berens said over the phone (the interview was properly socially distanced). “So as a comedian, what you look for is the simple truth of the situation and you just kind of see what people are dealing with and try to reflect that, and add a lot of comedy while you do that.”
Berens’ popular “Manitowoc Minute” comedy-news show also riffed on coronavirus in the most recent episode, No. 54: “Coronavirus, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Voting.”
It was released March 16, in the early days of the outbreak in America and before Wisconsin had even surpassed 100 cases; the count surged past 700 on Thursday. Though it was less than two weeks ago, it was before terms like “social distancing” and “flatten the curve” had truly been cemented as household names.
Berens’ solution to help get the word out about social distancing was to illustrate it with a fishing pole: “Just grab a fishing pole and if anyone gets into your casting zone, say ‘If you ain’t a bass, watch your a**!’ And if that don’t work, just wear a Bears jersey.”
“It’s a stupid thing, but I think it gets the point across,” he said. Social distancing, he added, is “the main thing we know can help. I just tried to find a real Wisconsin way to think about social distancing.”
A former journalist, Berens is also in the position of being trained to sniff out misinformation, which he described as a rampant and ongoing issue amid the pandemic. He said part of the purpose of his coronavirus videos is also to fight lies and highlight the most sound scientific advice.
“As a journalist, in my background, when you’re looking for facts, you never go to a politician,” he said. “You don’t go to another form of media. What you go to are the scientists and the experts … and at the end of the day, I want the facts to guide anything I put out.”
While everyone is staying home, Berens is also taking time to work on new, non-coronavirus-related projects, including some long-form creations. One he has already begun production on is a 40-60 minute Midwest slice-of-life interview podcast. In it, he will host Midwesterners “from all walks of life” — musicians, screenwriters, and ordinary people doing interesting things were three examples he gave — in a “very open” format.
Berens also hopes to reschedule a number of upcoming standup shows, including some in Wisconsin, canceled due to the outbreak. But he’s keepin’ ‘er movin’, no matter how it all turns out.
“You want to enjoy life at the end of the day,” Berens said. “Things can get complicated, things can be messy, but there’s no reason you can’t keep a sense of humor about everything.”