RHINELANDER - People around the Northwoods woke up Friday to the same voice they're used to hearing as WHDG radio host Mike Michalak set up country songs and shared the latest news. Listeners then heard another voice that sure sounded familiar.
Charlie Berens, the creator and star of the online series "The Manitowoc Minute", brought his touring stand-up show to Rhinelander.
"I love the Northwoods," Berens said during a one-on-one with Newswatch 12 Friday morning. "Best part of the summer is when we can we can go up north."
Originally from the Milwaukee suburb of Elm Grove, Berens did a mix of comedic news stories for TV stations on the east coast and Texas before heading to Los Angeles for a career in stand-up comedy. But his soul and voice always stayed in Wisconsin.
"If I was bombing really hard [during a stand-up show] I could just go into that character and I won the audience back again," Berens said. "I think that was the reason that I decided to then do videos."
Since last June, 23 "Manitowoc Mintues" flowed from Berens' mind to hundreds of thousands of viewers worldwide, delivering a slew of catch phrases (like, 'Holy cow!' and 'Keep 'er movin''.) Berens describes his character as "the guy who never got a voice coach" for local TV news and just says things the way he hears them.
"Wisconsin has a great sense of humor and I think that's something very unique and awesome about Wisconsin," Berens said.
Every episode ends with a salute to military service and his signature, "Go Packers and [expletive] the Bears!" Berens tells Newswatch 12 he wanted to develop a tag line on par with legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow's "Good night, and good luck."
"Edward R. Murrow is currently rotating in his grave," Berens said with a smile.
Berens never intended to even make the first video then, almost on a whim, decided to post it anyway. Most of his videos now have about 70,000 views. Berens knew the videos were getting big when the Green Bay Packers asked him to lead "Roll out the Barrel" during a regular season game.
"The Packers reached out and they were like, 'Do you want to announce Roll Out the Barrel?' And I was like, 'Do I? Yes, how much do I have to pay you?' That was very huge for me, growing up, being a huge Packers fan all my life," Berens said.
The Wisconsin-native has enjoyed his meteoric rise to fame, but his stops in places like Rhinelander and messages from fans keep him grounded and driven.
"I like to think the show is, in many ways, built by the community, too," Berens said. "I feel like that's the inspiration, that's where I want it to continue to grow out of."
Berens constantly works on the character, often spending 15 hours writing and editing each episode. He says he doesn't get tired of the gig, but gets physically tired from travel (including a 21-show tour that ends in Wausau on May 10.)
"The big thing with comedy, in general, is to continue to explore and to expand and to make things interesting, and when they stop being interesting... when it starts to be dull, you have to just expand," Berens said.
Berens has no plans of ending "The Manitowoc Minute" any time soon, which means that voice and his now-famous tag line will keep delighting folks across the state that inspired him.
Berens performed at Rhinelander High School on Friday night. His next show is sold out in Wisconsin Rapids on Feb. 10. More information is available on his website.