By Sabrina Hornung
Charlie Berens is a man of many hats. The creator of the “Manitowoc Minute” is a newsman, comedian, writer and musician. We had the opportunity to speak with the Wisconsin native about his new book “The Midwest Survival Guide: How We Talk, Love, Work, Drink, and Eat . . . Everything with Ranch,” about why the Midwest is best and even a bit of dating advice.
High Plains Reader: So, you know, I was really excited to hear that you're coming to Fargo. We’re really big on embracing our midwest identity here, but it certainly feels like it took a while. How did you come to embrace yours?
Charlie Berens: I think for the business I was in, which was news to start off with, it was a bit of a liability. Because I have a bit of an accent. I guess, you say some words you grew up thinking are normal and you find out they're actually not that normal at all, really.
Like “bubbler” for instance, it’s something we say in southeastern Wisconsin, which is a drinking fountain. You ask anyone outside of Wisconsin, a “bubbler” is a device to smoke the “devil’s lettuce.”
So you’ve got some of those things going. After a while, I turned from the news to comedy. That's when things really started to flow for me to you know, embrace who I was, or what I wanted to do–artistically. And that was just embracing who I actually was, my truth. And where I came from is a huge part of my truth.
HPR: Oh, definitely. So what led you down the path of journalism?
CB: I was always a good writer, I think. And I kind of wanted to be a musician in college, but I didn't have the chops necessarily, or the confidence to perform. And so I got involved with the school newspaper. A strong suit of mine is writing even when performing wasn't a strong suit or music wasn't a strong suit, I could always write.
HPR: So, you know, speaking of your writing style, you just came out with your book, “The Midwest Survival Guide: How We Talk, Love, Work, Drink, and Eat . . . Everything with Ranch.” So how long was that in the works? And how did it kind of come into fruition? Was there like a phrase or a nuance that really kind of set it off?
CB: I kept getting messages from people asking me, Hey, I'm moving to the Midwest… because I'm going to college–What should I know? Or I'm going to this city–What should I visit? Or I just hit a deer and I’m sitting on the side of the road here, what do you recommend I do? I started responding to a few of those, just for fun, I guess, and I liked what I wrote. So I saved that. Then after a while, I thought maybe I got enough for a book here. And then I did, eventually I did write a lot more, and it was a really unique and cool experience.
HPR: Speaking of Midwest survival tips… and with Valentine’s just behind us. Dating advice: what would you recommend for Midwest dating tips?
CB: I mean, I think you want to start off first by saying what are appropriate first date spots in the Midwest, and for that I recommend you stick with the tried and true. Kwik Trip, Culvers or a dive bar – you can't go wrong in any of that. Then as the relationship progresses…At some point, you are going to have to tell your significant other those very, very special words, those special three words, and you want to pick the right time, and you want to look them right in the eye, and you want to say hey… watch for deer.
At that moment, if they don't tell you to watch for deer back…It just was never meant to be. But if you say it, and you have that feeling, I recommend you just go for it. Because we're in this world for a very, very short length of time. And you don't want to be laying on your deathbed wishing you told that special someone to watch out for deer. Say it often. Just let them know. You care
HPR: So what do you think sets Midwesterners apart from the rest of Americans?
CB: I think in a lot of respects, the weather. We talk about there being four seasons, a lot of places have four seasons, but we got the season very few truly want for the longest part of the year. And that is winter.
When you have this common bond of chattering teeth and boots that are soaked with snow, and not necessarily the good snow, it's the snow that is all black from the cars on the street and then you're sitting in a nice restaurant, at the nicest restaurant, I'm talking a real nice restaurant, like $14 a perch, right? A supper club even, once you thaw, you look down after a little bit, and, and you look down at your boots, and you're sitting in a puddle, like Frosty the Snowman on his last days.
When you deal with situations like that often enough, you have this unique bond by getting through the most difficult weather patterns out there. And that kind of gives you a sensibility. I think the seasons really do that. Life is short, and time is passing and there's no need to take yourself too seriously.
HPR: So you mentioned that you wanted to be a musician. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
CB: I played hippie music honestly. I play a little bluegrass…blues, harmonica guitar, some mandolin, a little piano (I still play). We put an album out, actually. I collaborate with Adam Brule from Horseshoes and Hand Grenades. He’s a very good guy and helps me a lot with music. It’s very fun to do that and I'm lucky that I still do it in a professional manner and that I still do it on stage. So it's just always been a passion of mine.
IF YOU GO
March 12, 4:30 and 8pm
Fargo Theatre, 314 N Broadway
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