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A weekly series focused on Bloomington-Normal's arts community and other major events. Made possible with support from PNC Financial Services.

Stand-up comedy tour highlights the best — and funniest — Midwest stereotypes at the BCPA

A man sits alone with cross arms in a shabby, wood paneled room
courtesy
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Berens
Comedian Charlie Berens makes his Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday with his Good Old Fashioned Tour.

Author, sketch artist and stand-up comedian Charlie Berens stops in the Twin Cities for two solo shows Thursday at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.

The Good Old Fashioned Tour crisscrosses the Midwest for the next couple weeks before heading south; born and raised near Milwaukee, Berens should have known better than to tour the region in the dead of winter. He did it anyway.

“You know, I wasn’t thinking,” Berens said in an interview for WGLT’s Sound Ideas. Berens stops in Bloomington after visits to Grand Forks, Bismarck and Fargo, North Dakota.

Berens studied journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, hoping to shed light on underreported topics.

“I felt like there were a lot of powerful people in control of things that shouldn’t necessarily be in control of them,” Berens said. “I thought it was a matter of getting down to the facts.”

Berens worked as a broadcast journalist before launching his comedy career. He dabbled in sports and entertainment news and won an Emmy for reporting on water prices during periods of drought for Dallas-Fort Worth-based television station KDAF.

“You realize some things are broken, but they’re broken in ways you didn’t even think they were broken,” Berens said. “There’s so much complication in these things. The question becomes: How do you convey that to people in a way that they’ll understand and care about?”

Berens merged his passions to create a satirical broadcast called the Manitowoc Minute, in which he plays a local newscaster with a thick Wisconsin accent reading ridiculous—and true—headlines.

“I think there are a lot of really good journalists out there,” he said. “I think they’re largely underfunded. If you look at supply and demand, people don’t demand truth; they demand the loudest, most obnoxious voice telling them the truth they want to believe.”

By gravitating toward comedy, Berens has the advantage of hyperbole and a more flexible relationship with the truth. But he remains optimistic about journalism.

“I do think truth inevitably rises to the top,” he said. “It’s just, how much damage do the lies do along the way?”

A man stands in front of a blue-lit brick wall, holding a microphone
William C Crone
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courtesy Berens
Charlie Berens

Good Old Fashioned Tour

These days, Berens is focused on sketch comedy and stand-up that pokes fun at the Midwest, occasionally in collaboration with a few of his 11 siblings. His Good Old Fashioned Tour honors Wisconsin’s signature version of the cocktail, made with brandy.

“A lot of my comedy looks at [Midwest] stereotypes and doubles down on them for comedic effect,” Berens said. “But at the end of the day, I try to find the heart in it.”

His 2023 comedy special “Midwest Goodbye” had greatest hits like the four-hour exit from a house party with leftovers in tow, waving drivers through at stop signs and roundabouts and Packers fans’ fierce rivalry with Bears fans. Berens said the new show is less about Midwest inside jokes and more about his experiences and identity as a Midwesterner.

“I’m parodying the Midwest at its best, mind you,” Berens said. “I know there is a whole history of, for instance, redlining in Milwaukee and racial injustices. I’m not naïve to that, but I think what I try to focus on is the good that I see.”

Charlie Berens' Good Old Fashioned Tour takes place Thursday, Jan. 25, at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, 600 N. East St., Bloomington. The 7 p.m. show is sold out. Tickets for the 9 p.m. $33-$55 at 309-434-2777 and artsblooming.org.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.
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