Cripes alfrighty, Charlie Berens is releasing a standup special! The special, titled “Midwest Goodbye,” hits Berens’ YouTube channel on Feb. 22. That evening, he’ll be hosting a live reaction video, watching the special with fans and responding to viewer comments on YouTube.
Berens filmed “Midwest Goodbye” in April, during his sold-out show at the Riverside Theater. He self-produced the special with the help of Milwaukee’s Plum Media, and has spent the half-year since editing it down to size.
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The special has plenty for Berens fans to love, with jokes covering classic Midwest foibles and quirks.
We spoke with Berens about “Midwest Goodbye” ahead of its release.
What was the process like, putting together your first special?
The first part is just getting the material right. That involves a lot of touring, a lot of trying the jokes over and over and tightening them up. Some of those jokes, I’ve been doing for a while. Others were a month old when I shot the special. We found the production company, worked with them, and basically self-produced it. It was fun – it was a new thing for us. We worked with a lot of great people on that. Most of our content is shoot and get it out the next day – it’s a different process when you have something so big.
You mentioned that you’ve been working on some of these jokes a long time. When did you feel like they were ready for a special?
You get to a point where you know. You reach the end of a tour and you don’t want to go back on tour doing the same jokes for folks. I have a lot of new material that I want to get out there. To do that right, I wanted to write a whole new show.
It’s almost like lightning striking a prairie – you know, you got a prairie fire and once it’s cleared a whole new field can grow. That’s kind of what it’s like when you put out a special. You hate to burn it, you know what I mean? Because once you put the material out, you don’t want to do it on stage after that because people know the jokes. It’s kind of a beautiful thing to watch it burn, knowing that what’s coming after will hopefully be better.
Did you always want to film this show at the Riverside?
It felt like the right spot to do it. It’s such a beautiful venue, and it’s go great sound for comedy. It’s such an iconic Milwaukee venue. They’re so great, the whole Pabst group. I also live in Milwaukee so it just felt right.
It’d be fun to do a special at the Capitol Civic Centre in Manitowoc at some point.
What are some of your favorite memories from this show?
My family was there. A couple of my uncles had a couple two-tree drinks up in the green room and they were BSing with each other. One is politically on the right and the other is politically on the left. I would walk in, stir the pot a little bit, and then go grab and whiskey and watch it keep going.
There was a moment where I said a joke about my parents, and my parents were sitting there in the audience. I didn’t know if they were going to laugh or not, so I walked out into the audience to see if they did. Peer pressure – I think they were laughing.
When Ton Johnson was opening, I was sitting backstage looking at the guys running the camera, looking at the sound guy and everything and thinking, “Man, what a production. Jeez Louise.” And then I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is my production.” That’s pretty wild. At the end of the day I feel really lucky that I was able to do it.
There was this great moment on stage with me and Teresa Marie Hardy of the The People Brothers Band. We were singing “Uff Da” with Adam Greuel of Horseshoes and Hand Grenades. All the folks had their phone lights up. It was the closer of the show, and after the show, bringing everyone out on stage. No words were said in that moment, but it just felt great. It sticks in my head, to look out at the crowd and to know that you did it. I felt a lot of love in that moment.
Can you share some of the new material you’re working on?
It’s a lot about my family. More stuff about getting older and growing up. I’m at the point with this new material where I don’t know what stuff is working necessarily. I have some bits that I think, “Oh they’re good bits.” Then you go in hot, do them at five shows and they’re doing great, and then something happens. You lose your passion for the joke or the joke was just never really there, so you let it go. So I’m still figuring out exactly what it is.
There’s one fun bit about my grandpa Bob, who passed away a few years ago. The more I think about the stuff he said, the more I’m like, “Man, he had a hot 20 minutes of material.” So I’m trying this thing where I almost go through my grandpa’s classic hits. I’ll say the line he said and build the bit around that. I’m basically plagiarizing my grandpa, but he’s not around anymore so I don’t think he’ll care.
Oh, and by the way, Milwaukee Magazine wrote what some might call the definitive profile of Charlie Berens in our January 2022 issue, which you can read here.
Editor’s Note: The original version of this article included a different title for the special. Berens changed the title before release, and the article was updated.