TV audition draws homegrown comics Hundreds vie to be on 'America's Funniest People'

WESTMINSTER — WESTMINSTER -- Dawn Straitz and her sister Michelle kicked off their shoes and wiggled their toes to the 1950s hit, "The Great Pretender."

Vallie Lewis and her Northwest Middle School friends donned tinsel wigs and blue-colored boxes to sing "Ice Cube Baby," their own variation of rapper Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby."


And Colleen Feld of Parkville took the stage at the Cranberry Mall in her wheelchair to tell a joke in sign language about a deaf man, a blind man and a paraplegic who come across a magical pond after surviving a plane crash.

Why? They thought they were funny. And they wanted to be on "America's Funniest People," an ABC television show that airs Sunday nights.


"We want to win $10,000," said Michelle, a 12-year-old from Hampstead who, along with her 13-year-old sister, drew faces on their toes. "We could buy a bunch of Christmas presents for that."

About 200 people were expected to audition yesterday for a shot at "America's Funniest People," now in its third season. The antics drew a crowd estimated at between 100 and 300 people at any given time, said Kathy Nelson, a free-lance producer from Washington, D.C., who coordinated the auditions.

In their act, the girls' big toes pantomimed the lead of the Platters hit and their other toes provided background vocals. The girls, both North Carroll Middle School students, said the act has been a hit with family members.

"I think it's great," said their father, Gary, a computer analyst.

Creativity is what the show is after, said Dorian Walker, a segment director and producer.

"We're looking for funny people who can reach out and touch people with their humor," he said. "We want good clean gags and good clean jokes. We're a family-oriented show."

Wearing body-length, Mexican-style costumes, Cherie Creaghan, 13, and Lauren Pool, 10, street danced to a calypso-style tune. The Hampstead residents won a loud round of applause from the audience.

"It's very animated. It's very cartoonish," said Kelly Cochran, their dance instructor who choreographed the act. "It catches people's attention. They brought the house down at their recital."


Mr. Walker said the producers are fond of people with great costumes or with unusual observations about daily life, such as a Maryland man who recently appeared on the program to show why potato chip bags are always filled with air. His act included impersonating people on a potato chip assembly line filling bags, smashing chips and blowing air in bags.

"It's taking something as simple as that and finding something comic about it," Mr. Walker said.

Mr. Walker and his crew screened acts Saturday in Frederick, and previously visited Salisbury and Ocean City. He hopes to be in Baltimore next month.

Westminster was chosen, he said, because the show has been looking for fresh talent in smaller markets.

"We usually find that we have good turnouts and find some fresh things," he said. "This also gives everybody a chance to be on our weekly show."

Mr. Walker said the chances of somebody appearing on the show were "pretty good," and that the chosen acts would appear no sooner than November.


Ms. Feld, 32, a part-time sign language instructor, had personal reasons for taking the stage yesterday.

"I wanted to show people that I could do this on my own," said Ms. Feld, who was paralyzed in a car accident six years ago.

"People treat me like I'm handicapped and can't do anything," she said. "I enjoy life. I enjoy making people laugh. I don't want people feeling sorry for me."