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Camera crew wants state's 'Funniest'


For Baltimore contestants of TV's "The New America's Funniest People," fame is as fleeting as it is sweet.

But at least a few Marylanders who have appeared on past episodes seem to agree that they'd do it all over again. Others will have the opportunity to grab their few moments in the spotlight when the show's field producer, Dorian Walker, visits area malls this weekend.

"The New America's Funniest People," in its fourth season, airs on WJZ Channel 13 at 7:30 p.m. Sundays.

"One of the things we take a great deal of pride in is that we're the only show in America that literally brings Hollywood to your hometown," Mr. Walker says. "We do this so we can include everybody, from all walks of life . . . whether you're a cab driver or a corporate executive, or a housewife or a tugboat captain."

The show has visited the Baltimore area twice before, in October 1990 and April 1991, and has aired performances by 21 Baltimore and Owings Mills residents. Mr. Walker says that typically 200 to 300 people will come out on a three-day weekend like the one planned.

At one of the show's first tapings in Baltimore more than three years ago, Lynn Chamberlain Zink of Upper Falls shared her talent with the show's producers at the Inner Harbor. "Everybody said I'm such a ham so why not give it a try," Mrs. Zink says.

Her schtick was to name the 50 states, alphabetically, in under 20 seconds.

Mrs. Zink did it in 17 seconds. "It was over so fast I asked if I could do it again," she says.

"I was kind of embarrassed after I did it. I said, I can't believe I did this." But she did and her segment appeared on a Sunday night show.

"Of course I told my whole family, and of course my father had a $100 phone bill from calling his brothers and sisters in New England, and a friend in California, a friend in Montana . . ." Friends and family still call her each time the episode appears in rerun, she says.

But even she puts her achievement into perspective: ". . . Think about it -- what is so exciting about saying the 50 states in alphabetical order?"

One Easton resident who appeared on the show didn't come to Baltimore to audition. Instead, the show discovered him at sea. "America's Funniest People" found Jerry Goodspeed, a professional ventriloquist, two years ago aboard the USS Seabreeze, one of many Caribbean cruise ships on which he performs. "They had me in a lifeboat with one of my puppets -- he's an old guy named Bernie."

The spot lasted for about 30 seconds, Mr. Goodspeed recalls. "I think I did some ship humor. It was a special show filmed aboard the ship, so I think I did some cruise jokes."

Mr. Goodspeed seems unimpressed with his fame. But is he glad he did the spot? "Sure," he says. "It's good for a laugh."

John Loughlin, of Severn, auditioned while visiting a friend in Providence, R.I. He remembers waiting in line outside a shopping mall a little over a year ago. "And you're watching people smash Coke cans on their heads, and eating fish upside down, and we were just wondering what we were doing there," he says. "It was like a police lineup of really strange people."

Mr. Loughlin's skit involved his friend, who juggled a bocci ball and hambone. The friend pretended to smash the bocci ball -- an Italian bowling ball without the holes -- on his head.

"Not real cerebral humor here," Mr. Loughlin says.

Mr. Loughlin didn't hear from the show's producers, so he figured the skit hadn't been chosen for the show. But one day, while watching TV and talking to his friend on the phone, magic struck. "I was talking to him on the phone, and I heard my voice in the background."

Mr. Loughlin explains having conversations for months afterward. "You'd never imagine how many people watch that show," he says. But those who ask him about his appearance often approach on the sly. "People tend to come up to you quietly, like they don't want to let anybody else know they watch the show."

Has Mr. Loughlin's career turned around since he was deemed one of America's funniest?

"No product endorsements yet, no movie roles, but I'm sure that's just around the corner."

Mr. Loughlin prefers to take the long view rather than get caught up in disappointments. "You know that 15 minutes of fame you're supposed to get? Well, counting reruns, I've probably got about a minute and a half by now."

Whether it be shame or fame, the opportunity to appear on the show seems to have left a lasting impression on its Maryland stars. And the show keeps coming back to town for more.

Baltimore has impressed Mr. Walker, the field producer, with its diversity, strong ethnic character and blue-collar roots. He says, "I've seen more original humor [in Baltimore], and that's important for our show. Wherever you go, you're going to see the same knock-knock jokes. But what separates the wheat from the chaff is when you see somebody come up with an original twist."

Mr. Walker encourages people to come up with impressions, jokes, physical comedy, quick skits, costume gags and especially, because of the show's recent move to its family-oriented time slot, family humor.

"If you can close all that into a 30-second piece, that's what we're looking for," he says.

The producers choose a variety of sites within a city in order to hit a broad socio-economic field as well, he says. "Because humor, we like to say, is one of those things that makes us all equal. The ability to laugh and to tell a good joke crosses all kinds of barriers."


The camera crew for "The New America's Funniest People" will appear at Westview Mall in the Value City Court from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 4, Golden Ring Mall in Hecht's Court from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 5, and Owings Mills Mall in the Center Court on Sunday, Feb 6, from noon to 6 p.m. For more information call (310)-442-5680.

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