OCEAN CITY -- A guy walks into an Ocean City bar with a guitar, a pair of pants and a butter knife. He puts the knife to his own throat and threatens to slice his jugular vein. He rants, raves and eventually begins to foam at the mouth.
Rather than fleeing, spectators laugh. The madman breaks character and turns to the cameraman who has been recording the scene.
"Was there enough slobber in there?" the madman asks.
William Pearce isn't a threat to law and order at Maryland's biggest beach resort; rather, he's one of a hundred people who put their unusual comic talents on display for a crew filming segments here this weekend for the ABC television program, "America's Funniest People." At stake were a possible appearance on the program in the fall and a chance to compete for the show's weekly $10,000 grand prize.
Mr. Pearce, 22, a pool water consultant from Gloucester, N.J., was one of fewer than a dozen people who auditioned Saturday at Fager's Island, a bayside bar and restaurant. Yesterday's turnout was much greater, as youngsters and adults lined up on the boardwalk's entertainment pier to show off for cameraman Gregg Canes and segment producer Dino Vince. The pair not only juggled the technical aspects of taping, they coaxed, cajoled and comforted potential contestants.
Ryan Sinnott, 7, of Ocean City, wanted to do his imitation of Michael Jackson dancing. But when the camera started, the little boy froze.
"I can't, Dad," he pleaded to his father, who was watching from the sidelines. "I just can't do it now."
Mr. Vince bent his six-foot frame down and took the boy's arm, chatting casually with him for a few minutes. Soon Ryan was ready to try again, this time putting on a pretty good imitation of the superstar.
"We try to encourage them, relax them and get them to do their best," said Mr. Vince. "Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't."
And sometimes contestants get all the coaching they need from their parents. As their budding stage parents cheered them on, three Pennsylvania cousins -- 7-year-old Shelby Smith, 9-year-old Troy Myers and 11-year-old Heather Myers -- earned giggles from yesterday's crowd for their rendition of a song called "God Bless My Underwear."
Crowd response gave other contestants all the encouragement they needed.
William Potts, 29, of Falls Church, Va., performed two bits, including a speedy backward recitation of the alphabet that raised the eyebrows of the comedy-weary crew. Baltimore's Donrico Scott, 22, wowed the crowd with a reggae rap song. During a Friday taping at the Centre in Salisbury, Don Insley did memorable "stupid vegetable tricks."
"Stay," he ordered a zucchini, which did.
Some of those who auditioned in Ocean City had to tone down their acts. Anything considered controversial or off-color won't work on early Sunday nights, when "America's Funniest People" and its sister show, "America's Funniest Home Videos," have consistently earned Top 10 ratings.
"There are so many kids watching," said Mr. Vince."
So danger and controversy are off-limits. But when it comes to weirdness, anything goes.
David Kenney rode J. R. Emmanuel's back at the end of their prop-laden rendition of the song "Horse with No Name" Saturday. For their big finish, an off-camera friend drenched the pair with a bucket of water.
"Was that really stupid and corny?" Mr. Kenney sputtered.
"Yeah," replied the producer. "It was just right."