CARROLLWOOD — Working the stage in her white patterned sundress and silver shoes, Nicole Lauren amused the audience at the Carrollwood Playhouse Theatre for 10 minutes.
Opening for the Life Amplified KidzHelpingKidz Variety Showcase, Nicole told jokes about herself, her teacher and her parents.
"Mom asked Dad what was on TV, and he answered, 'Dust, mostly.' Yeah, Dad sleeps on the couch — a lot."
Even at the age of 9, Nicole's self-assured stage presence belies her youth, but what else would you expect from a standup veteran of four years.
The diminutive performer has entertained comedy club audiences around the Tampa Bay area — and even in New York.
Earlier this year, Nicole joined more seasoned local comedians Vic Clevenger and Rahn Hortman for a comedy show at the Ruskin Firehouse Cultural Center.
She also has branched out into acting and has a starring role in The Legend Of Kate Kensington, an independent film being shot in Citrus County and other parts of Florida.
"I think it's going to be a really good project," Nicole said confidently. "It's going to work out really well in the end."
Nicole began her career in a cruise ship talent show at age 5. The kids club on the ship held a performance near the end of the trip, but she didn't want to be like any other act.
"They were all doing the same thing, dancing or singing or Hula-Hooping," Nicole said. "I wanted to stand out."
The other acts lacked practice and coaching, both of which Nicole found on board.
"A day before, we were at a lecture by a guy that just became a comedian, talking about what it takes," Nicole said. "He asked for questions and I asked him if I could tell some jokes.
"He thought I had one or two jokes on my cue card, but I actually had 18 jokes."
According to Nicole, the gentleman conducting the workshop congratulated her and said, "That was supposed to be my show, but you stole it."
At first, Nicole thought that getting on stage to tell jokes would lead to an acting or modeling career, but after several shows, she decided to stick to comedy, although modeling and acting are still part of the package.
"I like that feeling of people laughing with me, not at me, because I think the jokes are funny, too," Nicole said.
Nicole's jokes are collaborations between her father, Carl Baum, and her, partially real-life conversations between the two, and the rest based on everyday observations of people. She contends that her father really did ask her teacher about the return policy when he was told that Nicole was gifted.
And gifted she is. Nicole is a precocious child with a say in what clothes she wears, what colors or videos are used on her website, and when she performs.
Sometimes a friend's birthday party wins out over a local gig, but if she goes too long between shows, she gets antsy.
"I'm an only child, and I like to be the center of attention." Nicole said. "Sometimes if I go a while without gigs, I feel sort of like I'm not the center of attention. I don't like that."
Michael Murillo, who produced the show in Ruskin, had known of Nicole through her online videos and word of mouth for several months prior to booking her for the show, but he met Nicole for the first time that evening.
"I think she has good material and timing. She has a good stage presence as well," said Murillo, who has been doing comedy for just under five years. "Her being there improved the show, so I was happy to have her perform."
Murillo said that Nicole is doing exactly what she should be doing, which is making contacts, taking advantage of opportunities and not being afraid to fail, something her parents are also quick to acknowledge.
"Just having the confidence to go out there and try something new," Nicole's mother, Karen McCabe said. "Neither of us could possibly do what she does and we admire her for it."
In addition to performing, Nicole has tried her hand as a playwright, in archery, martial arts and swimming, but comedy and acting is where her heart is now, and her parents support her every step of the way.
"My husband and I want to be the parents who said yes," Karen said. "She is one of those kids who wants to do everything and do everything now. We figured she'd just get bored of it and move on, but she hasn't. As long as the grades keep up in school, we let her do it."
In fact, Nicole is already compiling a "bucket list," which includes becoming the youngest professional comedian, skydiving, visiting Alaska and Hawaii, appearing at the Tampa Improv, making a round of late-night shows including The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, The Late Show With David Letterman and Ellen Degeneres' talk show, and eventually hosting her own talk show.
Despite giving Nicole room to try out new experiences, her parents are protective of their daughter. Often after she performs, Nicole and her parents leave venues to avoid some of the language and content in other comedians' acts.
In addition, many of Nicole's classmates and teachers at Deer Park Elementary in New Port Richey are unaware of her career outside of school.
When asked what she wants people to know about her, Nicole quipped, "That I am actually 9, and I will probably have to have therapy."
Times staff writer Ernest Hooper contributed to this report. Shannan D. Powell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.