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Laughs keep him standing up

(ran LA edition)

The past six months as a comedian haven't been too bad for Thomas Brown. He hasn't dealt with booing crowds, hasn't wondered how to pay the rent and hasn't had to deal with unscrupulous club owners.

"I must be one of the lucky ones," the 30-year-old comic said.

Standing 6 feet 3 and weighing 275 pounds hasn't hurt, either.

Luck and size aren't the only things going for him, however.

"The biggest thing he has going for him is stage presence," said Rick Consolo, owner of Side Splitters comedy club on N Dale Mabry Highway in Carrollwood. "All attention is focused on him. People have no choice."

"You have to establish control in about 30 seconds," said Brown, a second-degree black belt in Kempo Karate and a master of judo. "You just have to establish that you're funny.

"The crowd wants you to win. They come there to laugh. But, if you're not doing your job, then they express their feelings."

Brown, who was born in Tampa and graduated from Hillsborough High School, gave up his car paint and body shop, European Design, six months ago to work on his comedy career. Since then, he said, the bad experiences he has had have been with other comics.

Brown learned about comics' fragile egos while working with others in comedy workshops in the Tampa Bay area. The workshops teach comics about the show business end of their work.

"You're like a family in the workshops," Brown said. "But if you rise up they find excuses why you move up and they don't. . . .

"Everyone wants to get on top. I just want to be comfortable and happy."

Brown was encouraged by his friend and fellow local comic Happy Cole to try comedy. But watching Cole struggle a few years ago before he broke into the national touring scene outweighed the encouragement.

"At that time he wasn't making any money," Brown said. "So I didn't think it (comedy) was a big deal."

But Cole persisted.

"He told me I should go to amateur night" at local comedy clubs, Brown said.

On Dec. 29, Brown did just that at the Comedy Works on Kennedy Boulevard and found his calling. While on stage "it hit me that this was what I wanted to do," he said. "I knew I could make a living at this."

If he failed, however, he knew he always could get a job with his father, who owns an orange grove, Brown said.

A national audience may be able to judge for itself if Brown has what it takes to stay out of that orange grove. On Wednesday, he auditioned for Russell Simmons' Def Comedy Jam at Heroes Night Club in Orlando. Def Comedy Jam, which showcases black comics from across the country, appears on the pay cable channel Home Box Office.

Brown's fiancee, Sylvia Knight, a teacher at Sulphur Springs Elementary School, will be at the audition with him. She has been behind him on much of his comedy work.

When the call came for the audition, "He said, "Babe you're not going to believe this,' " Knight said. "I thought President Clinton was on the phone.

"He said, "It's going to happen. It's going to happen.' "

Brown said he won't hear if he made it until around July 1.

Knight said she thought Brown had lost his mind when he decided to give comedy a shot. But she quickly came around when she saw him perform.

"I happened to go to his show one night. He had the whole crowd laughing," she said.

That's all Brown said he wants.

"I want to become the bay area's comic as far as being recognized from the bay area," he said. "I want to be a big fish in a small pond."

Consolo doesn't think that will be a problem.

"People should watch for this kid," he said.

To see Thomas Brown

Thomas Brown appears at Ron Bennington's Comedy Scene, 20967 U.S. 19 N in Clearwater, at 8:30 tonight. Cover is $5. Call 791-4477 for information.