In 60 minutes on stage, Franklyn Ajaye's mind moves from Old Spice to "Star Trek" to James Brown to Nicolae Ceausescu to bald spots to Jamaican bobsledders to Babe Ruth to cooking to AIDS. It's not the kind of stand-up comedy you see much in clubs nowadays. Not joke after joke, bam bam bam, in your face. There is air between his sentences, and something real behind the smile when he says something that tickles even himself.

He's cool. Into his own groove. And offstage, he isn't too modest to describe his own humor as "intellectual."

"I came out of the time when comedy was point of view, and you were trying to say something," says Ajaye, 41, an 18-year veteran behind the mike stand. "Andrew Dice Clay has nothing to say. George Carlin still does."

He speaks wistfully of "the golden period of American comedy" -- the late 1960s, with such "bright" comedians as Woody Allen, Elaine May, Lenny Bruce, Bob Newhart, Shelley Berman, Mort Sahl, Jonathan Winters, Bill Cosby. "It'll be interesting to see what the '90s comedy is like," he says.

Ajaye, who will perform three shows tonight at the Comedy Connection in Greenbelt, ending a three-night stand, may not be a household name, but he was one of the three most visible black comedians to emerge in the 1970s. The others were Jimmie Walker and, of course, Richard Pryor, whom Ajaye calls "the best comedian I've ever seen." The first of Ajaye's 12 "Tonight Show" appearances came in 1974; the following year, he was cast in a prime-time sketch-comedy series, ABC's "Keep on Truckin' "; in 1976 he was a standout in the movie "Car Wash."

But his very coolness, apparently, has kept Franklyn Ajaye from becoming a big star.

"I was always in Richard's shadow. It was not easy to compete with Richard in those days, let me tell you," Ajaye says, laughing. "I had an album -- 'Don't Smoke Dope, Fry Your Hair' -- that came out the same week as {Pryor's} 'Bicentennial Nigger.' I just got swamped in terms of sales. It was tough getting it heard.

"I mean, I was doing some good stuff," he says, "but I'm not a flamboyant person. I think that's what has hurt me most in my whole career. I'm a low-profile, non-flamboyant type -- particularly as a black person. I think flamboyance is pretty much what black people bring to American culture. And Richard was dramatic. He was dramatic in his statements, dramatic in his personal behavior. I was always a more inhibited person."

Away from nightclubs, this is evident. He has a small, thin build, and he wears wide, rounded eyeglasses, barely tinted. In his carriage and his voice, there is an essential gentleness.

"I was never really comfortable with show business as a profession," he says. "You've got to be a showoff, bottom line, to really enjoy it. I got into it for different reasons. I got into it because I needed to make a living, and I was flunking out of law school {at Columbia University}. It was a real practical decision. 'Okay, what can I do? I've always been a funny guy with my friends... .' "

As it turned out, Ajaye influenced a new generation of powerful black comedians in Hollywood.

Bill Vaughan, editor of the black-oriented Entertainment News Magazine in East Orange, N.J., recalls an evening during the late '70s when Ajaye was performing in New York City. "It happened to be the night of a major snowstorm," Vaughan says. "In the house were all of eight or nine people."

Vaughan, then working in radio, went backstage to interview Ajaye after the show. A young man from the audience asked them if he and his girlfriend could sit quietly and watch the interview. That fellow was a young, unknown comedian named Robert Townsend.

Townsend and Vaughan later exchanged phone numbers. Soon thereafter, the struggling comic called, inviting Vaughan to check out his act at a nightclub. Vaughan accepted.

"When I got there, {Townsend} was running through his bag of impressions, and he wasn't knocking people over," he says. "Then, all of a sudden, he starts doing the jokes from Franklyn's act" -- and getting big laughs.

When Ajaye is told this story, he smiles. He says that Keenen Ivory Wayans, an old buddy of Townsend's, "told me that Robert used to do some of my act." But Ajaye isn't upset. In fact, when Townsend got hot a few years ago after his movie "Hollywood Shuffle," he made a point of showcasing Ajaye in two of his HBO "Partners in Crime" specials.

"I went over to {Townsend's} house once, right after 'Hollywood Shuffle,' and I saw a picture of me up in his house, which was a surprise," Ajaye says.

His influence was also demonstrated when Wayans hired him as a writer for his new comedy series "In Living Color." Ajaye left the show a month ago, however. Only two of his sketches had made it on the air.

"Sketch writing was more pressurized than what I wanted to do," Ajaye says. "Keenen told me, 'I really want jokes. I want to go for the jokes.' And I wasn't really good at writing jokes. I was good at writing slice-of-life, reality-based things."

One of his rejected sketches was "Save the Children," about "two kids in a gang-infested neighborhood, where there's gunfire outside and the little boy wants to join a gang and the little girl's trying to talk him out of it," Ajaye says. "I wrote more poignant things that were 'interesting,' Keenen would say. And I think he respected them, honestly. But they didn't fit into the joke or parody parameters of the show."

Ajaye did work on one of the most memorable, hard-edged pieces to date on "In Living Color" -- a "Tonight Show" takeoff featuring a typical young black inner-city male as an "endangered species," carried on stage on the back of a white female wildlife expert.

Even that sketch was altered "to put more jokes in," Ajaye says. He'd written this line for the white woman: "Just like the elephants are being killed for their tusks and the rhinos are being killed for their horns, the homeboys are being killed for their sneakers." It was taken out. Wayans called it "too much of a downer," Ajaye says.

He also had a hand in the first "Hey, Mon" sketch, about a zealously industrious West Indian family. But his idea for a quick spoof of "Driving Miss Daisy" -- "Slapping Miss Daisy," as directed by Spike Lee -- was turned down.

Most recently, Ajaye has been working on his own Showtime special, tentatively titled "The Jazz Comedian Down Under," to be broadcast this fall. It's the latest phase of his love affair with Australia. He says he wants to move there. "In fact, one of the reasons I did the special over there was to help ingratiate me with their immigration people."

Ajaye visited Sydney in 1985 "as just an out-of-the-way gig, because they wanted to experiment with bringing some American comedians over there. I didn't know what to expect." Late last year he performed in Melbourne, and he returned there this month to shoot his special.

"They're very courteous people, they're very kind, and not aggressive or confrontational," he says of the Australians. "I think I learned how much confrontation is built into American society by going to another society. And they're very bright. There's a high degree of literacy in the country, so you always get the feeling you're dealing with a thinking country. They don't watch a lot of TV."

Although there aren't many people of African ancestry there, and white Australians do have their problems with the aboriginal population, Ajaye says he feels refreshingly free of the race issue in Australia. "After about a month in Sydney, it dawned on me that I was not being scrutinized the same way that I would be over here, that I was being dealt with with a totally open mind," he says.

Raised in Los Angeles, Ajaye says he's also fed up with the pace of the United States. "As long as America is moving faster and faster, we're going to -- this is my prediction -- we're going to have more and more killings, because we're snapping. We're burning people out. Just because society is moving faster doesn't mean we have nervous systems that are equipped to just go faster and faster and faster."

The average Australian takes four to six weeks of vacation a year, while the average American gets two, Ajaye says. Australia is known as "The Land of the Long Weekend." "You have time to collect and pull back from the madness," he says.

"To work 50 weeks, get two weeks {of vacation}, which, if you don't have any money, means you just sit in your little house, and then go back to another 50 weeks of madness, and then you've got a couple of kids, and you're getting yelled at at work -- it's just going to continue to snap, man."