LOS ANGELES Today, Mark Curry can shoot hoops at any basketball court in the city virtually unrecognized.
Come September, however, it'll be a whole new ball game.
Curry under 30, but admitting only that his age is "a good one" is the star of Hangin' With Mr. Cooper, a new series for ABC this fall that advertisers are tagging as one of the three most likely hits of the new season.
This month, he's performing in comedy clubs across the country; in August he starts production on Hangin'.
Colleagues at ABC such as Roseanne Arnold, Jaleel White, Tim Allen, Bob Saget and Suzanne Somers, and Fox's Keenen Ivory Wayans, have told him the same thing: "Your life will change!"
"I say let's do it," says Curry.
Hangin' along with CBS' Love and War and Hearts Afire is pegged as a good bet, mostly because it airs Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m., between hits Full House and Roseanne.
Home Improvement, starring Tim Allen as a TV handyman, had this time period last fall, and became the season's lone new hit.
Mr. Cooper is about a former basketball great who returns to his "hood" to be a substitute teacher and shares an apartment with two beautiful roommates. Call it Welcome Back, Kotter meets Three's Company.
Curry doesn't care what you call it as long as you call it funny.
Just a few years ago, he was pulling in $30,000 a year as a manager of an Oakland drugstore and moonlighting at night at comedy clubs. He quit to do the comedy club circuit and moved to Los Angeles a year ago.
Within a few months, he had snagged an agent, starred in an HBO comedy special and got signed to ABC, who paired him with Full House executive producer Jeff Franklin.
Curry's routine on his relationships with women sparked the idea of a show about a man living with two women.
Curry's only requirements for the series: Mr. Cooper should offer positive images for kids; Cooper could not be a buffoon; and the series be set in his hometown of Oakland, Calif.
"Oakland always gets a bad rap," he says. "It's a great place."
Curry liked the idea of being a teacher because in the classroom, "we can confront an issue and solve it with a message. We don't want to get too preachy, but a message is a message."
If the show takes off and lasts the year, Curry could pocket $500,000-$l million; leads for new series make $25,000-$50,000 per episode.
No plans to buy a mansion or Porsche with his Mr. Cooper cash. He's leasing a house in Los Angeles, and dreaming of the day he can move back to his beloved Oakland, where he's redoing his mom's home.
Curry's main goal is just to keep doing comedy. "My first week off, III be touring to comedy clubs. I don't need a vacation. My job is a vacation.
"I want to be on the road like Bill Cosby, playing Las Vegas when I'm 50. If you start buying the cars and big houses, you lose touch with reality and have nothing to make jokes about."
But he's ready for the autograph seekers, saying coolly, "I'd rather be out there than not."
©1992 USA Today