In 1902 at the age of 10, he joined a troupe of circus tumblers known as the Five Marvellous Astons which toured the country on both the circus and vaudeville circuits. He gradually added comedy into his act and transformed himself into a comedian. He moved to Broadway in the 1920s first appearing in the musical comedy "Jim Jam Jems".
In late 1928, he began making films and in 1929 started in films for Warner Brothers. He quickly shot to stardom after appearing in the first all-
He had a cameo appearance in Around the World in 80 Days, as a stationmaster talking to Fogg (David Niven) and his entourage in a small town in Nebraska.
His best known postwar role was in Some Like It Hot, a 1959 comedy directed by Billy Wilder in which he played the aging millionaire, Osgood Fielding III. The character of Fielding falls for Daphne (Jerry), played by Jack Lemmon in drag, and gets to say one of the most famous, and funniest, punchlines in film history.
Another of his notable postwar roles was that of Cap'n Andy in MGM's 1951 remake of Show Boat, a role that he reprised onstage in the 1961 New York City Center revival of the musical, and on tour. Brown is also one of the few vaudeville comedians to appear in a Shakespeare film; he played Francis Flute in Max Reinhardt's film version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and contrary to what might be expected, was highly praised for his performance.
Brown was a sports enthusiast, both in film and personally. Some of his best films were the "baseball trilogy" which consisted of Fireman Save My Child (1932), Elmer the Great (1933) and Alibi Ike (1935). He was also a television and radio broadcaster for the New York Yankees in 1953.
Brown's sports enthusiasm also led to him becoming the first president of PONY Baseball and Softball (at the time named Pony League) when the organization was incorporated in 1953. He continued in the post until late 1964 when he retired. Likable and gregarious, Joe traveled many thousands of miles visiting G.I.s in far sections of the globe during World War II and later traveled additional thousands of miles telling the story of PONY League hoping to interest adults in organizing baseball programs for young people.