If there's one constant in Tim Kazurinsky's career as a performer, it's that it's happened almost entirely by accident.
The alum of "Saturday Night Live" and three "Police Academy" films comes to town this week with the cast of "Wicked," and he's more shocked than anyone about his recent casting as the Wizard.
"This is absurd," says Kazurinsky, who returned from a two-decade hiatus as a performer in 2012. "Wicked" is only the second musical in which the 65-year-old has been cast. "It just knocks me out to be in this show."
Kazurinsky's career in show business began while he was working as an ad man in Chicago. Terrified of pitching to clients, he began taking classes with the venerable comedy troupe Second City to get over his fear of speaking in public. After six months of classes — and without auditioning — it offered him a job.
Spawning such comedians as Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Mike Myers, Second City is known as a proving ground for American comedy. Through his performing there, Kazurinsky caught the eye of John Belushi, who recommended that he be hired for "Saturday Night Live."
In 1981 — again, without auditioning — Kazurinsky became a cast member on the legendary show, performing alongside Eddie Murphy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Joe Piscopo.
"There's nothing like it if you're an adrenaline junkie," says Kazurinsky, who pulled double duty as a performer and writer. "It's almost impossible to describe trying to do a 90-minute, live television show every week. It takes so much time and anxiety and mental illness to keep it going."
He left the show in 1984, but again fell victim to serendipitous circumstances. On his honeymoon in Greece, Kazurinsky got a call from two of his former "SNL" colleagues. They wanted to know: Could he fly to Los Angeles to film a scene for "Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment"?
Kazurinsky's part in the film was supposed to be only one scene, in which Bobcat Goldthwait's character beats him up outside a lamp store. The director liked Kazurinsky so much that they expanded the role of Carl Sweetchuck, having the character join the police force. He appeared in the next two "Academy" films.
Kazurinsky's other notable film role was in "About Last Night," where he plays a blind date. While still working on "SNL," Kazurinsky and his writing partner Denise DeClue began penning a film adaptation of David Mamet's play "Sexual Perversity in Chicago." It starred Brat Packers Rob Lowe and Demi Moore, and recently was remade with Kevin Hart.
After that, Kazurinsky stayed out of the spotlight for the most part, moving back to Chicago and focusing on screenwriting. But that all changed two years ago when he got a phone call from Kansas City, Mo. "My friend George Wendt conned me into doing 'The Odd Couple' with him," Kazurinsky says. "It's much more fun than sitting in an office looking at a blank sheet of paper."
He's been on a roll since, appearing onstage in "Old Jews Telling Jokes" and as Wilbur Turnblad in "Hairspray." In February he started playing the Wizard in "Wicked," which will mark the touring production's third appearance in Richmond. The show tells the story of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" from the perspective of the witches.
"The first couple weeks I was like a deer caught in the headlights, but now I'm really enjoying it," he says. "The two witches sing an insane amount of songs. That has to kill your throat. I can't believe the stamina and endurance to do it."
Until the next fortuitous change in Kazurinsky's professional life, he says he's happy where he is. "I had thought my thespian career was over, but I'm way glad to be doing this now," he says. "I'm the luckiest man in show business." S
"Wicked" runs April 23-May 4 at the Altria Theatre. For information, visit altriatheater.com.