Saturday Night’s Children: Tim Kazurinsky (1981-1984)

Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 38 years. In our column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member every other week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.

No one gives out awards for consistency, but if they did, Tim Kazurinsky served as one of the few steady voices during the first half of the 80s on SNL, a time when the future of the show’s writers, cast, and producers was uncertain and the magic and acclaim of the original cast had noticeably disappeared along with Lorne Michaels. In addition to his role as Carl Sweetchuck in the Police Academy movies, Kazurinsky is best known for bringing a dweebish yet more mature element to his SNL stint and being a dependable supporting player to Eddie Murphy and other cast mates, even when he shared a bed opposite a primate named Madge in the shameless animal gag sketch “I Married a Monkey.”

Born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania and raised in Australia, Kazurinsky’s career in the US started at an ad agency in St. Louis, but after his fear of public speaking began to infringe on his work he decided a Second City improv class in 1978 might improve it. Performers like John Belushi and George Wendt took him in, and he earned a spot as a regular writer and performer, landed small roles on 1980 films My Bodyguard and Somewhere in Time, and both co-wrote and co-starred the short-lived sketch show Big City Comedy hosted by Second City Toronto’s John Candy.

When Dick Ebersol took over as SNL producer in 1981 following Jean Doumanian, he hired Kazurinsky largely thanks to John Belushi’s recommendation. Kazurinsky recalls in Live from New York:

John Belushi pretty much got me hired and recommended me for Saturday Night Live. The evening that Dick Ebersol came to Chicago and hired me, I assumed I was being hired as a writer. … I was completely stunned. I was driving away in my Volkswagen going, “That’s weird,” because I’d never really thought of myself as an actor.

Kazurinsky racked up a list of recurring characters and impressions during his three years despite the onscreen dominance of Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo and referred to himself as the older, wiser “Mom and Pop” figure for his fellow cast mates, which guaranteed him stage time if not wowed appreciation. While he was still a cast member, he appeared as small roles in Belushi films Continental Divide and Neighbors, and on SNL he played the painfully shy 14-time SNL Newsbreak/Saturday Night News science editor Dr. Jack Badofsky, Mr. Landlord from Murphy’s “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood” sketches, “Enlightened Master” Havnagootiim Vishnuuerheer, Seiko of the much less fantastic Interesting Four, Marvin the nerd, Irish Radio Hour guest Father Timothy Owens, talk show host Michel Nash, and uppity NBC censor Worthington Clotman (based on real-life network censor Bill Clotworthy). Kazurinsky also impersonated a handful of mostly politicians and current event newsmakers, from Israeli politican Menachem Begin to Nixon aide Frank Gannon, Franklin Roosevelt, Mahatma Gandhi, and Adolf Hitler.

Kazurinsky left SNL at the end of Ebersol’s run as producer in 1984. Strangely enough, he earned the most character actor acclaim as Sweetchuck in the Police Academy films from 1985-1987. He’s since shown up in various films and television shows (including Married with Children, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and According to Jim), but Kazurinsky also found comfortable success as a screenwriter and co-wrote the David Mamet film adaptation About Last Night in 1984 which has been remade starring Kevin Hart and is set for a release on Valentine’s Day 2014. (Fun fact: Kazurinsky first met Mamet when the soon-to-be-famous playwright worked as a dishwasher at the Second City.) More recently, Kazurinsky has returned to the Chicago stage with 2012 roles in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hairspray, and a 2012 production of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple opposite George Wendt.

Saturday Night’s Children: Tim Kazurinsky (1981-1984)