Towson graduate uses talents to make it to the big time

December 04, 1992|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

So how do you audition for the part of a Bulgarian place kicker in a sitcom about a pro football team? John Kassir thought he had an idea.

"I went in and pretended that I could speak no English," he told a class at Towson State yesterday, going into his version of eastern European gibberish.

"The casting director was laughing so hard, she couldn't read the lines she was supposed to be feeding me, so I ended up doing it all myself. Finally, I took off one of my shoes, put it in my other one like a tee, and place kicked it through the venetian blinds."

So, using talents learned on the soccer field at Loch Raven senior high, the stages of Towson State, as well as the steps of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, Mr. Kassir got the part in "First and Ten," which had a six-year run on the cable channel HBO.

"But there was another time I went in to audition for a production of 'Room Service,' " he remembered. "It was a part Harpo Marx had played, so I did one of my more physical comedy routines to show them I could do that kind of stuff.

"The director was Alan Arkin. He thought I was some kind of bizarre Andy Kaufman-type comedian, not an actor who could take direction," he said. "So I didn't get that part. Sometimes these things work, sometimes they don't."

The 1980 Towson graduate, who grew up in a comfortable suburban house near a Loch Raven watershed, returned to his alma mater this week to speak to students and to present a new one-man show he is readying for an off-Broadway run.

"Confessions of a Television Junkie" will run at the school's Fine Arts Theater tonight and tomorrow as a benefit for the theater scholarship endowment. Ticket information is available at (410) 830-ARTS.

The 34-year-old Kassir told the students that since he left Towson, he has never had to work at a job that wasn't in some way related to his craft, even though once he delivered singing telegrams.

"Some of my best training was doing street theater in front of the Metropolitan Museum," he said of the seven years he spent in New York after his graduation. "It was just up to me to make it work and I never knew what was going to happen. Anything could become part of the act."

His biggest splash came in 1985 when he cashed a $100,000 paycheck for winning the stand-up comedian division of the syndicated television show "Star Search." At the time he was making a name for himself in an off-Broadway play about stand-up comics called "Three Guys Naked From the Waist Down" with Scott Bakula, the star of NBC's "Quantum Leap."

He has managed to make a living, buy a house in Los Angeles' Topanga Canyon and work steadily.

"People come up to me and ask me why I'm not rich yet," he said. "What they have to realize is that I make more money than 99 percent of the people in this business."

Now, you can hear him as the voice of the grotesque animated character who introduces each episode of HBO's "Tales from the Crypt." He's also taken over the voice of Buster Bunny on "Tiny Toons."

"When you have steady work like that, it allows you to do plays," he said, telling of a just completed run of Tennessee Williams' "This Property's Condemned" at a small Los Angeles theater. "It actually cost me money."

Mr. Kassir is one of the growing number of Towson State graduates who have made it to the big time, including noted character actor John Glover, Dwight Schultz (who starred in "The A-Team") and Charles Dutton of "Roc,"

Talking to the students, Mr. Kassir spoke of the school with a definite fondness, telling the students that once they get out into the world, they will never again have the chance to do what they do at Towson State.

"Everything costs so much money," he said. "The reality is on one level, you become a product. You go up to people and expect to be paid for your art and they look at you like you're crazy. They are people who invest money because they expect a return on that investment. And when you invest your own money, you expect a return.

"Here at school, you have the opportunity to fail. That won't happen again. Take advantage of it."

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