It would be fair to say that Jerry Seinfeld, multi-millionaire, stand up comic and iconic TV star, has finally discovered his inner bee. Dressed in a dark suit, the creator of the now classic TV series Seinfeld, has ventured into movies, as co-writer, co-producer and lead voice of Bee Movie.
At which point did he decide to discover the inner bee within? “At which point? When they told me I was making this movie. That’s when I just decided to discover the inner bee.” Fours years in the making, Seinfeld said that the challenge in creating this comical, reluctantly heroic insect, Barry B. Benson. “I really attempted to create nothing but what I’ve always done, which is just kind of do another version of myself,” the characteristically modest superstar says in a Beverly Hills hotel room. You know, people ask, ‘What was it like acting in the movie?’ I don’t even know what they’re talking about. What acting? I’m not acting,” the typically effusive actor responds, though he does admit that his bee does show, at times, a different side to his personality. “You are correct, it is a slightly adjusted, shall we say.”
Having spent nearly a decade having written for his award-winning Tv series, Seinfeld concedes that he had to learn very quickly that writing a feature film comedy was quite different than writing for the small screen. “I realised making this movie why all those Marx Brothers movies had musical numbers in them, and long chase scenes, because it’s very hard to sustain comedy throughout a full-length movie. That’s why they came up with those things in the old days, because it just starts to run out of gas. I mean, we could all sit here and name comedies that we love the first half, so that just seems to be a pitfall of the form itself. But we just kept at it, because I just didn’t want it to be one of those movies where you go, ‘I liked it, and then it just kind of ran out of gas.’ “
The challenge for Seinfeld was to marry both an abundance of jokes and a cohesive sense of plot, something he learned to master on his TV series. “It’s a wedding, in that if you just make jokes, which I could do forever, [and I did in some versions of this script,] it gets so boring after a while. But if you just have plot, and no one’s making jokes, that gets boring for a while and so it becomes kind of a dance between the two of forward action, and funny dialogue. That was really the thing I had to learn a little differently in this form than the sitcom, of how to work that.”
As part of the marketing strategy to entice audiences to see Bee Movie, Seinfeld returned to network television, playing himself in the acclaimed 30 Rock sitcom, not to mention a plethora of marketing that Seinfeld had never experienced. “It is pretty amazing, isn’t it? I mean, if you kind of made a list of everything that I’ve done and they’ve done, it’s a ridiculous, avalanche of stuff. But some of it’s been weird, though, which I’m grateful – I mean, like, the live-action trailers, which nobody ever did for an animated movie and then the NBC TV Juniors, which was – I don’t know what that was. But it was just fun and silly.” Yet Seinfeld is emphatic that his guest starring stint on 30 Rock was enough NOT to entice the comedian to a return to series television. “I sat and talked with Tina Fey, and I saw what she was going through and you know what? I said to her, ‘You, Gary Shandling and I are the only people who have walked in those shoes.’ Very few people have had to star, write, and executive produce, all of which is a tall order.”
Jerry Seinfeld may never return to the medium that catapulted him from stand up comedian to iconic superstar, but as he reflects on the show that changed his life, Seinfeld is at as loss for words when asked how surprised he is that Seinfeld has stood the test of time, and has become as iconic as it has. “I don’t even know what the word is. Gratified or pleased, flattered, but it kind of overwhelms me.” As to why he thinks the show became what it was, Seinfeld pauses and smiles. “I’ll give you the same answer Jackie Gleason used to give when they would ask him about The Honeymooners. Why is it still on? Why are people still watching this show? Because It’s funny.”
And the actor says that even if he wanted to, a show like that could never be done again. “It’s like asking Neil Armstrong, ‘Could you land on the moon for us one more time?’ That’s my best answer I ever came up with to that question.” Seinfeld says he is conscious of his own evolution as a writer from his early Seinfeld days to Bee Movie. “I have learned a few tricks over the years and I certainly couldn’t have done this Bee Movie without those. The show taught me how to write stories and scenes, when to have characters enter and exit, blocking, and all those things. I mean, this whole thing is a gigantic puppet show. You have to move them, turn their heads, and move their eyes, and it’s a marionette show.”
But fans of the show can soon buy a boxed set of the entire Seinfeld show, being released in the US on November 7. The actor offers a hearty laugh when asked how much more he can milk the TV series on DVD. “Hey, I’m not milking it. They’re doing it. Talk to Sony distribution who just keep telling me the market is there. People want it. There’s giant buildings filled with people working on this, who never call me or ask me anything. They just say, ‘Here’s what we’re doing now.’ And I go, ‘Okay, go ahead.’ They do the research and I’m done. I was finished May 14th, 1998 and that was the last I had to do with it.”