What a buzz
Despite global fame and financial success that would make a Beatle blush, Jerry Seinfeld’s enthusiasm for entertaining remains undiminished. Now he has made an animated comedy film for adults and kids, and is having more fun than ever, he tells Michael Dw
A FTER decades of working the stand-up comedy circuit, Jerry Seinfeld is so accustomed to projecting his voice that even in a one-to-one conversation, he speaks in tones loud enough to be heard several rooms away. He has spent the past few months criss-crossing continents to promote his first feature film, Bee Movie, but his enthusiasm remains as strong as his familiar voice when his tour stops in Dublin. Now 53, he oozes the confidence of somebody who worked hard to get where he is, doing what he loves and enjoying the trappings of success. He earns millions annually from the syndication of his landmark TV series Seinfeld, which ran from 1989-98, and he is the star, co-writer and co-producer of Bee Movie, the engaging animated comedy that already has taken well over $100 million at the US box office.
Ever since 1980, when he was abruptly fired from the TV sitcom Benson after four episodes, Seinfeld’s guiding philosophy has been to have control over his work, and he applied that handson approach throughout the production of Bee Movie. “Completely,” he says firmly. “It’s the way to work – if you can, if you’re lucky enough and if you’re willing to make the time commitment. The problem, of course, is that if it doesn’t do well, everyone will know whose fault it is.” Crucial to the success of Bee Movie is that it entertains adults and children alike. “I really wrote it for the adults,” Seinfeld says, “because I think kids are smart enough to figure it out for themselves. Kids are much smarter than we give them credit for.”
‘Did he use his own three children as a test audience? “No, I didn’t,” he says. “I waited until the very end, until it was finished. I was a little nervous because I wanted them to like it, of course, and they did. I think it has been an even bigger hit with kids, even though I thought I was making a really funny cartoon for adults.”
He traces the origins of the movie back to a dinner he had with Steven Spielberg, when he made a pun about a B-movie featuring bees and Spielberg responded enthusiastically. “I had no idea that it would take as long as it did,” Seinfeld says, “but I just found the world of animation so fascinating that I got absorbed into it and I ended up living it. It was fun to adjust things all the time. It’s a puppet show.”
The movie packs in so many bee puns, including an animated Sting, that I was waiting for BB King to turn up or for someone to deliver the “To be or not to be” soliloquy. “Right!” Seinfeld says with an air that makes it clear who should be telling the jokes in this conversation. “All those things were discussed. I tried to stay away from those.”
He evidently relishes his chosen profession, which is all about making people laugh. “It’s a pretty nice way to live,” he says. “People say to me that I worked so hard on Bee Movie and spent four years on it, but to me, it was four years of playing. It’s not working. It was the same with the TV series. It was all play. If you’re good at what you do in my business, you’re more playing than working. If you’re working, you’re probably on the wrong track.”
Seinfeld continues to do what he does best and likes most – his stage comedy routine. Does he ever feel nervous? “Not at all,” he says. “That’s the most comfortable place for me. In the beginning, yes, I was nervous going on stage. I was not a natural performer. I really had to acquire that skill. I think I was better writing in the beginning, but the performing came slow.”
It was much the same with his TV series, which, like Seinfeld’s own career, was by no means an overnight success, building its audience gradually over the years. “I had been doing comedy routines for 13 years before the show started, so I had been around,” he says. And the series proved remarkably popular for what was often described as “a show about nothing”.
Seinfeld regards that description as absurd. “But it sounds good, so people use it. In fact, it’s a line from the show, from the episode where George and I were trying to come up with a sitcom. He says that everybody else is doing a show about something, so let’s do a show about nothing.”
I mention that my favourite Seinfeld episode is The Contest, in which the four main characters, Jerry, Elaine, George and