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

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Cover Story -

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

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