Seinfeld speaks about ‘Bee Movie’


A few weeks back, I spoke by phone in a conference call with comedian Jerry Seinfeld about his new animated movie Bee Movie. Here is a little from that conversation.

Q: How was the process of making this different from an average season of Seinfeld?

Jerry Seinfeld: That’s a good question. I would say it was probably the equivalent of a season –or maybe even two seasons — during the sitcom, which is about 40 episodes. In terms of figuring this out, even though it was just one story and the sitcom is a different story every week, the length of making a movie and the comedy element of it, I found it to be a completely different challenge. And really was as tricky for me as it was doing the sitcom.

Q: What joke did you tell or what did you do when you realized comedy is going to be what I’m going to do for my career?

Jerry Seinfeld: It was a joke about being left-handed because I’m left-handed. I kind of wrote this thing up and I told it to these friends of mine in a basement when I was at Queens College in New York in, I think it was 1975. And I wrote this joke up and I thought this sounds like a comedy routine to me and I asked them if they thought it was funny.

And that was my first joke. And they all thought that was really funny. And I thought hey, maybe I can be a comedian.

Q: You’ve devoted yourself pretty fully to standup for your career. When did you decide that you would be so particular when it came to picking projects?

Jerry Seinfeld: As soon as I was making a living and I realized that, you know, as a standup comedian it’s kind of like being a plumber or a carpenter. Once you can make a living, you don’t need, I don’t need them to survive.

But it was really up to my experience being on the TV show Benson in 1980 and I was, you know, given this terrible material to do. And then I got fired from the show because they didn’t think I was being funny enough. And I’m doing their material.

And even though I was a young comic I still, you know, was very – kind of offended by that predicament. And I go why should I suffer because of your bad writing? I can write for myself. So that’s when I decided that I would only do my own stuff from then on.

Q: What would be your specific target audience for the Bee Movie? And do you think — how does it compare to your past projects like Seinfeld?

Jerry Seinfeld: No. One of the things I’m most excited about and how this all kind of came together in the end is there doesn’t seem to be any specific target audience for it. We’ve played it for little kids and we’ve played it for adults — and college age. And everybody seems to find it funny.

That’s not something that I intentionally did, but you just kind of hope to get that result. And it was kind of the same thing with Seinfeld. We were really just writing for us and friends of ours.

And, you know, at this point now I find that the show appeals to a lot of different age groups, and even different nationalities around the world. And I think that’s because funny is funny and in the end, people really just want to see something funny.

So I’m very happy that I feel like this movie is really a very good companion to the type of humor that we did in Seinfeld, in that it’s like — if you like comedy, you’ll be able to relate to it. And it won’t seem like it’s for kids or for some other group of people.

Q: Working on this project with people like Renee Zellweger and Matthew Broderick who have been in a lot of major movies — what was it like doing that? And did you get any fun like movie-making tips from them or anything?

Jerry Seinfeld: Well this isn’t, like the kind of movie that they have done before. There’s no sets, you know. There are sets, but they’re in the computer. So you’re really just kind of standing there with the person in a recording booth and doing the scene.

Most of these movies aren’t made with the actors recording together and that was something that I insisted upon because I like the feeling of two actors being together. I feel like the scenes sound differently than when they’re recorded separately and then just edited together.

But Matthew is a friend of mine, so I really just wanted him to be in it because we have a lot of fun hanging out. And Renee I’ve also known. And she has a great sense of humor. So I usually cast people just because I think they’re funny and fun to hang out with — and if I think they can do the part.

But to me, a part of it is also just having fun because I — well I didn’t really take it too seriously because I figured it’s just a cartoon. But in the end, it ended up being that they were perfect for the parts and did a great job.

So I don’t know, I always think if you start with the concept of what would be fun here? What could I do that would be fun? And then I pick people and even pick ideas just based on that, and that seems to work out.

Q: How much control did you exercise over Bee Movie? Or I guess any of your other projects?

Jerry Seinfeld: I get to participate quite a bit. I mean, I don’t think there’s anything in the movie that I wasn’t involved with from the script to the character design, to the editing, to the music, to the props, to the lighting and the city, the cars, the sound of the cars.

I mean, I got into everything just because someone’s got to do it and someone has to say okay this is — it’s like a ship and somebody has to be the captain. Even if you’re wrong, you got to go okay we’re going that way, men.

And everybody goes okay, that’s the way. And even if it’s wrong, someone’s got to be the one who cranks the wheel. So that was me.

Q: Did having kids yourself influence how you wrote the script and how you made this movie?

Jerry Seinfeld: A little bit because I’ve kind of really gotten into making them laugh and figuring out what makes them laugh. But — and I really get a big kick out of making little kids laugh. But most of the movie was really written for adults and with the same kind of mindset that I used on the TV show that I did.

But we found in the end that kids really somehow get into it anyway. They — I guess it’s because of the character. You know, he’s a funny little looking little character and kids like that.

And I find that kids are sometimes more sophisticated than people give them credit for. So even though I didn’t really write it for kids, we’re getting a great response from kids.

Q: About the Cannes Film Festival this year and the dressing up as the bee and all the promotions that you did flying in that day and everything. How did that come about and what was that experience like?

Jerry Seinfeld: It was pretty crazy, but I kind of felt like I was in – like in Hollywood in the 1940’s or something, doing like a crazy publicity stunt to promote the movie. But I really had a great time doing it.

I don’t get scared by heights or imminent death. I just kind of find it funny. So I had a good time with it. It was Jeffrey Katzenberg’s idea and nobody could believe I would really do it. But to me, it was just fun and crazy. And at the Cannes Film Festival people tend to do things like that.

I don’t think I would do it in New York at the Tribeca Film Festival. I don’t think it would be appropriate there. But in that place, it was – it seemed to be right.

Q: Do you enjoy script writing as much as you do acting?

Jerry Seinfeld: Oh boy, I don’t know. That’s a tough one. If you told me I could only do one, which would I pick? That would be torture. I like script writing, but only because I like to, you know, come up with something and then think oh now I’m going to get to say this in the scene or for an audience.

And I like acting, but I don’t like acting unless I was involved in the script writing because I’m very particular about the material. So I think if I could only do one, I’d probably quit the business because it would kill me. I’ve been doing both for so long I don’t know any other way.