Jerry Seinfeld on His Bee Movie


Fans of stand-up comic Jerry Seinfeld won’t have to wait much longer to see the project he’s followed up his hit show “Seinfeld” with. The comedian hasn’t been on the screen much since the show ended and now audiences will get a chance to see him in a much different way as he voices the main character in the DreamWorks’ animated-comedy Bee Movie, co-starring the voices of Renée Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, John Goodman, Chris Rock, Kathy Bates, Alan Arkin and Patrick Warburton. got a chance to talk to Seinfeld about the anticipated film: What made this the thing that you wanted to do next?
Jerry Seinfeld: Well, you know, people have seen a lot of me…you know the TV show and you know I’ve been a comedian on TV for many years, and I thought, it’s very important to give the audience a fresh flavor. Even more important, for me, to feel like I’m working with fresh ideas and fresh things, and this just seemed like it would be a totally different kind of experience for an audience to see my kind of comedy in one of the movies that looked like this, and I love the look of these things. I didn’t know but I thought it would be worth a shot to try and do something different. I feel a responsibility to the audience to do something different. That’s why a sequel is not that likely.

CS: Talk a little bit about your introduction to animation?
Seinfeld: I don’t know if it’s a joke, it’s something [Bill Cosby] said to me one time about being a comedian and he says, “it’s like being an airline pilot.” He says the airline pilot cannot come on the PA system and go, “well, I’m going to try and take her up” [laughter]. So, when I walked onto the DreamWorks lot, I did not say to them, “okay, we’re going to try and make a movie here.” I just walked in and pretended like I knew what I was doing, and I started ordering people around and saying I want it like this, I don’t want it like that, ’cause that’s the job, that’s what Jeffrey Katzenberg paid me to do, so that’s what I did.

CS: Were you prepared for the three-year time it took to make this?
Seinfeld: No, I didn’t know I would get that involved. I didn’t know I would get that interested in the day-to-day workings of an animation studio. But I found that, everything I learned, I said, “well, what if you did it this way, or what if we did it that way, what if we made this character like that?” And they started liking the ideas and they said give us more ideas, and, so, I would come in the next day, and the next day, then the next thing I knew I was living there.

CS: Was it at all frustrating when they had to cut scenes for the final product?
Seinfeld: There’s nothing that isn’t frustrating. The whole thing is frustration from start to finish. I’m still frustrated. I wish I could work on it one more week – there’s a couple things I’d like to polish. But, you know, no, I’m used to that from the TV show. In television, one of the things they were very surprised by working with me is that like they would have a scene, and they would look at the scene and go, “eh, that doesn’t work so well. We need to do something different with this scene.” And I would just go “okay, let’s have him say this, and then he says that” and they’d go “what, wait a minute.” And I would just change it right there on the spot, because that’s how you work in television. There’s no time, you can’t wait. We can’t do this tomorrow, we do it right now. Because in TV, it’s like getting out a newspaper, you know the newspapers going to close. So, normally, they would have a scene that didn’t work and then the phone calls would be made to the writers, then the schedules would be organized, then the writers would come in and they would work for three weeks. And then they would hand them the sides, you know, I’d have it done in an hour.

CS: You’re a one-man show.
Seinfeld: I can be. But I also worked with a lot of other people. I didn’t do everything by myself, I don’t want to give you that impression.

CS: What was your challenge taking your observational humor and translating it to this?
Seinfeld: I kind of always had this side, and I never was in anything where I could express it. All these visual scenes, I thought of all of them as a standup comic or in a TV show you can’t put a camera on a bee on a tennis ball, or through a car engine, you know, or some of the crazy things we did. So, this is something I have always wanted to do. I’ve always kind of had an eye that I could never use, so, that was probably the most fun thing about it. So, like the first time in my life I was able to go, “you know I’m kind of seeing this from this angle,” so you know Simon [J. Smith, Director] knew, he and I really worked very closely together. He has an amazing eye for camera placement and angle, and we would just work off each other, and it was really fun.

CS: And how important was it to have writers like Spike [Feresten] and Andy [Robin] work with you on the script?
Seinfeld: Very important. I was actually kind of scared to even take on the idea of writing a movie. It just seemed long and I was a little intimidated, so I thought let me get some buddies of mine around and at least we could talk about sports. I just didn’t want to sit in a room by myself and write a movie. I like writing standup by myself but the movie thing I just wasn’t sure how to structure it, and where are the act breaks, and how do you keep the story going, and so I needed some help.

CS: So you trusted them?
Seinfeld: I did. These guys actually happen to be my friends, and I’m at the point where I like being with my friends and there’s nobody else I really wanted to write with. I just kind of like the vibe. Sometimes, writing comedy is just kind of hanging around with funny people more then someone could be. I can’t explain, but this is how it works. Like, there are certain people who are not funny at all, as you know [room laughter], and when we would write, there’s a person who would come in the room, and it would be like someone just filled the room with water, you know it was just like nobody felt funny anymore. We couldn’t think of anything funny. You got to get out of here.

CS: You were supposed to be on Ellen to promote the movie and she cancelled on your appearance, will you reschedule, how do you feel about that?
Seinfeld: No, we’re not. I mean, I’m not available. I was only in town [and] able to do it that day. I’m here today with you and then we have the premiere and then I have to go back to New York. I’m on Letterman tomorrow, so that was my only chance to do her show, and that was the choice that unfortunately they had to make.

CS: How was the process different doing this type of movie?
Seinfeld: I didn’t know what I was doing. This is the way most movie studios work, they think, “we have to cater to the boys 8-14, and this is the kind of humor that they like.” These are the kind of people that you say, “get out of here. Get out of the room. You’re ruining this.” I don’t work like that. I wouldn’t know how to work like that. All I know is what me and my friends think is funny, and that’s what I put in the movie. And, I figure enough people know me and there’s enough people in the world, someone will like this thing! [Laughter in room]. It doesn’t have to be everyone. You don’t want it to be everyone. I think if everyone likes it, it’s not good [laughter].

CS: Can you talk about bringing Renée Zellweger on as co-star?
Seinfeld: Renée is someone that I feel is an extremely unique talent in the world that I’ve ever met. She is not only an amazingly broadly talented actress, she is mentally one of the fastest thinking people I have ever talked with, and perceptive. So, again, just being around somebody like that makes funny things happen, things that pop into your head from her just being in the room. But she’s obviously very in demand and hugely successful so I really was like a little leopard in the weeds with her. You know just creeping slowly, I would turn up places where she was and just happen to bump into her and pretend it was an accident [laughter]. But I wanted her. She was the only one I wanted desperately to get in the movie, so very, very excited to have her.

CS: Everyone’s going to be talking about the Ray Liotta scene.
Seinfeld: Comedians see a guy like Ray Liotta and we know he’s funny, but the general public does not know he’s funny. But then it takes somebody to put them in a funny situation, and then everyone can see. It’s like, remember when they first put Leslie Neilson [ and William Shatner] yeah, those guys are funny and Ray Liotta is another one of those guys. No one is seeing him the way I see him, so that was a lot of fun. And, luckily, he has the same sense of humor. He likes being funny too, but nobody thinks of him that way.

CS: Have you been able to do any standup in the last few years?
Seinfeld: A little. I’m going to go back to it next year.

CS: Where did you get your inspiration for the whole Bee world?
Seinfeld: Well, my idea of bees is it’s kind of human society evolved a couple thousand years. Totally perfected utopian corporate social perfection. So, on the one hand, I see them as extremely hi-tech and advanced, almost an alien type culture. On the other hand, everything is handmade, everything his done organically, everything is done with the concept of nature working hand-in-hand, so it was hard to kind of figure out how to kind of blend those two ideas, you know their buses, their cars, you know that they could invent cars, and that they would have escalators. They would have scuba equipment. They would be testing the ways to survive a hurricane. So, I started with the idea that I think they’re very advanced in terms of evolution and society, but they’re very natural, so all the buildings are kind of round but they look futuristic at the same time. So that was what the inspiration was.

CS: What was it about Chris Rock that you wanted to write that scene for?
Seinfeld: He’s just one of my favorite guys and he’s just so funny and we were just really talking on the phone the night before and I said, “why don’t you just come down to the studio and we’ll make up something.” So we came in and we came up with the idea of him being a mosquito and then I just started interviewing him as the mosquito. And what is it like, what’s your dating life like? And what kind of blood are you after and so he made up all that stuff as we were just recording, and then we put it in the movie.

CS: Doing “30 Rock,” did that give you an itch to go back to sitcoms?
Seinfeld: No, not really. I mean, nothing could beat the sitcom experience I had. And I enjoyed being on “30 Rock.” I now know what it’s like for the people who came on my show just for the day, and boy, what an easy job that is, you come in, give me the sides and see you later. You figure out the rest.

CS: What about the interest to do more animation?
Seinfeld: I don’t know. You know this movie still feels like a joke I haven’t told yet. Once it comes out and the audience reacts, and however they react, of course you never know, then I’ll know what I’ve made. I don’t know what I’ve made until they see it.

Bee Movie buzzes into theaters November 2.