NOVI, Mich. Fifteen minutes before Jerry Seinfeld arrives, the man in the gigantic bee suit hops and skips and dances in place, poking at the air John Travolta-style, clapping his white mittened hands, throwing in the occasional Four Tops-esque pivot and spin, but, never, ever, not even for a breather, pausing.
Did I say 15 minutes?
I meant 35.
I ask a publicist when Jerry will get here to preview his first major project since Seinfeld ended in 1998, the animated Bee Movie, to talk with reporters, to meet the schoolchildren shipped here in a bus to round out the crowd and she says soon, meaning not soon, and I look at the big bee, still dancing. I glance around to see if DreamWorks has a hired a sniper, fixed on this man-bee, with orders to shoot if he stops, so diligent is he with this job. We re in a multiplex on a Monday morning in early October and rain is roaring down sideways and did I mention the big marching band? Playing the same song in a loop?
When Jerry arrives, he climbs from a black Escalade driven up on the curb to the front door. He ducks under an umbrella held by his driver, grins at the sweetly absurd reception the kind given visiting dignitaries, if that dignitary were either an animated insect or very famous comedian.
He is both, so it fits.
In Bee Movie, which opens Nov. 2, Jerry lends his voice to a bee who files a class-action suit against mankind for stealing its honey; the script was written with old Seinfeld scribes and, cartoons aside, it feels like Jerry. But Jerry didn t want the bee to look like him, said Steve Hickner, co-director of Bee Movie. We gave him sneakers, because Jerry likes sneakers, and gave him our version of Charlie Brown s shirt, and he has the voice of Jerry, so it just kind of happened anyway, the way dogs resemble owners.
Everyone calls him Jerry.
He wears jeans, a navy blazer; and a few days later, I notice he s wearing what appear to be the exact same clothes during a cameo on 30 Rock. He has the breezy air of a man with nothing at stake if we re talking bank accounts, he doesn t. An animated movie, bankrolled by the folks who made Shrek, is something else, and as he works the crowd, reporters walk up and ask muddled questions and he fixes them with a look of patience, then tries to answer.
What about the bee s flying machinations? a reporter asks.
Machinations? The machine of flying? The machine that a machination is involved with?
Do you have to see the baby now? another reporter throws out, referencing both a famous Seinfeld line and Jerry s children.
He mumbles something about the reciprocal birthday party circuit, then takes a question from a woman, her voice shaky.
When you were on Seinfeld, characters were ambiguously Jewish, whereas in the film, ironically, there are references to Jewishness, and I was wonde
You re incorrect, Seinfeld said. There are no references to Jewish or being Jewish. They re not Jewish they are Beeish.
Right, she said.
Yes. Beeish. What I was wondering is, you re Jewish and does the rest of the country care about these kind of references? Does Hollywood have an obsession when it comes to these people? And do you think it s justified?
A studio publicist, hovering nearby, noodling away on her Blackberry, perks up and tilts her head, with a look poised between astonishment and mortification.
Is it justified for Hollywood to be obsessed with Jews? Seinfeld asks. Really? That s a question?
The woman pauses.
It just seems...
He cuts her off.
First of all, we don t know if they are. Second of all, how do we determine that it s justified?
It just seems to be... uh, preoccupation... uh... I think... what I m trying to... The words splinter and sputter. His expression goes slack and he traces the vague movements of her head. He lets her pull her thoughts together and when the sentences still fail to congeal, a remarkable thing happens. Rather than walk away, or refuse to answer, he interrupts and begins answering anyway, with the ring of common sense:
Well, people are preoccupied with who they are. If you re black or Spanish or whomever, you re preoccupied with yourself because that s who you are. If you look in the mirror there s no getting around it. I m sure when I get a little older and I m old and disgusting, I m sure I will only be interested in old people. I m already only interested in married people. I don t talk to single people. Don t talk to single guys. A single guy with a girlfriend, I say to them That s Wiffleball. Talk to me when you want play the real game. No, it s not an obsession. Not an obsession. You deal with who you are regardless of who you are and come at stuff from that point. And so there you go.
Jerry picks up on words.
He repeats them back to you; he cannot resist pouncing on odd word choices or absurd ideas. Later, we sat in a quiet theater, and since there s too much to ask, the first thing I could think of was Jerry the baseball fan, the New York Mets, and their spectacular implosion a day earlier.
At left, Jerry Seinfeld behind the scenes as Barry B. Benson in DreamWorks Bee Movie. In the movie, which opens Nov. 2, Seinfeld is the voice of a bee who files a class-action lawsuit against mankind for stealing honey.
A: Well, I don t know how you feel. Are you a Met s fan? No, well, I ll tell you. First of all, you have to accept whatever happens in baseball. That s the nature of the sport. The weirder, the better. That s part of what makes the game fascinating. Things that have never happened continue to happen. You see things that never occurred. But about the Mets, there s an attitude that happened on that team. It s not just capricious lightning striking and everything going to hell. If you don t play the game the right way, with a certain humility, these things do happen. As a comedian, I know. One of the keys to being successful is humility. If you actually get to a point where think you re bigger and better than the game, that you don t have to show respect to the game, whatever your game may be, the game will come back and smack you down. But I do believe there was something wrong in their attitude and it came back and bit them. Not to take up all of our time talking about baseball, which I could easy do.
A: Nothing I m sorry I didn t do. I just have trouble doing stuff that is not my own stuff. See, I m really a stand-up comedian. That s my real job. All these other things, I m faking it, attempting to pull wool over peoples eyes. My own thing is to make up stuff and perform it before an audience, and whenever I m sent things by other writers, I read it and say This doesn t sound like me. I don t know how to do it. It s not like I m a real actor or anything.
A: I could not be Santa Clause.
A: See, if this was like a regular movie, like a date movie with a girl in a skirt who walks into a pole and everybody thinks it s funny I kind of did that. Romantic comedy is something I did 90 hours of. I was comfortable here because it s something different I was giving audiences. And next I ll be a dancing bear.
A: I do have this movie.
A: Then it s the end. This is my final flame-out, I m sorry to say.
A: I don t know if I m going to do anything else. I don t really plan things anyway. I have to wait and see and what the audience thinks and how they respond to this movie. If they want me to continue this, I will.
A: I watch all these animal shows on the Discovery Channel where they focus on one animal that week and he s the star and all the other animals are trying to avoid getting eaten, and then all the other animals are trying to eat him and you root for him and you don t want him to get eaten. Then the next week they pick a different animal and now he s trying to eat the animals from last week, so you root for that animal. Kill him. He s not the star this week. I love that stuff.
A: Well, bees are the only [member of the animal world] who make something we want. All the other animals don t. Chickens don t make eggs for us. They try to make chickens. They re in the chicken business. But bees, they are in the honey business. That s what they make. They have it for themselves, we take it. That s the difference between them and other animals.
A: Here s the really weird thing, here s the headline if I was writing this story, here s my lead. Colony Collapse Disorder, wow. Most don t know about it, but I began writing this in the fall of 2003, long before this thing even started, but the whole story of the movie completely follows Colony Collapse Disorder. Exactly. That s without intention of course, without planning, without knowledge of this thing. I read in newspapers that bees are leaving their hives and not working and pollination is suffering and we re losing almonds and it totally freaked us out because we re writing this as a fantasy and this is actually taking place.
A: I was stung by a bee. Right on the nose. A bee keeper wanted me to see the queen and didn t believe in any sort of protective suits. He was an idiot. So they sent a bee out to get me and I ran and ran, across some field.
A: I called him and I didn t call him Gordon Sumner, either. I called him Sting because for some reason that s what he wants to be called and I said Do you mind being in my movie about bees and I ll make fun of you for having the name Sting? You get these ideas and hope the person has a sense of humor.
A: No, it was different. It was like you re working with wood all these years and someone says Do you want to work with stone? A totally different creative experience, but I thought I could do my work in this medium, that the way I look at things, it could work in this way. When you have live people, someone has to rehearse with those actors and someone has to rewrite the stuff that didn t work. But otherwise, it s about equal time. The days are 24 hours, and I spend seven of them sleeping and I take breaks. To eat, to drink. But we worked a lot of weekends. Show biz is hard and you put a lot of time in, but because you re doing fun things, it s not so bad.
A; I don t think there s anything in this world that comes out well without someone putting effort in. Four years, that s so long, I keep hearing. But the time was going to go by anyway. It would still be the same exact date today whether I had made it or not.
A: I intended to work at the top of my intelligence, the way we did the TV show and the way I do my stand-up. But somehow I found that even doing it that way children like it. People don t give children quite the credit for picking up on what s funny. They pick up on things that are funny even when they don t understand what you re saying. We did test audiences with grown-ups and with kids separately and the kids would always out-score the grown-up and I wrote it, really, for the grown-ups. I am one.
A: Message? I just want to put a smile on a face. I don t want to break hearts and see the world in another way. I don t have those kind of ambitions. I just want them to forget about their problems for an hour or so and perhaps turn off their cell phones.
A: Any comedian worth his salt does not align himself with a politician. In terms of position and in the minds of the public, the comedian is the one who looks down upon these people and humiliates them for the low-life scavengers that they are.
A: It is the first of many animated films, but not from me. They re going to keep making them. But I don t plan. I ve never planned anything. All I know is I will continue to be a stand-up comedian. That s my real job, and hopefully the next thing will be as different from this as this was from other things.
Contact Christopher Borrelli at: firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6117.
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