I’ve had several brushes with Jerry Seinfeld. On my first trip to LA, I was visiting a publicist friend at Sony. He was on the phone when I arrived. “Sit down,” he mouthed. “I’m talking to Jerry Seinfeld.” Seinfeld himself didn’t have a vivid recollection of this encounter when I met him this past Labor Day weekend in Franconia, New Hampshire, at my cousin Cliff’s wedding. Jerry and Cliff and Cliff’s brother Jay have been friends since they went to elementary school together in Massapequa, Long Island. (My cousins were even extras on the notorious final Seinfeld episode.) At the wedding, there were two reception lines — one for the happy couple, the other for the TV star.
“In the end, you have to have one person who says what’s in or what’s out. And that was me. But I do like to collaborate with other writers.”
So when Jerry came to town to publicize his first feature production, the animated Bee Movie, I was eager to renew our acquaintance. “Haven’t I met you before?” he asks as he’s ushered into the room at the Ritz.
“I’m Cliff’s cousin. We met at his wedding.”
“Oh . . . right!” And that voice was right out of the TV.
Preceding our interview, Jerry is greeted by fans and press in the lobby of the AMC Boston Common. He’s late, having been held up at customs after flying in from Toronto. He and the two directors of Bee Movie, Simon J. Smith and Steve Hickner (who’d worked together on a previous hit “bug” movie, Antz), introduce extended clips from the new film. Seinfeld now has three children, and he says that he wanted to make something “gentler” for that audience. He got married at 45, he tells us. “That’s the Jesus Christ point of singlehood. You tell people you’re still single at 45 and they say, ‘Jesus Christ!’ ”
My favorite moment from the clips is when Jerry’s character, Barry B. Benson, comes home after falling in love with a human (Renée Zellweger). His parents sense that some female has entered the picture. His mother is concerned. “Is she Bee-ish? Not a Wasp!” That’s sure to become a buzz word.
I’m relieved that I like the clips.
The interview begins with another Seinfeld moment. I say I hope I’m not asking him what everybody else has been asking.
“Do you want me to tell you if you do?” he asks, solicitously.
“Okay,” he reassures me.
When you were a kid, did you have a fantasy about being in movies, or making movies?
No, I never did. I never really found them that funny. Growing up, I was much more interested in television. I loved Abbott & Costello and cartoons. I loved cartoons. Ventriloquism. Marionettes. You know, all those things that weren’t real.
Were you a Burns & Allen fan? I thought Seinfeld was a kind of fulfillment of what Burns and Allen were doing. Like your opening monologues and George Burns’s monologues.
Yes. But that was common for a lot of those people. Jack Benny did it. Abbott & Costello did it. Coming from vaudeville, they wanted to incorporate some of that into their television work, because that’s what they were known for. And that’s what they were good at. It was the same for me. I didn’t want to leave that all behind when I got onto TV.
Something I was really struck by in Bee Movie — the character you play isn’t “Seinfeld.”
It started out that the character was really similar to the character I was playing on the show. One of the things that’s great about animation is you get to watch the movie very early in the process. It’s in a crude form. But you can watch it. They storyboard it all out in pencil sketches and they film it and they add music and sound effects and you can sit there and watch the movie. And as I watched it, I saw that it needed to move away from that, it needed to be a little more innocent, a little gentler as a character. It just seemed to work better that way.
Do you see yourself turning into an actor?
Not really. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it, but I don’t consider it a direction for me. It’s a sideline. It’s fun, it’s a lot of fun. So many people do it with such great craft and devotion, and I’ll never be one of those people. Light comedy is as far as I think I’ll go. But, you know, that’s a craft that not everyone can do. I really see writing and performing as my profession. That’s what I feel like I’m supposed to do.