PHILADELPHIA—He used to joke that “there is no such thing as fun for the whole family.” But as Jerry Seinfeld builds buzz for “DreamWorks’ Bee Movie,” his PG-rated film opening next month, the father of three is eating his words, honey-coated.
“Does being a parent have anything to do with making an animated film for children?”
He repeats the question—with trademark snark-asm—that’s posed by a member of the Philadelphia audience invited recently to see clips from the picture.
Seinfeld need not roll his eyes. He rolls his words instead. The crowd roars.
“I’m old. I’m rich. I’m tired,” says the comedian, 53. “I have not yet grown bored ... watching the kids (who are 2, 4 and 6) rip pages out of magazines I haven’t read.”
Even so. Rather than sit at home buffing his Golden Globe nine years after his self-titled TV show ended its triumphant run, he’s preparing to storm (or swarm?) the big screen with his tale of Barry B. Benson, honeybee, who sues humankind for bee-sploitation—and along the way, falls for (who else?) a florist. Seinfeld voices Barry, and Renee Zellweger the florist he’d like to pollinate.
Midway through an 11-city tour to advance the film, Seinfeld tests audience reaction to film clips as he might a routine in his stand-up act.
Those who saw the 2002 documentary “Comedian” know how long it takes him to collect, digest and process observations into comedy.
Making funny is not unlike making honey. Barry, busy bee, is a stinging caricature of Seinfeld himself.
He’s the undisputed laureate of the one-minute ad haiku, the 22-minute TV limerick, and the 60-minute stand-up sonnet. But can Seinfeld master the epic poetry of a feature film?
“It’s not like taking a sitcom and multiplying it by four,” admits Steve Hickner, “Bee Movie’s” co-director. There are script doctors, Hickner says, and then there is Seinfeld, “a comedy surgeon.” When Seinfeld didn’t like the way a scene was playing, he rewrote it in the editing booth.
Movies are a very different challenge, the comedian says in his hotel room after the public appearance. Sitting stiffly on the sofa cushion, he is prepared, precise, process-obsessed. (“No tape recorder?” he asks in genuine horror. Only when quotes are read back correctly will he continue.)
“One thing that I learned that I didn’t understand before is that when people walk into a dark movie theater, they have a different investment in the characters,” he reflects.
“Smart-ass-iness—like the show—didn’t play well, so I sweetened Barry up a bit.”
While it took Seinfeld and crew two to three days to write a TV episode, it has taken four years to bring “Bee Movie” from a wisecrack he made at a Steven Spielberg dinner party to completed film.
Fastidiously casual in black blazer, untucked slate-colored shirt, and jeans, the comedian exudes composure rather than ease. Is there a component in the Seinfeld hardwiring that accounts for his Zenlike equilibrium?
“Any actor, writer or comedian is a close observer of human behavior,” he says, more amused than appalled. “I am so offended by so much I see that I try not to do it.”
To his professional answer he appends a personal one: “I’ve been practicing Transcendental Meditation most of my life. I think that does something to your nervous system,” the eternal observer observes. “It has given me a calmness I don’t think I had at 19.”
“But who’s calm at 19?”
Despite his belief that others should employ technology, he “still writes in longhand on legal pads.” He is working out his feelings about “texting.”
“I will return a text message, but will not send one,” he says. “One of the things I like to do is correct spelling and complete sentences while texting—that’s my rage against the machine.”
Parenthood has shifted Seinfeld’s observational focus from the detached and unattached to family connection. The newish parent increasingly thinks about his own.
“I wish I could be more like them,” he says of father, Kal, who died in 1985, and mother, Betty. “My parents didn’t worry about us, and as a result, we became very self-sufficient.
“I worry about mine,” he says. “The pattern is already set.”
The connoisseur of sugary cereal has modified his diet with the object of getting the kids to eat their vegetables. “Deceptively Delicious, the new cookbook by his wife, Jessica, serves up stealthy-healthy recipes. “Chocolate disguises everything—even cauliflower,” says the comedian, who confesses that, “now, we usually have pancakes or oatmeal for breakfast.”
Fatherhood suits him to the ground. Arrested-development humor made him the multimillionaire owner of a fleet of Porsches, a $32 million beach house in the Hamptons, and a $5 million apartment overlooking Central Park. Parenthood makes him laugh—and not in judgment of the foibles of others.
“A daughter is God’s greatest gift to a man,” he proclaims. “Why? Because they never don’t want to kiss you,” he says of Sascha, 6.
“Not that I don’t love the boys (Julian Kal, 4, and Shepherd, 2) just as much,” he’s quick to add. “There’s something a little girl brings out in a dad that nothing else does.”
Like an anthropologist reviewing field notes, he observes that the boys bring out—something else. “Every game I invent for my sons has a `zoom!’ or `fire!’ element. You see where all the violence in the world comes from with boys.”
B.K.—Before Kids—Seinfeld used to joke that whenever he saw a toddler, he wondered, “Why would you want someone in your house that craps in their pants while looking you in the eye?”
“You adapt,” he says, recalling that long-ago crack. “There’s no time for how. You adapt. NOW.”