JERRY SEINFELD is standing just a foot or two over my head, perched on a platform on the edge of the roof of the legendary Carlton Hotel. He’s wearing an enormous bee costume, complete with head. And he’s talking to me.
“Hey, Kenny,” says the writer, producer and star of the forthcoming “Bee Movie.” “There’s nothing I hate more than anything that smacks of desperation in the promotion of a movie.”
Seinfeld trades some quips via intercom with costar Chris Rock (“They told me Scorsese did the same thing last year for ‘The Departed,’ ” Seinfeld says) and waits patiently eight stories off the ground as a handful of technicians fuss with the wire rigging. Then he takes off into the air, flies across the stopped traffic on Boulevard de la Croisette and ends up in the midst of a crowd at a big “Bee Movie” sign at the end of the Carlton pier 350 feet away. Then he turns around, gets winched back up to the roof and does it again.
“Now I’m happy,” says a relieved-looking George Shapiro, Seinfeld’s longtime manager, who’s been standing with me on a hotel balcony and assuring me that he isn’t worried a bit. “Now I’m really happy.”
If there is anyone who truly wasn’t worried about this stunt, it seems to be Seinfeld himself. He rehearsed it the day before -- at 4:30 a.m., the better to avoid prying eyes. “It was fantastic, kind of like gliding,” he says, and no special training was required.
“It’s like being a suit at a dry cleaner’s; you just go around the rack. You could put any suit on the rack and it’s going to go around.”
Besides, Seinfeld continues at breakfast a few hours before his leap, anyone who thinks this jump is scary just doesn’t know about stand-up comedy.
“People have no idea how hard my regular job is,” he says, sipping on noticeably strong coffee. “I recently walked on stage at a 4,300-seat theater in the middle of nowhere, a horribly designed building, nothing in your favor, and you have to go out there and perform by yourself for an hour and 20 minutes.
“If I had to fly off the roof and get laughs all the way down, that would be hard. Anything where you don’t have to get laughs is easy.”
The kind of deeply funny individual who can elicit laughs with just about any sentence, Seinfeld is also comforted by the fact that his flight will be handled by the same crew (the U.K.'s Summit Rigging) that pulled off the flying at the opening of the last Olympics. Also comforting is the fact that Jeffrey Katzenberg, the head of DreamWorks Animation, will be running the show.
“Jeffrey is a very thorough person,” Seinfeld says, “and I knew that as bad as it would be for me to become severely injured, it would be worse for him. So I wasn’t worried.”
Katzenberg, who thought up the flying stunt, was also crucial in getting Seinfeld to agree to do “Bee Movie,” the biggest project the comedian has taken on since the end of his enormously successful TV show in 1998. As the man himself says, drawing the sentiment out with impeccable timing, “I really wasn’t anxious to do anything.”
This reluctance stemmed from a determination to do something “different from everything else I’ve done,” in part because the show was so demanding and lasted for 180 episodes.
“You know those gold brads [fastening devices] that you have in scripts -- I see them and I can’t go on,” Seinfeld says, not completely joking. “It’s like, ‘The brads, the brads, don’t show me the brads.’ ”
Seinfeld insists that “Bee Movie” first came to him as a title without any story attached, adding, “I made the movie just for the title; the hardest part is the title.” He mentioned the title to Steven Spielberg, a DreamWorks principal, who mentioned it to Katzenberg. He in turn gave Seinfeld a tutorial in computer animation in which the comedian became fascinated by what he calls “the only movie medium where, if you can think of it, they can make it.”
Seinfeld, as it turns out, has a long-standing interest in bees: “I love the specialization of their tasks; there are bees that just check IDs at the door.” So he eventually came up with the story of Barry B. Benson, a bee who wants more out of life. Benson becomes friendly with a florist named Vanessa (voiced by Renee Zellweger) and finds a crusade when he discovers humans have been stealing bee honey.
“I have to admit, I’ve always enjoyed cartoons and puppets, and I saw this as a gigantic puppet show,” Seinfeld says. “There are no marks on the floor with tape, there seem to be fewer brads, and I’d be involved with this technology and not actresses crying because they got locked out of their car and the dog has been in there for 45 minutes.
“I didn’t want to deal with any more crying.”