Jerry Seinfeld, in a San Francisco hotel suite last month on a major publicity blitz for his new, animated "Bee Movie" — which opens Friday — isn't exactly pleased when he sees I'm about to interview him using a pad, pen and no tape recorder.
He says a recent article made up something he said; I assured him that in my 18 years of reporting without taping, I'd never misquoted anyone, and that for my story, I wouldn't need long commentary.
He said he’d answer the questions with that in mind.
I ask how working in movies is different from TV. He answers at a pace slower than dial-up: "It's ... a lot ... longer."
I roll my eyes at him; I had heard he might be a tough interview. He seems to want to check my notebook to see if I got it down right: "It's different because when audiences come into a theater, there's a different investment in the experience than in TV or a club."
How are you like Barry, the bee that is the movie’s main character? "I'm think I'm fun to be with."
I come back with an anecdote from one of "Bee Movie's" co-directors, Steve Hickner, whom I'd interviewed an hour earlier. Is it true Hickner got the job because, as he told me, "Seinfeld thought because my hair was curly, I must be funny."
I like this question because I have extremely curly hair. Seinfeld doesn't bite but says there's something in my demeanor that reminds him of Steve.
"Did you have a special connection with him?" he asks.
I don't recall what I answered, but I was flattered that, due to that response, Seinfeld might think I was funny, too.
Hickner described Seinfeld as a "surgeon" of comedy. Does Seinfeld agree?
"I am very scientific about it. I approach comedy as a science, a sweet science. And it’s like boxing, too — when you connect, it's a beautiful thing."
We talk about how an unlikely character such as Ray Liotta got a part in the movie, and that fact that while Barry Levinson voices Barry the bee's dad Martin, the character isn't named after the film director, but after one of Seinfeld's old friends.
The publicist pops in, giving us a five-minute warning. I say I wish we had more time. Seinfeld says that if I had a tape recorder, we wouldn't have wasted valuable time.
I stick by my guns. As an editor as well as writer, I say, I prefer to paraphrase, like the New York Times does, rather than make the reader plow through long, boring quotes that sound more like a tape recorder than a person.
He genuinely considers the point, and asks me why stories in certain magazines, such as Time (which he likes) read as though the same person wrote them all.
It's all in the editing, I tell him.
In the end, though, I can't argue too much with the king of the modern sitcom. He’s right when he complains about being paraphrased: "If I do anything with any skill, it's the exact way I put words together. My quotes are not boring."