Monday, December 30, 2019

'Why Am I Saying ‘Who’s ready?’ Three Times?': An Oral History of 'SpongeBob SquarePants'

Please note that this post was originally published on Thursday, June 27, 2019.

'Why am I saying ‘Who’s ready?’ three times?': An oral history of SpongeBob SquarePants

For two decades, he’s lived in a pineapple under the sea, absorbent and yellow and porous, whose nautical nonsense we’ll always wish for more of. Created by Stephen Hillenburg, who died last November after battling ALS, SpongeBob SquarePants launched on Nickelodeon in 1999 as a surreal cartoon that appealed to adult fans of comedy as much as the kids who grew up singing the theme song. In the years since, it’s become a worldwide phenomenon, having spawned a Broadway musical, multiple movies, and some of the internet’s very best memes. (Who among us can look at a jar of mayonnaise without wondering if it’s an instrument?)

On a sunny June afternoon at Nickelodeon’s studios in Burbank — where the original SpongeBob cast was working on the partially live-action special "SpongeBob’s Big Birthday Blowout" (premiering Friday, July 12 at 7 p.m. ET/PT) — EW sat down with the gang to discuss the series’ origins, development, and legacy. Are ya ready, kids?


TOM KENNY (SpongeBob): I’d worked with [Stephen Hillenburg] on Rocko’s Modern Life [as the voice of Heffer and other characters]. So this was the easiest job I ever got: There was no audition, there was no callback, there was no “It’s down to you and two other guys.” Though I did hear that there was a push to have Fred Savage [The Wonder Years] play SpongeBob.

CAROLYN LAWRENCE (Sandy): I remember during the audition, it was in a conference room, which was awkward to me. [They] left the microphone on the table — we weren’t in a booth. [It was] awkward and weird. I had never done that. There’s the mic and there’s Steve. And there was a fly flying around. I’m watching the fly, trying to do it, and it landed on the paper I had. And I [slams on the table] killed it. I never kill anything! I always catch things and put them outside, and I totally panicked.

KENNY: Did you suck in that dead fly’s life force and channel it into your audition?

CAROLYN LAWRENCE: Oh my God, I don’t know. But when I left, I was like, “There’s no way.”

MR. LAWRENCE (Plankton): But that’s Sandy! That’s a Sandy moment.

KENNY: The last day of that fly’s life was the first day of the rest of your life.


MR. LAWRENCE (Plankton): I was also friends with Steve from Rocko; we were directors on that show together. When he was working on the SpongeBob pilot, I came in and he said, “You’re going to be somebody on the show.” I actually read for SpongeBob with Plankton’s voice. I was like [does Plankton’s voice], “I’m ready! I’m ready, Gary!” But I read all the pages like that. All I know is they kept listening to the tape while they were making the pilot. I felt like I was in the room because they’d always say they played it; when the network had just come in, or when they were down in the dumps for some reason, they’d play the tape and listen to this stupid thing. It sounded so stupid. It did not work at all.

VINCENT WALLER (co-executive producer): Steve mentioned on more than one occasion about Doug auditioning for SpongeBob with Plankton’s voice. He definitely loved that.

RODGER BUMPASS (Squidward): I just looked at [the script] and said, “[Squidward] has got this big ol’ honking nose, he must have some nasality quality to him. He’s a little sarcastic. It was a match made in heaven with my personality.

KENNY: I felt like I just got [SpongeBob]. Steve did such a good job with it. Everything was right there. You go, “Oh, I know this guy. I can embody this guy.” I feel like there’s some shared DNA between me and this character. We’ve all felt that way. That’s part of Steve’s brilliance. He seemed to be pretty sure of his decisions once he made them, and couldn’t be dissuaded.

BILL FAGERBAKKE (Patrick): Recording [the pilot], I thought it was a dopey preschool kids’ show. I didn’t get it. I didn’t get most of the jokes. “Why am I saying ‘Who’s ready?’ three times? Okay, it’s for 4-year-olds.” Then when I finally saw it, my head blew up. It was so delightful.

BUMPASS: I played the pilot for my family. I looked back 11 minutes into the thing, and my father was asleep.

FAGERBAKKE: Along with thinking it was for 4-year-olds, we were recording with helium for the sound of the anchovies. I thought, “This is the weirdest $600 I ever made.”


Everett Collection
CLANCY BROWN (Mr. Krabs): The first time I read [for Mr. Krabs] for Steve, he told me to riff. I was just doing some pirate voice. I said, “Steve, you’re the director, right?” He said, “Yeah.” “Then direct me.”

BUMPASS: I remember one of our first episodes, I heard [Tom changing his voice as] SpongeBob. All of a sudden we had the latitude to do other voices — the “Krusty Krab Pizza” thing. I’m sitting there, and I didn’t know anything about the show, like, “What’s he doing? He’s totally out of character!” I didn’t realize [SpongeBob] had that latitude to be anything he wanted to be.

KENNY: It’s hard to riff when you don’t know the character yet, or it’s your first brush with the character. But now, Clancy riffs as Krabs all the time.

CAROLYN LAWRENCE: I was always terrified [of improvising]. It took me a while to get comfortable because I felt like [you guys] were all so much more established. I was amazed.

BUMPASS: When we first started I was very monotone. Then we had this scene [in season 3’s “Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy IV”] with the utility belt and it zapped me, and I had to do a sequence of screams. Each scream had to be a different type of a scream. There, they learned I could scream, so now, every episode they make me scream. [Laughs] But that’s how it expanded. Now [Squidward] is more me than anything else.

CAROLYN LAWRENCE: I can’t remember the first time that Sandy got angry. But I know there’s something about her being mad that became a thing.

WALLER: It was when they were messing with Texas!

CAROLYN LAWRENCE: Right! That’s where my personal life and Sandy [merged] also. When I was younger and I’d get really angry, people would laugh, and I’d be like, “I’m mad!” It’s the same with Sandy.

MR. LAWRENCE: We still try to [record together] as much as we can. What’s great to see every so often is when we roll down the road and there’s a lot of jokes happening because we’re laughing at something we’re saying, and it suggests something. Sometimes something comes out of that, and sometimes it doesn’t, but it makes the whole process fun to go through. It’s jazz riffing. I like watching it and I like doing it.

WALLER: That’s where some beautiful invention comes from that’s not in the script.

KENNY: And a conviviality. It feels like a workplace. It’s funny. I used to watch The Dick Van Dyke Show when I was a kid, and I’d go, “Wow, that’s what I want to do. I want the kind of job where you’re just hanging around with funny people.” This is as close to that.

CAROLYN LAWRENCE: But we were unique. A lot of shows don’t record like that.

BROWN: I love stuff [like “My leg!”] that comes out of left field.

MR. LAWRENCE: It was one of those ad-libs where we’re trying to get the last word, going back and forth. I know Roger does it all the time. We all do it because it’s so stupid.

KENNY: The voice-director just needs people to go “Agh! Oop! Blargh!” Like, “We’re still alive under this rubble, kids.” It was kind of like that. “Give me my legs!”

MR. LAWRENCE: It just came down to a silence, and I just let it go a little bit longer, and popped out, “My leg!” We all laughed and started doing it more. It became a joke for us to do it. Nobody’s writing “My leg!” in there!

KENNY: It was never intended to be a meme.


WALLER: [I was there] from season 1 to season 2, then I went away for 3, and then came back on 4, after the movie. I was on Ren & Stimpy previous…. This was the first time collaborating with someone in the same room over one piece, rather than doing one thing and having someone come in and tear you a new one and rewrite it. But it was all fun.

KENNY: So you would say it was a more collaborative process than on other shows you’d worked on?

WALLER: Yes, much more collaborative. From beginning to end, rather than when you’re done, everybody comes in and collaborates.

MARC CECCARELLI (co-executive producer): The idea of writing in a storyboard phase had fallen out of favor in television animation. The reason they brought it back for [Ren & Stimpy], and the reason it’s so appealing for SpongeBob, is because it’s a much more visual way of writing the story. It’s one thing to write a visual gag in text.

KENNY: One picture is worth a thousand words, right? “His tongue unrolls like a staircase. His eyes bug out and hit the wall.”

BUMPASS: It’s one of the things that makes this show special because it deals with animation and cartoon-ism the way it used to be. Unlike, say, King of the Hill, which should’ve been a live-action show.

MR. LAWRENCE: We often will base a whole show on just some visual we really want to see; something we start drawing, like, “I’ve got to see that.” It doesn’t happen every time, but sometimes a whole episode will form out of a visual where we go, “That’s gotta happen.”

CAROLYN LAWRENCE: As an actor, it’s a lot more fun being able to get the board. I mean, that’s huge.

BUMPASS: [This is] the first show I was ever involved with where they gave us the storyboards in advance. It helps you so much to see what that gag is.

CAROLYN LAWRENCE: Right! You know, and it’s amazing. You can see Sandy’s jumping off an enormous mountain instead of a little mountain. You can’t see that in a written script.

KENNY: Steve built a great foundation for this house. I think about that all the time, how much he knew what it was going to be. He was also really good at digging in his heels, usually in a very gentle, friendly way, and picking his battles and fighting bad ideas from non-creative people. He was good at that.

BROWN: Different milieu, though, right? Nickelodeon was its own thing back then.

KENNY: I guess everything was a different milieu back then. I always say with Rocko, the inmates were running the asylum to a pretty crazy degree. As long as they delivered the product and there weren’t any big content problems, you kind of are just left alone to make your quilt.

CAROLYN LAWRENCE: Lot of creative freedom. And now…

KENNY: It’s a little less so now. It’s a double-edged sword: If something gets gigantic, there is a lot more at stake. A lot more eyeballs. That’s what I give [the writers] a lot of credit for, still having that subversive [quality]. SpongeBob still feels like a subversive show, even though it’s kind of the most mainstream show of all.

CECCARELLI: We’ve been grandfathered in and protected by the fact that the show was so good and successful from the beginning. They don’t really mess with us so much, content-wise, even to this day.

BROWN: I also think it’s because nobody really knows how to f— with it.


BROWN: The stunt-casting sessions are always strange. You never know when somebody comes in what they’re going to be like. We’ve got our thing, but then you add somebody in who’s a stunt.

CAROLYN LAWRENCE: Early on, didn’t it make Steve crazy? Everyone called him wanting to be on his show and he didn’t want them.

BUMPASS: Bruce Willis wanted to be on.

FAGERBAKKE: We’re not accustomed to it. It’s not like in every episode there’s a wacky guest.

KENNY: [Speaking] as the voice director, it’s interesting too, because it’s a little bit like celebrity roulette. “Wheel of Celebrities!” You had to give them almost a tutorial. Many of them have seen SpongeBob, but even if they have, you have to go, “Whatever you think you’re going to do, go bigger.” It’s a heightened reality. You probably won’t be too big. And if you are, we’ll tell you. But you probably won’t.

BROWN: Did you ever have to tell someone to pull back?


BROWN: Dennis Quaid came in pretty hot.

KENNY: That’s true.

CAROLYN LAWRENCE: I like when Ernest Borgnine [Mermaid Man] was in and he just kept going and going. We all just hung out and waited until he was done.

KENNY: Same with Tim Conway [Barnacle Boy]. It was the first thing they’d done together since McHale’s Navy, so that was fun to watch.

MR. LAWRENCE: It was arresting. For me, it was like if someone squeezed in your stomach. You’re seeing these two guys in that room. Just like, wow.

FAGERBAKKE: Jon Hamm was awesome. He clearly was enjoying himself.

KENNY: He actually stayed after he was done recording. We were like, “Okay, that’s it, Jon.” He goes, “You mind if I stay?”

MR. LAWRENCE: I remember Scarlett Johansson coming into the first movie we did [released in 2004]. She was so excited. We all got into the booth, and we were all there at the same time. She had her headphones on, ready to do her line, but as soon as we started talking…she looked like she was watching a pinball machine. She got to her line and she said, “I don’t know if I can do that.” You could see she was scared. Just the intimidation of watching us all do it at once, up front. And then: She was great!


CAROLYN LAWRENCE: I think my new favorite [installment] is going to be [SpongeBob’s Big Birthday Blowout]. It was so much fun for us to do something so wild.

MR. LAWRENCE: We keep surprising. We’re trying to keep a surprise going with things. And…it’s going to be hard to surprise people after this one.

KENNY: It’s like being married for a long time. You’re like, “We’ve gotta spice things up! Here, put this on! Dress like me!”

MR. LAWRENCE: Like we just did an episode about “My leg!” recently. The idea was “How much can we abuse the audience in repeating a line over and over again?” [Laughs] There was something to creating a new structure to that, so it would hold that joke for 11 minutes.

CECCARELLI: Personally I like the two stop-motion specials we did. Back when I was 10 years old, I wanted to be Ray Harryhausen. That was my entry point into this fantasy world.

FAGERBAKKE: And that’s probably the only chance you’ll ever get to do stop-motion animation. It doesn’t happen very often.

KENNY: I love those episodes, too, because it’s kind of imperfect. It’s skittery. Like the 1933 King Kong versus some CGI, “Oh, okay, there’s Jack Black standing in front of a green screen.” There’s an imperfection to that the 2D version of SpongeBob has too. You can see people’s thumbprints. In the stop-motion and the 2D version of it, it’s imperfect. I went to Pixar once, and they had this giant bank of computers. I was just like, “That’s to make sure [for] this character, every hair flows like real hair.” I like imperfection. I like records with bad notes, where the drummer misses a beat. SpongeBob has still got that.

FAGERBAKKE: The discovery of the show, the nature of the show, I had no idea [when I first was cast], and I was very surprised until I saw it.

KENNY: SpongeBob is one of the last remaining super-visual cartoons. There’s just not a whole lot of shows like that anymore. In some ways, I feel like I’m working in this time-machine job. Like working on a radio show or Looney Tunes. It’s pretty cool that we’re still able to be employed as milkmen in 2019.

The brand-new hour-long SpongeBob SquarePants special “SpongeBob’s Big Birthday Blowout" premieres on Nickelodeon USA on Friday, July 12, at 7:00 p.m. (ET/PT), before rolling out on Nickelodeon channels internationally.


Scroll down for lots more interviews with the cast and crew of SpongeBob SquarePants!:


Twenty years later, ‘SpongeBob ’ cast members still love each other

The loveable little yellow absorbent sponge who wears pants is turning 20. "SpongeBob SquarePants" first hit the air waves on Nickelodeon in July 1999. Tom Kenny, who voices the porous little creature, said the time has flown by.

[Click here for video!]


From the Star Tribune:

At age 20, 'SpongeBob SquarePants' is still soaking up the love

As SpongeBob turns 20, the show remains a pop-culture phenomenon.

LOS ANGELES – Aquaman only thinks he’s king of the sea.

That title rightly belongs to SpongeBob SquarePants, whose superpower — an unsinkable spirit — has kept him on the throne for most of two decades.

“He’s the person you want to be with, that’s always looking at things from a positive angle,” said Carolyn Lawrence. She voices the character of Sandy Cheeks on the Nickelodeon series, which celebrates its 20th anniversary with a one-hour special Friday, “SpongeBob’s Big Birthday Blowout” and a party Saturday at the Mall of America.

“Something terrible could be going on and SpongeBob’s going to see the good side of it. That’s a really fun place to be.”

The show may not be as popular as it was in its heyday, when 60 million viewers were tuning in every month, but the characters are still soaking up the love. “SpongeBob SquarePants” remains the top-rated series in kids animation with a TV spinoff in the works and a third feature film slated for 2020.

New toys based on the show’s popular memes are helping to boost merchandise sales past the $13 billion mark. A Broadway musical garnished 12 Tony Award nominations last year. RockBottom Plunge, a roller coaster inspired by an early episode, remains one of the most popular attractions at theMOA’s Nickelodeon Universe.

Maroon 5 nearly salvaged its much-maligned Super Bowl halftime show last winter by having SpongeBob’s pal Squidward Tentacles introduce one of the songs. The band may have won over the critics if they had given the clarinet-blowing octopus a solo.

“People get mad at the NFL. They don’t get mad at SpongeBob,” said Tom Kenny, who has voiced the title character since the beginning. “They don’t hate on SpongeBob. They hate on Maroon 5.”

The series, which debuted on July 17, 1999, was the brainchild of Stephen Hillenburg, a biology instructor. He noticed how children were enraptured by underwater creatures when they visited the Orange County Marine Institute. His concept, which took 10 years to develop, was instrumental in making Nickelodeon a cable powerhouse.

By the third season, “SpongeBob” was TV’s most-watched children’s show, a title it has yet to relinquish. Hillenburg passed away last year, but the series continues to follow his original recipe: eye-popping colors, a frantic pace and over-the-top antics.

“You get hit in the face, your face takes on the shape of a frying pan,” said Rodger Bumpass, who plays Squidward. “SpongeBob starts crying, he turns into a lawn sprinkler.”

Those ingredients are all on display in Friday’s special, which includes a raucous party in a pineapple house and a dancing can of beans. But the cartoon is more than just a visual feast.

“I think kids look at [SpongeBob] and he has the life they want,” said co-executive producer Vincent Waller. “He has a job he loves. He doesn’t have parents to answer to. He lives in a house by himself. But he is still obviously a child at heart. And they just go, ‘Oooh, I want that.’ ”

The show also connects with grown-ups.

David Bowie was a fan. Former president Barack Obama called it one of his favorite shows. At one point, roughly a third of the audience was above the age of 18. It’s not just because of the references to Led Zeppelin, Edgar Allan Poe and Pablo Picasso.

“It seems to be a refreshing breath from the pre-irony era,” Syracuse University pop-culture expert Robert Thompson once told the New York Times. “There’s no sense of the elbow-in-the-rib, tongue-in-cheek aesthetic that so permeates the rest of American culture. ... I think what’s subversive about it is it’s so incredibly naive — deliberately.”

Cast to be at MOA

The “SpongeBob” cast isn’t immune to their show’s charms.

Bill Fagerbakke, who plays slow-witted starfish Patrick, once bought some golf balls only because the box was in the shape of SpongeBob’s head. Lawrence snagged giant banners from the first movie after they were done hanging at her local mall. Bumpass claims to have the world’s largest collection of SpongeBob merchandise, including dental supplies and toilet-training gear.

“I have things that no one else can have, because they are signed by the cast,” he said. “I’m going to have an open house.”

Bumpass may get to hide behind an animated character, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for him to go shopping without fans doing a double take.

“I was recognized at my dentist’s office the other day and I was like, ‘How in the world do you know me?’ ” he said.

Fagerbakke discovered that youngsters knew his “true identity” way back in Season 2 when he was picking up his daughters from elementary school.

“I had this kind of John Lennon buzz around the playground,” he said. “I was kind of stunned that the kids were so hip to it. I mean, I loved Looney Tunes, but I wasn’t wondering who Mel Blanc was.”

Anonymity in the Twin Cities will be even harder after a celebration Saturday at the Mall of America that includes a chance for fans to meet Kenny and Lawrence.

In Friday’s birthday special, SpongeBob bubbles to the Earth’s surface for a live-action interaction with cast members in a diner that has more than a passing resemblance to the Krusty Krab.

Kenny said the taping was a bit surreal, being on the set with his fellow actors dressed as their characters after two decades of working out of a sound booth.

“I don’t want to tell tales out of school,” Kenny said. But I think Clancy [Brown, who voices Mr. Krabs] put it perfectly when he looked around and said, ‘Wow, this is like having sex with the lights on.’ ”

Despite the hoopla, “SpongeBob” still has a long way to go before it’s the longest-running animated series in America. “The Simpsons,” “Arthur” and “South Park” all debuted earlier and are still in production. Still, the ocean’s highest-energy bottom dwellers hope to stick around. The network has not announced plans beyond this season, but it has greenlit a 13-episode prequel starring a 10-year-old SpongeBob during his summer at sleep-away camp.

“We want to last a little bit longer than the pyramids,” Bumpass said.

SpongeBob’s Big Birthday Blowout

When: 6 p.m. Fri.

Where: Nickelodeon.

Super Fan Event: With voice talents Tom Kenny and Carolyn Lawrence, 2 p.m. Sat., Mall of America, $25-$50.

Viewing party: 11 a.m. Sun., Mall of America, free.


From Variety:

‘SpongeBob’ Voice Cast on Acting Together in Live-Action for 20th Anniversary Special

Credit: Nickelodeon/Robert Voets

On a brisk morning in February, the members of the voice cast of Nickelodeon’s flagship animated series “SpongeBob SquarePants” gathered to work on a new episode, like they’ve done most weeks over the past 20 years. But instead of being in a recording booth, this time they’ve assembled at a diner in Castaic, Calif., shooting scenes as live-action versions of their animated characters for the hourlong 20th anniversary special, “SpongeBob’s Big Birthday Blowout.”

While it’s not the first time “SpongeBob SquarePants” has mixed animation and live action, it is the first time key cast members — Tom Kenny (SpongeBob), Bill Fagerbakke (Patrick Star), Rodger Bumpass (Squidward), Clancy Brown (Mr. Krabs), Carolyn Lawrence (Sandy Cheeks) and Mr. Lawrence (Plankton) — have acted together in live-action scenes.

Credit: Nickelodeon/Robert Voets

“The voice actors are all playing surface-world doppelgängers of their animated characters,” explains Kenny, the prolific voice actor who not only speaks for the naive sponge but also directs the cast’s voice-acting sessions. “SpongeBob and Patrick come up above the sea and go to a diner that’s very much like the Krusty Krab, but not quite,” says Kenny, “and there’s a human spazzy guy behind the counter that’s almost like SpongeBob, but not quite, and a mean boss like Mr. Krabs and a doofus customer that’s kind of like Patrick. It’s really fun.”

The cast members’ camaraderie is apparent on the live-action set: The actors break up over Fagerbakke’s line readings as an indecisive diner customer and Mr. Lawrence’s turn as an inept robber whose mask boasts a single eyehole. The constant laughter means a few extra takes, but everyone’s smiling.

The idea for the live show, which premieres July 12 at 7 p.m. on Nickelodeon, has been in the works for a while. “We wanted to do something special for the 20th anniversary, and we asked ourselves, ‘What haven’t we done yet? Where haven’t we gone?’” posits Mr. Lawrence, who is also story editor and a writer on the series. “This particular idea of everyone on camera playing themselves was something we’d thought about before. I think people will appreciate this even if you don’t know the show really well. It will be a nice surprise that no one will be expecting.”

The core cast has been together since the pilot, according to Kenny. “We’re really lucky in that it’s all the same actors that played the parts in the pilot are still in the game and still doing it. It’s really a rare, rare opportunity to work on the same show with the same people who are not psychotic … Or I should say are just psychotic enough to be fun, for 20 years. It’s unheard of and it’s just lovely.”

Credit: Nickelodeon/Robert Voets

Unlike a lot of animated shows or features, the “SpongeBob SquarePants” voice cast records episodes together. “So this is a little different,” Mr. Lawrence explains. “This is the first time there are cameras. When we’re [recording] with each other live, it’s [like] a play. No takes. You just do it. So this is weird because there are takes. It’s like doing voice work but you’re standing there, you know. I have to figure out what to do with my body when I’m doing this.”

Other cast members described the experience as surreal.

“It would be less bizarre if we’d only been doing this for a year or two,” Fagerbakke says. “But we’ve been doing this for 20 years, and for me, to be looking in the face of the actor who’s the voice of the character, it was very peculiar, and I was really tickled. Clancy [Brown] could not stop calling Rodger ‘Squidward,’ because that’s who he’s been talking to for 20 years. But instead it was Rodger playing a human version of Squidward. So yeah, there were all kinds of interesting scenarios.”

Brown, an accomplished voice actor who may be best known for his acclaimed live-action performances in such films as “The Shawshank Redemption” and the drama series “Billions,” called the experience “dissonant, because we always have our faces buried in the script [when recording ‘SpongeBob’ episodes] and talking into microphones. But then to actually face Bill Fagerbakke, have him do that voice to you and you have to respond, it takes some getting used to.” Brown called the live-action shoot “a little window into our recording sessions. We’re having a ton of fun.”

Credit: Nickelodeon/Robert Voets

For Carolyn Lawrence, the longtime voice actor who plays sea-dwelling squirrel Sandy, shooting the live-action scenes took some adjustment. “I’m so used to not being seen,” she says. “But now … we may need to wear our costumes when we record the show from now on.”

The experience was not without its challenges, Bumpass acknowledges. “When you’re working voice, there’s a whole different focus. Here, you have the costumes, the makeup, the gestures, the movement, the inflections, physical interactions. It’s a challenge to be the character in a more extensive manner, but it’s a great exercise, acting-wise.”

It’s something Bumpass would love to revisit. “For 20 years, we’ve seen each other do the voices, but to do it on camera in character on set in that world is a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode,” he explains. “It’s absolutely surreal for all of us. I’d love to redo the show as a live-action show.”

For Kenny, playing a live-action version of SpongeBob wasn’t that much of a stretch. “I’ve always kind of been that,” he says. “I think that’s how I got the gig in the first place. SpongeBob is kind of me to the 1,000th degree.” In fact, Kenny says he thinks that’s why series creator, the late Stephen Hillenburg, gave him the role. Kenny knew Hillenburg when they both worked on Nickelodeon’s “Rocko’s Modern Life” in the 1990s. “He told me he cast me as SpongeBob because he saw personality similarities, God help me, between me and SpongeBob. He said, ‘You know, you work really hard. You’re kind of hyperactive. You can’t sit down. You give 110 percent. You’re a goofball.'”

“SpongeBob’s Big Birthday Blowout” will be dedicated to Hillenburg, who died last year due to complications from Parkinson’s disease.

That the show has lasted for 20 years is no surprise to Kenny. “In 1999, I saw this moment,” he says, chuckling. “No, no. The real answer to that is that in 1997, we did a seven-minute short cartoon about this sponge that worked at a fast food restaurant and he’s got a greedy boss and a dyspeptic co-worker. I knew it was good, I knew it was funny, I knew it was special.”

“SpongeBob SquarePants” did go through some shaky times, but the show, and the cast, hung in there. “At the 10-year mark, we were like, ‘This is already crazy,'” Mr. Lawrence says. “We did a show for the 10th anniversary, and we thought, ‘Alright, time’s up soon. It’s going to be done.’ But people keep discovering it. As long as they keep discovering it, we’ll be here.”


From the Los Angeles Times:

‘It’s more like a treasure hunt now’: Actor Rodger Bumpass has amassed 20 years of ‘SpongeBob’ memorabilia

Voice actor Rodger Bumpass plays Squidward Tentacles on the animated show "SpongeBob SquarePants." He has been collecting show memorabilia for about 20 years and has more than 2,000 pieces in his collection. (Courtesy of Nickelodeon)

Dental products, board games, baseball caps, cans of soup, PEZ dispensers, magazines, unique artwork and potty-training aides — these are items that shoppers may find at any general retailer.

These kinds of pieces can also be found in Rodger Bumpass’ Burbank home, except they’re all related to “SpongeBob SquarePants,” in the form of memorabilia he’s been collecting for almost 20 years.

Bumpass isn’t just a rabid fan of the show, he’s a veteran actor, with more than 45 years of experience. For the past two decades, he’s provided the voice of Squidward Tentacles on the iconic animated television series.

“About a year or two within the run, I started to notice that the show was really popular, and, at the same time, there was a preponderance of merchandise in the stores,” Bumpass said on June 26 at his home. “I used to go down to Target and see [them] everywhere — the toy aisle, the greeting-card aisle, the party aisle, the bedroom aisle, the bathroom aisle and even the automotive aisle.”

He decided about two years into the show that he would start collecting show memorabilia, and his first piece was a talking action figure of Squidward, which he bought from a Big Lots store.

From there, his hobby snowballed into collecting anything related to the Nickelodeon show.

He has either bought most of the items or received them from the network. However, Bumpass said there was one time when he bartered with a fan to complete a watch collection.

So far, Bumpass has more than 2,000 pieces of memorabilia, which he keeps in built-in glass display cases in his living room. The thought of quitting has never crossed his mind and, as the show continues to stay on the air, he said there will always be something for him to buy.

“The merchandising has gone down a little bit, but there’s stuff out there that I don’t have,” Bumpass said. “It’s more like a treasure hunt now.”

One item he’s still looking to add to his collection is a 1-foot-tall action figure of Handsome Squidward, an alter-ego of his character that appeared in an episode during the show’s fifth season.

Bumpass also has unique, fan-made memorabilia, which includes a Squidward made out of pipe cleaners and a recreation of “Bold and Brash,” a painting his character created during the second season.

“SpongeBob SquarePants” will celebrate its 20th anniversary on Friday with a mixed live-action and animated special.

According to Nickelodeon, the franchise has so far generated $13 billion in retail sales of consumer products and has received multiple Emmy Awards.

There are only a handful of other animated series — including “The Simpsons,” “South Park” and “Arthur” — that have been on the air in the United States as long as or longer than Nickelodeon’s hit show.

“You feel so grateful that you can be a part of something that has a legacy like that,” Bumpass said. “We have young adults come to us during conventions thanking us for their childhood. To be a part of someone’s formative years in a positive way is really the best thing about this whole show.”

When asked about what should become of his collection when he is finally satisfied, Bumpass said he hopes Nickelodeon will adopt the memorabilia and put the items on display for the public to admire.


From The Salt Lake Tribune:

‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ turns 20 with an episode that’s surreal, even for him

Is there anyone on the planet who doesn’t know who lives in a pineapple under the sea? You don’t even have to watch the animated series to know that absorbent and yellow and porous is he. Heck, you don’t even have to own a TV.

According to Nickelodeon, more than $13 billion in SpongeBob SquarePants-related consumer products have been sold since the show premiered in 1999.

Rodger Bumpass, who voices Squidward, said his own “world’s largest merchandising collection” of those Bikini Bottom treasures has taken over his house. “I’ve got a special room for it now,” he said. “I’ve got everything from food to candy to dental supplies — which, of course, follows the candy part — and models. Everything.”

Nickelodeon is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the show — TV’s No. 1 kids’ animated program for the past 17 years — with “SpongeBob’s Big Birthday Blowout” (Friday, July 12, 5 and 6 p.m., Nickelodeon). It will include a live-action segment that’s surreal, even for this series.

Tom Kenny voices SpongeBob and has appeared as Patchy the Pirate in live-action segments. But he’ll be joined for the first time by Bill Fagerbakke (the voice of Patrick Star), Carolyn Lawrence (Sandy Cheeks), the show’s writer, known as Mr. Lawrence (Sheldon Plankton and Larry the Lobster) and Clancy Brown (Mr. Krabs), all playing doppelganger versions of their characters.

It’s a tribute not just to the show and its voice actors, but to creator Stephen Hillenburg, who died due to complications of ALS in November; he was 57.

“It was really weird, and then really fun,” Carolyn Lawrence said. “Eventually, I think it became very familiar and it seemed just like a natural thing for us to do. But at first, just wearing the outfits and standing in that set was really strange.”

“Trying to actually look like your character, that was a pretty tough thing to try to do,” Bumpass said.

“Clancy couldn’t not call Rodger Squidward, even though his character’s name was something else, because he’s been calling him Squidward for 20 years,” Fagerbakke said.

(Photo courtesy of Robert Voets | Nickelodeon) The staff of the Trusty Slab in the 20th-anniversary "SpongeBob SquarePants" special — JimBob (Tom Kenny), Manager (Clancy Brown), Carol (Carol Lawrence), Robber (Mr. Lawrence), Patrick Star (Bill Fagerbakke), Manward (Roger Bumpass), Patchy (Tom Kenny).

In the hourlong episode, the residents of Bikini Bottom are planning a big surprise birthday party for SpongeBob, so Patrick takes him to the surface world to get him out of the way — and they visit a restaurant that looks suspiciously like the Krusty Krab, the restaurant where SpongeBob works.

‘The million-dollar question’

“SpongeBob” is seen in more than 200 countries and territories, translated into 55 languages and watched more more than 100 million people worldwide — according to Nickelodeon, its most widely-distributed property ever.

The network has produced a lot of really good, really successful animated shows — “Doug,” “Rugrats,” “Hey Arnold,” “CatDog,” “The Wild Thornberrys,” “Fairly OddParents” and more — but none have had the same broad, long-lasting appeal.

What made “SpongeBob” catch on and kept it popular for two decades?

“Man, that’s the million-dollar question,” Fagerbakke said. “I don’t know if there’s a formula. There’s something mercurial and enigmatic about it. And I’ve come to think it’s a magical combination of shapes, colors and sounds.”

Bumpass also pointed to the show’s animation style — bright colors and sight gags. Executive producer Vincent Waller said he thinks SpongeBob is wish fulfillment for kids.

“He has the life they want,” Waller said. “He has a job he loves. He doesn’t have parents to answer to. He lives in a house by himself. But he is still obviously a child at heart. And I think they see that, and they just go, ‘Ooh, I want that.’”

“He’s also the-glass-is-half-full all the time,” said Carolyn Lawrence. “He’s the person you want to be with that’s always looking at things from a positive angle. ... I think it’s a really fun place to go be.”

Way back in 1999, (the official series debut was July 17 of that year) my kids got an early look at “SpongeBob.” (TV critics get to preview shows. And, 20 years ago, that meant popping a tape in the VCR.) The three of them then kept bugging me about when the show would premiere so they could see more.

For 8-year-old Jonathon, it was love at first sight. “It was funny,” Jonathon remembers today. “It made me laugh.” And it was a show that I could watch with him, because I found it funny, too.

“I always feel like we’re writing a comedy show, not necessarily a kids’ show,” said the writer Mr. Lawrence (real name: Douglas Lawrence Osowski). “We’re writing a show for families to all be able to watch together, but we’re thinking of the comedy all the time.”

Besides the “physical humor,” he said, there’s always an emphasis on being witty and “visually stunning.”


• SpongeBob is 4 inches tall.
• SpongeBob was originally named SpongeBoy by creator Stephen Hillenburg.
• SpongeBob has failed his driving test 1,258,056 times.
• SpongeBob has been The Krusty Krab’s employee of the month 374 times.
• SpongeBob can cook Krabby Patties so quickly because he is ambidextrous.
• The recipe for Krabby Patties is a secret, but Hillenburg hinted that the burgers may be vegetarian. Otherwise, some inhabitants of Bikini Bottom would be cannibals.
• Squidward only has six legs because animators thought eight legs on the character — which would be correct for an octopus — made him look too burdened.
• SpongeBob is allergic to tulips. The Dutch named a new species of tulip after SpongeBob in 2010.
• In 2011, a new mushroom species — Spongiforma squarepantsii — was named after SpongeBob.
• Squidward was originally pink.
• “SpongeBob SquarePants” has saved lives. In 2007, a family was saved from a sinking boat by plugging up the hole with a SpongeBob football. In 2012, a Long Island girl saved her friend from choking because she learned the Heimlich from an episode of the show; and an Australian man lost at sea was found by a helicopter that spotted his yellow SpongeBob trunks.

‘SpongeBob’ spreads!

By Season 2, Fagerbakke recalled, there was a “John Lennon kind of buzz around the playground” when he “would pull up to the elementary school to pick up my daughters. ... I was kind of stunned that all those kids were so hip to it.”

Carolyn Lawrence said the kids in her neighborhood started calling her by her character’s name.

“I was recognized in my dentist’s office the other day,” Bumpass said. “I said, ‘How in the world did you know me?’”

When former President Barack Obama entered the White House in 2009, he cited “SpongeBob” as one of his favorite shows and said he watched it with his daughters. “That blew our minds,” Kenny said.

The series is a habit for a whole lot of people, and it’s continuing to find new fans with new generations of kids. “It found its way into the fabric of people’s lives, and it kept finding new life in new ways like memes and things like that,” Kenny said.

And “SpongeBob” continues to branch out. Nickelodeon has ordered a prequel series, tentatively titled “Kamp Koral,” about 10-year-old SpongeBob at summer sleep-away camp. A third movie, tentatively titled “It’s a Wonderful SpongeBob,” is scheduled for release in May 2020.

There’s no end in sight. “We want to be popular on other planets, too!” Kenny said. And, well, we can’t rule that out.


From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Tuned In: Nick’s ‘SpongeBob’ turns 20, ‘Molly of Denali’ debuts

ASADENA, Calif. — Summertime and the viewing is easy – and new, at least if you’re a parent in search of new TV content for your child.

With children out of school, multiple networks have decided this year to debut new shows or new seasons of established hits, including a 20th anniversary special for “SpongeBob SquarePants” on Nickelodeon and the premiere of the Native American-themed “Molly of Denali” on PBS.

In addition, this month Universal Kids (formerly Sprout) debuts two new series, “Where’s Waldo?” (10 a.m. July 20), featuring the iconic character as he and best friend Wenda celebrate cultures worldwide, and “Norman Picklestripes” (11 a.m. July 27), which features a forest-dwelling handyman and Broadway-inspired songs.

‘SpongeBob’ special

Nickelodeon celebrates 20 years of “SpongeBob SquarePants” with a new season that kicks off with “SpongeBob’s Big Birthday Blowout” (7 p.m. Friday). This one-hour special features the show’s voice actors playing doppelgangers of their animated characters in live-action segments.

SpongeBob (voice of Tom Kenny) and Patrick (voice of Bill Fagerbakke) travel to the surface world where they encounter lunchtime rush at The Trusty Slab, itself a stand-in for Bikini Bottom’s Krusty Krab, while their friends under the sea set up a surprise birthday party for SpongeBob.

“It became very familiar, and it seemed just like a natural thing for us to do,” said Mr. Lawrence (that’s his full stage name), who voices Plankton, of filming the live-action scenes. “But at first, just wearing the outfits and standing in that set was really strange.”

Fagerbakke (“Coach”), who voices Patrick Star, agreed.

“Clancy [Brown, the voice of Mr. Krabs] couldn’t not call Rodger [Bumpass] ‘Squidward,’ even though his [live-action] character’s name was something else, because he’s been calling him Squidward for 20 years,” he said during a “SpongeBob” press conference at the Television Critics Association winter 2019 press tour in February.

To what do the actors attribute the show’s longevity? Cast member Carolyn Lawrence, the voice of Sandy Cheeks, says it’s SpongeBob’s “glass half-full” optimism.

“He’s the person you want to be with that’s always looking at things from a positive angle,” she said. “Something terrible could be going on, and SpongeBob’s gonna see the good side of it.”

Mr. Lawrence said it’s the show’s writers’ approach, which is to view “SpongeBob” more as a comedy than as a kids’ show. Bumpass agreed.

“The analogy of ‘Looney Tunes’ is something that I use quite frequently,” Bumpass said. “They’re both short cartoons, but different ages of people and viewers get different things [from them]. Little kids get something out of it ’cause it’s colorful, and it’s animated. And then the little older guys get a little bit more stuff out of it, and adults get something totally [different] out of it, too. And funny is funny, so I think that’s one of the reasons it has struck a chord.”



The "SpongeBob Squarepants" cast dives deep: On their iconic roles and humanity under the sea

Salon spoke with the cast of "SpongeBob Squarepants" to describe what makes this silly sea show so enduring

The main characters of the hit TV show "SpongeBob Squarepants" may be a bunch of fish — technically a sea sponge, starfish, cephalopod, crustacean, phytoplankton and squirrel, to be exact — but the key to the show's enduring success could very well be that, for all of their silly underwater antics, the population of Bikini Bottom is endearingly human.

There is a scene in "SpongeBob’s Big Birthday Blowout," the 20th anniversary special for the show that premieres on Friday at 7 p.m. ET, which plays with the underlying humanity of SpongeBob, Patrick, Squidward, Sandy, Plankton and Mr. Krabs in a particularly clever way. Yet even if the episode had not included that memorable visual gag, the fact remains that a big part of the reason why "SpongeBob Squarepants" has become the fifth-longest running American animated series — one that gets discussed on social media every four seconds, according to Nickelodeon — is that its colorful characters ring true even as each episode does its best to deliver surreal comedy to audience members who reply in the affirmative when the theme song asks "if nautical nonsense be something you wish."

Indeed Tom Kenny, the voice of the titular character, told Salon that one of the things he cherishes most about working on the series is how the show has had a meaningful impact on the lives of its viewers through both its characterization and humor.

"I remember at some Comic-Con, and some girl comes around my table, and she's kind of hanging around — a young lady I should say," Kenny recalled. "She kind of surreptitiously leaves a note on the table and then just disappears."

When he finally had the opportunity to read the letter, Kenny was struck by what the woman revealed.

"She was going through a really bad depression time and really considering doing something to herself. Then, SpongeBob came on and it really helped her," Kenny said. "It helped her reset a little bit. You know what I mean? She credits that with like, 'Wow, that pulled me, literally pulled me off of the ledge. Hey, there's funny stuff in the world.' She went and got help. Then, things were better."

It's a recurring theme in Kenny's interactions with fans — the show occupies a significant place in their lives and memories. He hears from people who were cheered up by "SpongeBob" while they were sick in the hospital and who had "a great childhood, and SpongeBob was a part of it."

"'My childhood was horrible and SpongeBob was a refuge from the horribleness.' 'I used to watch SpongeBob with my grandpa, and he's dead now. I always think of him when I see SpongeBob.' Things like that, that are just extremely touching," Kenny told Salon.

Carolyn Lawrence, who voices the karate-proficient scientist squirrel Sandy Cheeks, is proud of helping to bring to life a strong female character for kids to emulate.

"I had two young kids as well, so I have a lot of parents who talk to me about the fact that they love being able to watch Sandy and have their girls or boys watch Sandy, and that she is a role model," Lawrence explained. She gave Steve Hillenburg, the late creator of the series who passed away from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in November, tremendous credit for creating "this character who was so multidimensional. And she is a great, great role model. And I do think Nickelodeon does a particularly good job with their female characters that way."

She added, "They did not write her in a way that was specifically, you know, stereotypically female. They really made her just an amazing character all the way around."

Rodger Bumpass, who voices the curmudgeonly Squidward Tentacles, observed how fans identify with the character's existential malaise — how, in effect, they first identify with SpongeBob as children, and then with his cranky character as adults.

"There's a passage of time that people go through coming into young adulthood — and that really is where people tell me, when I go to conventions and stuff — that when they were young they associated and identified with SpongeBob because of his youthful playfulness and innocence, and then as they get to be adults and learn what the real world is like, and for a lot of people, that's a traumatic passage of time," Bumpass told Salon, who speculated that a lot of young people struggle with "this adult thing" once they reach a certain age.

"Once they get used to it and mature a little bit, it passes," he added.

Even the dimwitted starfish Patrick Star — who is brought to life by Bill Fagerbakke — has managed to strike a chord with audience members.

"It's a childlike thing, really," Fagerbakke observed. "Everyone understands the idea of connecting to your inner child. Well, that's certainly the case with Patrick. I'm very much engaged with my inner seven-year-old lunatic. That's what Patrick is to me, I guess."

He also recalled how one fan's relationship with the show struck a chord with him.

"There are always the extraordinary stories," Fagerbakke explained, recalling an encounter with a fan at a San Diego Comic-Con. "This gal came up to me, she was about 20 and she said, 'Can I hug you?', and I went, 'Yes.' She goes, 'You saved my life' and her mother was there with tears running down her face. Her daughter had gone through a lot of depression and had a lot of very profound issues and for whatever reason, SpongeBob became something that she really embraced and helped her through."

The underlying humanity of the "SpongeBob Squarepants" characters doesn't simply resonate with the fans, but also with the actors themselves. Take Sheldon Plankton, the unicellular antagonist who alternates between wanting to steal the Krabby Patty secret formula and craving world domination. (When Salon asked voice actor Mr. Lawrence — no relation to Carolyn Lawrence — how these two schemes connect to each other, he assumed the Plankton voice and cackled, "All baby steps, baby.") On the surface level, Plankton is one of the show's biggest goats, a maniacal creature with a Napoleonic complex who is almost always humiliated when he tries to pull off his various evil plans. Yet that doesn't mean he lacks depth — or that Lawrence hasn't been able to identify with his character.

"I think I relate to the fact that he wants all these things," Lawrence told Salon. "He wants to achieve all these things, and overachieve, and he can't quite do it."

He added that "I've always felt like there are things that are not within my grasp. Yeah, I'm going to get squashed when I try to reach for it. So I feel that all the time, so I really relate to him. And plus I have a temper that I try to keep from coming out all the time, which Plankton certainly does not care when he's mad. He lets it go, and I try not to let it go. And if I do, I let it into my pillow hopefully."

Carolyn Lawrence had a similar observation about her relationship with her own character.

"Her strengths actually informed me in my personal life," she explained. "Oddly enough, I feel like the character and I have melded to a certain extent into one. Like watching her handle things on the show and playing her and her ability to problem solve and feel powerful and handle things and correct the stakes . . . I do think it inadvertently made me feel the same in my real life."

To be sure, not all of the characters' relatable qualities are sympathetic ones. Clancy Brown, the voice of the greedy restaurant owner Mr. Eugene Krabs, argued that the crustaceous cheapskate's antics act as something of a critique of the real-life business world.

"Think about when Steve created it," Brown explained, noting Hillenburg's fascination with marine biology and comparing oceanic ecosystems with the business world. "Mr. Krabs, he's a reflection of sort of the way business was in the '90s. Greed was not necessarily a bad thing."

After adding that his character is "like one of those knuckleheads that thinks corporations are people and the Krusty Krab is a living thing," Brown observed "that's sweet in a certain way, but it ignores what's developed over the last two decades, which is corporations becoming so avaricious and creating all sorts of problems. But Mr. Krabs is, you know, at that point he sort of thinks he's a job creator. He's the 'indispensable' member of society."

Brown hasn't always been happy with the social commentary offered through his character's story arcs. He cited the episode "Squid on Strike" — when Squidward and SpongeBob attempt to unionize against Mr. Krabs — as one example.

"I was very dissatisfied with that episode," Brown recalled, arguing that "the whole idea of unions is with collectively standing together, to make everything better for themselves and for everybody else. Supposedly if you all stand together and you try to improve the conditions of your workplace and your treatment, everything rises with that. Even the quality of the business goes up. That's supposed to be how it works. It's not supposed to be so adversarial. That was my problem with it. It just became this kind of adversarial thing and it shouldn't be that."

That said, Brown noted that the show's attitudes have evolved over the years, and that "Mr. Krabs becomes a problematic character the longer in the tooth the show becomes because he's all about money, and money is suddenly all about the accumulation of wealth. The wealth gap has gotten bigger since we started, so now there's a real sense of disenfranchisement from the employees and the ownership. That's not the show's fault. That's society's fault."

At the same time, Brown observed that even Mr. Krabs has a human side, one that becomes particularly evident in his relationships with other characters such as his daughter Pearl (played by Lori Alan) — who, to the ongoing mystification of the show's fans, is a whale. When I pointed out that this has prompted many theories about how a crab could father a whale, Brown insisted that the origin of their relationship isn't really that important.

"Like the secret formula, I hope it never gets told," Brown told Salon. "It's really irrelevant in the relationship to each other. Maybe they just don't want to know it. But Mr. Krabs is completely smitten and in love with his daughter — as am I in real life, and also my son. I totally get it."

He also saw something touchingly metaphorical in the idea of a parent-child relationship being analogous to the difference between a crab and a whale.

"There are times when reality overcomes you and you say, 'Wait a minute, who is this other person? They don't resemble me at all,' and then other times you look in the mirror and you say, 'Who am I looking at? Because I just let my kid get away with that thing that I would never let anybody else get away with. Why do they have this effect on me?'"

With 20 years under its belt, it's difficult to imagine where SpongeBob Squarepants will go from here. The cast members liked to joke about some of the weirder directions that might be in store for their characters.

"I think you just gave us an idea for a storyline," Bumpass told Salon when asked if a cryptozoological character like the kraken, or perhaps even a real-life giant squid, might wind up wandering into Bikini Bottom. He noted how, with the exception of one episode, no one swims in Bikini Bottom. "You only have one episode where creatures that we cast turn into their actual real life creatures and they actually swim around, but it's an interesting convention that Stephen came up with, that there's no swimming there. There are crypto aspects to that."

Mr. Lawrence, meanwhile, speculated on what would happen if Plankton was actually able to take over Bikini Bottom for more than the span of a single storyline.

"Yeah, well this is the theory which we haven't explored, but I think that if he really did get in charge all of a sudden, he would screw things up for a little while, and then Karen [his computer wife] would pull his plug, and take over, and everything would go back to normal and peaceful," Lawrence surmised. He added that this wouldn't be an assassination, per se, but rather that "she just puts him on ice. Gets him out of there for a moment, while she can run things, because she knows how to do it. Karen's smart." After all, Plankton can't ever be allowed to win because, as Lawrence put it, "he is a naughty boy."

When I asked Brown if Krabs may have a future outside of being a restauranteur — after all, there is a precedent for businessmen moving on to other projects, like running for political office — he said that he doubted this was in the cards.

"He wouldn't want to be mayor," Brown told Salon. "I think he's really afraid of stuff. I think he's really afraid of anything except running a restaurant. Because he's always trying out other businesses. I got all wrapped up in the Krusty Kronicle, which was one of my most horrible performances. [I disagreed with him on that.] Then there was Krusty Towers. But those just end up being sort of Fred Flintstone sort of vehicles for other jokes because he always fails at them, or some other character takes advantage of him. His real place is in the Krusty Krab, and when he's there that's where he's supposed to be."

Of course, like other classic animated TV shows such as Looney Tunes, the likelihood is that "SpongeBob Squarepants" will stick with its floating timeline and allow things to remain in their status quo forever — with SpongeBob manning the grill at the Krusty Krab, Squidward muttering to himself behind the cash register, Mr. Krabs in the back counting his money, Plankton scheming and figuratively face-planting each time, Patrick sleeping under his rock, Sandy getting into adventures and saving the day. That may even be preferable for a show which, though truer to life than its absurd tone would have one belief, nevertheless works best as a form of child-like escapism.

"One thing I'm realizing after years of SpongeBob is that he can stand up to any amount of different treatments, I guess the way that Jeff Jones's Bugs Bunny was different than Bob Clampett's or Tex Avery's Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck, or whatever," Kenny told Salon. "A lot of it depends on who wrote the script, whose concept it is, what storyboard team did the storyboard for that particular episode. And some of them skew, like you correctly say, some of them skew differently in different areas."

He emphasized that the versatility is one of the show's strengths as long as the writers — past, present and future — remain focused on keeping it funny.

"This all had its genesis with Steve — and hopefully we'll be able to continue on without too much corporate interference — is that it was really just about making something funny," Kenny explained. "Some shows focus on the childlike aspect of SpongeBob and things they can do by fooling around in the back of the classroom or whatever, or getting bullied by Flats the Flounder. Or sometimes, like you said, it's more about 'Midlife Crustacean' where it's about other, more adult concerns."

One thing that is certain, though, is that as the series celebrates its 20th year, it remains a testament to Hillenburg's imagination and creativity of its creators.

"I think it's deep, and heavy, and long-lasting," Kenny explained when discussing Hillenburg's legacy. "Not just on me and the cast, because he totally changed our lives, but people tell me all the time how things changed their lives. And they thank me for their childhood or whatever and go, 'Well, you know, thank Steve Hillenburg. I was just being me on the phonograph. He made the record.'"

He added, "Steve Hillenburg allowed me to help raise his baby, SpongeBob SquarePants. And it's been great to see what that has become."


From AOL:

Tom Kenny on 20 years of voicing SpongeBob SquarePants: 'We have more fun than movie stars'

[Click HERE for video!]

You know Tom Kenny. Not so sure? Just trust us: You know Tom Kenny.

If you've watched an animated show on TV sometime in the last three decades, you've almost certainly heard snippets of his voice here and there. He's brought to life characters in, literally, hundreds of TV shows, from major franchises ("Ultimate SpiderMan," "Star Wars: The Clone Wars") to kids' cartoons ("Fairly OddParents," "The PowerPuff Girls") to adult comedies ("Rick and Morty," "American Dad").

But it's "SpongeBob SquarePants" that made Kenny's voice ubiquitous around the globe. The No. 1 kids' animated series on TV for the past 17 years (!) is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary, and Kenny's been the man behind that little yellow sponge season after season.

Nickelodeon is celebrating with a special episode, "SpongeBob's Big Birthday Blowout," and AOL sat down with Kenny in New York to talk about the future of animated features, late show creator Stephen Hillenburg's lasting legacy and why it's cooler to be behind the mic than on the red carpet.

You've been doing voiceover work for longer than 20 years — before SpongeBob.
Yeah, SpongeBob was not my first rodeo. I'd kind of been doing voiceover for five or six years before that and including "Rocko's Modern Life," the nineties Nickelodeon series where I first met Steve Hillenburg.

You've done so many different voices beyond SpongeBob. [Kenny has brought to life characters in literally hundreds of TV shows, Do you always recognize your own voice?

No. Sometimes I don't realize it's me and my kids will go, "Dad, that's you," and I'll say, "I don't think so. I don't remember ever doing this show." My IMDb is like 200 pages long! They'll show me the credits and say, "Yeah dad, that was you." Okay, it's something that took me a half hour in 1994, cut me a break kids. I've lost a lot of brain cells since then.

Your kids must have been exactly at the right age to be watching "SpongeBob."

They were! My kids are 21 and 15, so they grew up right when SpongeBob was on the rise. My son was actually born in '97, the year we did the pilot. In fact I remember my wife was pregnant with him when I got the call that the pilot was going. I was like, "Yes!" Looking at her pregnant stomach going, "Good, a job right now would be a really good thing." They were right now during those years when SpongeBob sort of took over the world. I was always glad they were able to enjoy it. They didn't think of me when they were watching it. They just went right into the world of Bikini Bottom. They weren't thinking of Dad being behind a microphone at work doing this recording nine months ago.

Were you breaking out the character voice at home?

No. Hardly ever. They would ask me to not do voices: "Dad, could you just use your own voice?"

Do you find that when you're watching something for fun, your'e not in work mode, that you notice the voices more acutely than most people do?

Yes, and I always did. As a kid, iId think, "Oh, that's the same guy who does George Jetson on 'The Jetsons'!" Most of the other kids, including people in my family, didn't really care one way or the other. "Why do you care so much about that?" I don't know, I just do. Luckily that turned into a viable way to make a living later.

Do you have any particular thoughts on seeing the flat animation films of the 20th century being re-made into live-action features, like "The Lion King"?

Just aesthetically, that's a weird thing I don't understand. To me, I'm always going, why do you need to re-make that? I don't need to see a live-action version of "Dumbo" without the mouse in it! [However], the "SpongeBob" musical, the Broadway musical, I was asking the same questions: Does this really need to exist? And then it turned out to be awesome.

What's the professional voiceover community like?

It's a pretty tight-knit group, and occasionally new people come in, and then they're part of the group. I really like the community. In particular, the cast on "SpongeBob" are super cool. Nice folks to spend 20 years of your life with. Boy, if one of them were a jerk, that would be awful! How do I know I'm not the jerk?!

We were talking a bit earlier about stunt casting, when celebrities are cast in animated features to recite lines in using their own speaking voices. Of course, there are some exceptions, like Mark Hamill.

Mark is great. He's a good friend of mine. People forget there was a point when "Star Wars" wasn't cool at all! That second trilogy — people were down on "Star Wars," and being Luke Skywalker meant less than being the Joker on "Batman." Mark's voiceover career kind of sustained him, and now he's a movie star again, which is crazy! A crazy second act, or third act! Mark is a real voice actor. Even if Mark had never met George Lucas, he would be a great voice actor. Some [voice actors] get bitter about the stunt casting. Our job is to be chameleons, and their job is to be movie stars. I don't want to be a movie star, do you? We have more fun than movie stars.

Over the several months, the "SpongeBob" cast and crew have had to move forward without Stephen Hillenberg, who you all cared deeply for. [Hillenburg died in November 2018 after a battle with ALS.] What has that been like?

It's been really beautiful, actually. Not easy, because SpongeBob sprang from Steve. His DNA is in every aspect of SpongeBob. He had the whole show in his head before any of us were ever brought in. To top it all off, he was a great boss and a lovely guy. Just a nice person, a sweet man. People ask me what he was like, and I go, "He was exactly what you'd hope he would be." Nice, silly, respectful of other people ... It's interesting that he's the first death in the "SpongeBob" family. You take this new situation where he's not around and try to carry on the show. He left a roadmap for us because he knew he was sick for a couple years, so there's a roadmap we're following. Twenty years and still going.


From KATV via KAIT8:

Little Rock native who voices Squidward talks 20 years of 'SpongeBob Squarepants'

Rodger Bumpass, the voice of Squidward on Nickelodeon's SpongeBob SquarePants (Photo: Bonnie Osborne/Nickelodeon©2019 Viacom, International, Inc. All Rights Reserved)

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) — Nickelodeon is kicking off SpongeBob's "Best Year Ever" tonight to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the premiere of "SpongeBob Squarepants," their highest-rated show.

We talked with Rodger Bumpass, the Little Rock native who has spent two decades voicing SpongeBob's sarcastic octopus neighbor Squidward Tentacles.

How often do you get back to Little Rock?

That’s an interesting question because I usually come back about once a year or so. However, in 16 days I will be getting married in Little Rock on the steps of the old State House. We’ll have the reception over at the Capital Hotel and all that.

A former classmate of mine, who’s in broadcast, is going to be speaking at the ceremony. It’s going to be quite the affair. Now, my family has passed away but in getting closer to my fiancé, I made more trips to Little Rock. We both went to Central High School.

How has your Arkansas upbringing, which is probably different than a lot of your peers, influenced your work?

That's a very interesting question. I don't think I've ever been asked that before. Just off the top of my head, it was just the way that I grew up. I was always interested in comedy, TV and movies. My heroes were people like Jerry Lewis and Red Skelton and Dick Van Dyke, and The Three Stooges, and all that. I would sit in my home in Little Rock and watch these shows. I had a very good family experience. So, I never was burdened by contention or bad things happening in our family.

They didn't have anything to do with show business so I never really got a whole lot of encouragement because no one ever used the word "actor" without using the word "starving" before it. Only after I got some good reviews in New York, my parents started saying, "Hey, maybe he's got some ability here."

I was brought up to be a polite kid and actually, am very thankful for that because some kids weren't brought up that way and they're lives will reflect that also. Growing up in the South, all that you think it is, the stereotype or not, shape me to be as good a person as I can be. Now that I'm thinking about it, I’m very grateful for being brought up right.

How did you land the role on SpongeBob?

You know, it was just another audition. You know, back then a whole lot of people did not have the recording studios in their houses. They would go to their agent's office or go to some third party casting place, and you just read it – look at the breakdowns, read it and then just go away. And if you get a job, you get a job. Nothing portentous to it whatsoever.

I wish I had a great Hollywood story about it, but it was just another audition. I did see the breakdown and that's how I got the idea for his particular type of voice. He had this big honking nose and it was supposed to be sarcastic. So I kind of put him in the back of my throat and made him very sarcastic. It just happened to be what Stephen Hillenburg ( the show's creator) was looking for. The rest is history there.

So, you developed the voice of Squidward?

What I gave them was a very one-note kind of character. He was "blah, blah, blah, sarcastic, blah, blah, blah, blah." And they liked the general tone of it. But as the show went along, I was given more and more different emotional situations to do. So I got to spread my wings and he became much more fleshed out. Which of course is the evolution of most long-running characters and shows, that you have to look for new things to put in there and then it really just kinda just fleshes the character out so much more fully.

What did you do before becoming Squidward?

Well, it wasn't the first. I've been doing this for 45 years. I worked on countless movies, TV shows, commercials, cartoons, and well, whatever came my way. I worked on a lot of the Pixar films, Disney films and lots of games. But this is the biggest project I've ever been a part of.

Want to hear Squidward say "Woo Pig Sooie?" Press play.{ }

When I left Arkansas for New York, I had this vague goal, I wanted to do something on a national level, on a national scale. There just wasn't that opportunity in Arkansas, unfortunately. And so I was able to finally get something like this that was not only national but global.

So it's one of those things, you just have to sit back and say, "Thank you, God, for this." To be a part of such an iconic project and product, that’s something to just be grateful for and I am.

What is it like to be part of something as iconic as SpongeBob?

When we premiered in '99, a lot of people that are your age were three, four or five, six years old. And so, that was very much part of their formative years. And so we chaperoned them through their childhood. When I go to comic cons where I get to actually meet the fans, that story is a very common refrain from people – they come and thank us for their childhood. And being a part of that legacy is a very cherished thing because that’s what I would've said to Mel Blanc because Looney Tunes did the same thing for me.

We’re a short cartoon and people from different ages and different intellects and different senses of humor get different things from the comedy that's in our show. Different people will get different jokes and appreciate them. So it's the overall thankfulness to be a part of something like this that affected so many people positively. We're not a show that gets dirty, cutesy maybe – we talk about butts sometimes. But we don't go into the dark side of comedy like that to keep it wholesome.

It’s one of those things that you just, every so often, have to step back and say, "I'm a part of the character, this show, that everybody knows."

Is it a lot of pressure for you to have everyone know your voice so intimately? Is it bizarre?

Actually, that's one of the perks – one of the great things. Because when I'm out and somebody says, "Hey, that’s the guys that does Squidward!" They go, "really?" Then I do the voice, and there’s this explosion of recognition. The eyes get huge and the jaw drops and they inevitably say "No way!" and that’s nice.

It’s one of those little perks of being in show business. Once you do the voice, that’s what people want. It's like going to a rock concert. You want your band to play, not something new, you want them to play what you know and love. People want that familiarity and all of a sudden, when they’re in front of you, it’s thrilling for some people. And, in a different way, it’s thrilling for me – I gave them that moment.

What character do you think you relate to the most?

Oh, completely Squidward, absolutely. I love being sarcastic and I love being that sarcastic observer of the insanity around me. I have a very dry sense of humor. My favorite comedians are people like Steven Wright and Rodney Dangerfield who are just so great with those one-liners. I used to say Squidward was my alter-ego. But, I'm incorporating more and more of my general acting technique and proclivities, that he's becoming more me. And vice versa. You know, it's pretty much I am he and he is me.

There’s an evolution that I hear about quite frequently that when people your age, where they were younger, they identified with SpongeBob. His energy, it's fun-loving stuff. Then, as they get to be in a job and they see the realities of adulthood and adult life and all those negative things, they become more like Squidward.

Do you have a favorite episode?

We have several. There's one that's actually a crowd favorite, which is called “Band Geeks” where they play the Bubble Bowl. It produced some of the more iconic lines like from Patrick saying, “Is mayonnaise an instrument?” There’s a song at the end, the "Sweet, Sweet Victory" song. It was told to me that the animators came across this song and they thought it was so stupid that they decided to write the episode building up to it – it turns out to be a pretty good production too.

In a recent episode, “Goons on the Moon,” Squidward goes to the moon and gets lost in a cave and he’s sticking his head into different universes trying to get out. The last universe, he pops out into live-action at one of the Nickelodeon animator’s workstations. I had the idea, that they fell for, to use me as the animator. So when Squidward pops out and sees me, he screams. And when I see him, I scream. And it’s the same scream. It was a nice little moment.

After 20 years, do you get tired of being Squidward?

No. But, once they learned that I scream well, they made me scream a lot. Every shot I have to scream and that’s a lot. There was only one episode that really tired me out and that was the “Lemonade Stand” episode where they scare Squidward and he exuded his ink for the first time ever. I had to do this terribly tiring, exhausting series of screams.

As far as getting tired of the character? No. He's been too good to me. And has been too much fun for all these years that I will never ever get tired of this, this little guy. He's such a familiar friend that has done well for me.

One of the things that is weird, I mentioned Comic-Con, when you're on the floor at Comic-Con, I do my voice constantly. So, by the end of three days, I find it difficult to get out of the character and speak like myself.

Like a second language?

Right, a second language: cephalopod.

What would fans be surprised to know about Squidward?

Well, if we ever come across those things, we'll put them in a show. We've explored a whole lot about him. He loves canned bread, interpretive dance, he likes to ride his bicycle – which by the way, was inspired by my bicycle. I ride a recumbent bicycle where you kind of leaning back a little bit. So, Stephen Hilenburg and his son, came across me riding outside and I let him ride it. Ever since that moment he always had Squidward riding that particular type of bicycle.

You really are becoming the same.

Oh, we are absolutely the same. All my license plates on my cars are all versions of Squidward. I have what I'm calling the world's largest collection of SpongeBob memorabilia and merchandise. It's surrounding me right now. There's an excess of 2,000 pieces here. So I'm submitting it to Guinness.

There are some conspiracies on the internet about Squidward being dangerously depressed and suicidal messages surrounding his character. Is there any validity to those?

To my knowledge, it is fully conspiracy. You wouldn’t want to go seriously dark, you could do it in a comic sense because he is pretty depressed, to begin with, it’s a short jump. But, I've seen some of the Internet stuff, it's totally manufactured by fans. Whatever there is out there is going to be corrupted by someone, no matter how good.

What is your favorite thing about Squidward?

One of the fun things to do about him is, he is on two ends of the spectrum here. He gets to be this sarcastic observer of the insanity around him, which brings up some of the most fun moments for me. But then when things get too much for him, once things get too crazy, he gets to go completely apoplectic and scream. That's just so therapeutic for me. I've saved a lot of money on psychiatry.

What is the community like within the cast of SpongeBob?

This is kind of an unusual thing. With cartoons, especially television cartoons, you don't get to spend this much time, as far as the years go. When you're doing a show, it's usually a four-hour span of time together once in a while. But we all get along exceedingly well, which is very refreshing because that's not always the case in Hollywood, that's for sure. And so we are definitely a family and Nickelodeon expressed that terminology to all of us too – that we are all part of the Nickelodeon family. It's the most benign, supportive group that you would want to be in, especially for a long period of time. So here again, I'm just grateful to be a part of this.

How do you feel celebrating 20 years of SpongeBob?

It's been a lot, and there will be more. We're celebrating all year with "The Best Year Ever." It's just all of a sudden, the concentration of all this press and interviews and filming. It’s nice getting out there and then telling everybody what it’s been like all this time.


From Den of Geek:

SpongeBob SqaurePants' Mr. Lawrence Reveals the Finer Points of Yelling "My Leeegg!!!"

Mr. Lawrence, the voice of Plankton and a writer/story editor on SpongeBob SquarePants, reflects on 20 years of the series.

Doug Lawrence, known professionally as Mr. Lawrence, is an integral part of SpongeBob SquarePants’ DNA. As a writer, story editor, and general co-conspirator to creator Stephen Hillenburg, as well as the voice of Plankton and several others of Bikini Bottom’s finest (MY LEEEEG!!!), Mr. Lawrence is hugely responsible for SpongeBob being the beloved animated institution that it is today.

With the show’s 20th Anniversary Special just around the bend, Den of Geek chatted with Lawrence about all things SpongeBob, from his favorite episodes, characters, and his thoughts on SpongeBob becoming one of the most meme’ed figures on the web. Follow along as we plunge deep with Mr. Lawrence on Nickelodeon’s most enduring, and endearing, hit.

Den of Geek: How does it feel to inhabit the same character for a 20-year period? I'm talking about Plankton, of course. We'll get to some of the others...

Mr. Lawrence: Plankton, sure, sure. It's a thing that we've been sort of... even at

Mr. Lawrence: Plankton, sure, sure. It's a thing that we've been sort of... even at the 10-year mark, it was like, "Wow, we're still making this." Even at the five-year mark, we were like, "Hey, people are still watching this show." All animated shows have a short shelf life mostly, so you get like two seasons, three seasons, you're happy, and you kind of move on to the next show. This has been on so long that I've left the show and come back. I've always been Plankton on the show, but as far as writing the show, I've gone away and done other things and the show is still sitting here going, "Hey, you want to come back?" It's been like a sort of place to come back to that still exists, which doesn't really happen ever. Usually, you don't get the opportunity to keep going back to a show that's still there. That rarely happens and I've come back several times, back and forth.

It's weird because you start to get complacent about it, because usually you're waiting for the ax to fall. You're waiting for the other shoe to drop and go, "Okay, you're done. You've been canceled now. You're finally done." But that hasn't happened yet. After a while you start to count on it. You start to worry that you're counting on it too much to be there. It's funny. It's nice that people still like it and, because we sort of feel like an ownership or a responsibility to make sure that the shows are still quality and that the shows are really funny and that they have a surprise in them or two each show, so it doesn't get stale. It's a hard thing to make a show keep having sparks flying out of it and I think we're still able to achieve that.

It's a testimony to the characters' longevity, just how good the character development has been on our show, and I think we're lucky that people still like it, and because it's kind of easy to take the characters and put them in new situations, even though you would think it would get insane after a while trying to come up with new things for the characters to do. We have our lives and new things happen to us all the time and new stories happen to us all the time, so why not have new stories happen to SpongeBob? I mean, that makes total sense. If you're around long enough, you're going to have more experiences, more stories to tell.

Now, when it comes to voicing the character... we'll talk about the writing and the story editing aspect, but when it comes to voicing the character of Plankton, has your approach to voicing the character changed at all, or was there anything that was not on the page about Plankton that you feel like you specifically brought to the role, whether it was the first time you voiced the character, or that you found as time has gone on?

Well, everything that Plankton said the first 5-6 years, I wrote. So, it's been a back and forth. I don't always write exactly what Plankton says, but I always have a say in it because I play him, so I get a chance to say, "Hey, that doesn't sound like how he'd say it. He might say it like this." But, you know, the character was something that I had to practice when we first did it. I had to practice to keep it consistent. You know, because it's a certain kind of a voice that I'm putting on. My voice doesn't sound like Plankton normally, so I have to actually make a pocket in the side of my mouth and bring it down low, as low as I can go.

So, that's what Plankton is, me scooping down as hard as I can into my larynx and getting it to be as low as I possibly can. So, when you do that, for me, it was something I had to go back and forth about. I've been doing him for so long though now that I can pick him up any time and do him. I don't have to practice anymore to remember. I have like a muscle memory in my voice box now. It knows exactly where to go to get Plankton and make him make sense and act through him. I can do him easily now. It's way easier than it used to be. It's much, much easier for me to get to where I need to get even as an actor playing that part just because I've gone through so many emotions with that character already. I already know who he is and I feel like he's more me. It's really weird, when you play a character long enough you sort of become that character, or I should say the character becomes you.The lines blur.

Yeah, the lines blur a little. When I see the character doing things lately, I hear Plankton yelling something that I wrote and had him yell in the show, and I'm thinking, "God, that's all about my car breaking down that day." It's all about stuff that happens to me that I remember why he's mad, it was inspired by something that I was actually mad at. It's always been cathartic, but now it's gone beyond that. I really count on that. I count on the catharsis of having an outlet for my emotions. Playing that character is that for me too. It's therapeutic. I think if the show ever ends, I'll still be doing Plankton at home just to the walls. I gotta get it out, you know?

You're also the voice of many of the supporting characters like Larry the Lobster and I was just wondering, beside Plankton, do you have a favorite character on the show that you've voiced?

Yeah, I like the announcer stuff and the other characters I play in the show, but currently we've been getting a lot of play out of this character called Rube, who is sort of like Huell Howser spin-off. I don't know if you know who Huell Howser is, but he was a local California guy who used to go around and interview people in California, go to beautiful places in California and show off things you didn't know about, that kind of thing. So, Rube became this guy who goes around and he's showing you all around Bikini Bottom. So, that character lately, I've really enjoyed doing it. People seem to respond to it even if they don't know the genesis of the character, they respond to how happy he is about everything. So, we've been using him more often. We used him in a couple of episodes the past season or two, so we're using him more often. So, as far as a new character goes, Rube is my favorite new character.

Other than that, it's really fun. None of them are like Plankton though. Plankton I sort of set aside in my head as a different thing. The other characters are sort of supporting player. I don't get to act as much with the other guys. With Rube a little bit in some of the new things we just did, but it's mostly Plankton. That's my thespian. That's where I do my Shakespeare. The rest of it is just sort of doing the comedy, but I always feel like I'm going for something deeper when I'm doing Plankton. I always feel like I'm trying to at least make it feel real so everyone relates to it and it doesn't just feel like a guy who is pretending to be angry. I want you to feel like he really is angry or really sad or happy or whatever he is. We all do that on the show. I think we're all trying to make the characters as believable as possible even though they are absolutely fake and absolutely could never exist. It's great to be able to put human emotions into them and make them feel real. That might be one of the reasons it's still around.

On that note, was it surreal getting the chance to essentially play a live-action version of Plankton in the 20th anniversary special? Did it feel a lot different than voicing him in the booth?

Yeah, that's the thing; everything that is sort of familiar and comforting about being in a booth, that's all gone when you're standing there on the set, and you're actually talking to the other people and trying to remember your lines. We didn't have a ton of lines, it's a short sequence, but it was enough. It was enough for us to screw up enough and go, "Ah man, why can't I remember this?" A lot of us don't do that much acting on camera, so this was a thing. About a year before we came up with the idea to do this show and I wrote that scene and all the live-action stuff that's in this episode, that was one of the most fun I've ever had writing in my whole life.

It was just sitting alone in the room and I was able to give myself an atmosphere where I could just have fun, which I always try to do anyway on the show, but this just was... I don't know what it was, but there was something cool about it. I had so much fun writing this thing. I was giggling all the way through because I knew how this was going to look. I know this is going to look so silly to people and be so funny. When we show people, because there are people seeing it here and there, you know other PAs and people connected to the show on the side, younger people, they see it and go, "Oh my God, that is the most amazing thing I've ever seen." Their minds are blown because we've been on for so long and now you're getting to see us do it live in front of you as if we're real people. I mean, it's so unique, it's so weird, it's so different. It's going to be hard to top.

We're really excited to see it.

I hope you love it. We really loved making it and I've been so excited for people to see it. I cannot wait to see what the reaction is to this thing. It will be one of those things that's famous from the show that we did. It's funny, because I thought The Simpsons had done this before. I thought The Simpsons must have done this already, and we looked into it and we're like, "No, they haven't done that one yet. They haven't tried it that way."

The classic animation saying, "The Simpsons have done it." You beat them to it.

Yeah, this time. I wanted to do it years ago when the show started, like first season. I think the idea came up that "Why don't we have the characters either tear their faces off and you see live-action heads underneath?" or you know, a way to get to that joke to show that off. It always got torn down because usually when you're starting off a show, especially in animation, there is no budget for you to make it live-action. You have to kind of fudge the numbers to make the situation right so you can do that. But the show has been on longer now and we can ask for things and say, "Hey, we have an idea to do this, this might be good for the show." So, it's a different situation than we used to have. The timing was right and we finally got it together. I am kind of glad we waited because if we had done it sooner, it wouldn't have had as much of an impact as I think it's going to, so I think it was good timing for us.

As a writer and story editor on the series, what are the hallmarks of a classic SpongeBob episode and do you feel you have a favorite episode that you've written that sort of encompasses what the show is to you?

Really, the show has so many different stripes to it. We have so many different character dynamics that we can take you down different roads. We've been creating new ones lately just to make the show more interesting for the audience and for us to write it because there's certain things you can only do so many times, you need to come up with a fresh take on everything. We're always trying to kind of team up characters that maybe haven't been together before. We found a few different combos that we hadn't tried too much before, like Plankton and Patrick together. They are really funny, we found out, because Plankton just cannot take how stupid Patrick is. It's fun to watch that happen. We're doing more with Bubble Bass. We've made him more of a star. We're making more characters out of some of the side characters on the show. We're doing more with them because we feel like, "That guy has got a little more depth. I think we could make more of this guy or that guy."

It's hard to say what the perfect episode is. Of the ones that I've participated in, or wrote or voiced in, there are a lot I liked as a voiceover actor. There was "Frankendoodle," which I really was pretty proud of. I'm in that in live-action too. It was the first time I was on the show in live-action in the boat with the magic pencil. I love that one, not just because I'm in it that way, but because that whole episode has such great surreal quality. It's just a great story with an impossible situation, a surreal situation, an evil character that's magical. You know, we usually don't do that, so it's a very unique show. That's the funny thing, when you're saying do I think there is a show that says it all, I think that's the great thing about the show, why it's lasted too. I think we're always trying to be funny and surprising, so we're always trying to reinvent the wheel with the show and by doing so, it changes all the time.

It's almost hard to say what is the formula except character. To me, character can be formula because you know how this guy acts, just like in real life, you know how your mom acts. You know certain things will set your mom off. You know certain things your mom doesn't like and other things your mom loves. That's the same thing. We know about these characters. We know them like our family. We know what they like and don't like. That's really the formula of the show is the characters. Going off of that, there are so many episodes and so many different things that I like, and I did like "Frankendoodle," but there is an episode we just did last season called "My Leg," which is about Fred.

I wrote that one and I'm very proud of that one, mostly because the format of that show goes against what the normal format is for the show. The normal linear story telling? We didn't do with that one. There is a story being told, but we're also trying to see how many times we can say "my leg." It was like, "How can we take a running joke on the show, and turn it into a real story?" It was a challenge to figure it out. And then the idea came up of course to, "Well, if we're going to make Fred seem real, then we're going to have to make him do something like be in love." You know, he's going to need to fall in love. So, that episode turned into Fred being in love and SpongeBob helps him reunite with his beloved. But it's all silly.

It's all crazy and the structure of that episode is very unlike other episodes. And we have ones like that every so often where there is something else going on, you know a piece of music that's carrying what's happening, or a certain character comes in and it's themed to that character. But that would have to be my all-time favorite right now, "My Leg." And I could go on, of course. There are so many episodes that I'm proud of.

When the show debuted, I remember exactly where I was when the first episode aired. I am 26 now. I love the show just as much as I did back then and I feel like for the generation directly above mine, I feel like Seinfeld is the comedy touchstone that everybody quotes and everybody knows what you're talking about when you reference it. For my generation, I feel like that is SpongeBob. Rarely does a day go by that my friends don't reference SpongeBob in some way and it pretty much always gets a laugh.

Oh, that's funny.

It has always appealed to both children and adults, and I was wondering if you thought of why that is? Or as a story editor, how to approach the balance of making the show that is for all intents and purposes for kids, but something that parents can sit down and watch right alongside their children and they're not dreading it. They enjoy it as well.

First, thanks for the kind words. It's always nice to hear that people quote it and are still into it, that makes me feel good.

Yeah, it's a part of the daily lexicon.

That's always amazing. I think the show itself... remember, the show started in the '90s when the climate was a little different as far as what was being done in animation. There were a lot more independent kind of shows that were all eclectic. There seemed to be more different kind of shows and less shows that were just being marketed towards kids specifically. It was sort of more like family. We always thought of being more of a comedy show, not a kid's show. We try not to talk down to kids ever. We are always trying to make it as smart as possible, but then also realizing, "Hey, that subject, or that theme, or that idea, or that joke goes into an adult theme." It may not even be something that's bad for kids to hear, it just might not be something kids grasp, so we don't do those things.

So, we try to stay away from certain adult themes just because kids won't get it. It will be too much over their head and they won't have fun. They'll just wonder what we're talking about. And we draw out stories sometimes that aren't kid friendly enough, as well as entertaining for everybody. We kind of see ourselves as more like Pixar, where we're really making family entertainment. We're not shooting for a kid demographic. I know it hits many demographics, our show, but that's the thing, we never looked at it that way. In fact, any of the shows I've worked on, like Ren and Stimpy and Rocko's Modern Life, all those shows were the same thing. We were just making comedy shows that kids could sit down and watch too.

It's less of a kid-centric thing and more about stories. You know, we always are going to do stories about our childhoods, because that's part of what SpongeBob is, how innocent he is and how childlike he is. So, we're kind of spoofing childhood. It's almost that's what the show is. It's kind of a spoof or a satire of childhood in a way, and I think that sort of pulls it into a satirical bend, which kind of allows us to do different kinds of humor. In other words, it is a conscious thing that we're trying to do, but it's not that hard because we have a tone that we have already set and we know what the tone is.

So with that comedy tone in mind, we're able to write off of that knowing, "Okay, this is the kind of thing we can get away with." And we push it sometimes. There are certain things we think, "Oh, this will be perfect for the show," and it isn't. We realize later, "No, that's not for us. That's for another show to do." We're very specific. We have our roles in certain spots, but I think the main thing I want to see more of in TV is less specific humor, less making fun of things that are topical, which you see a lot of too. They try to be so topical they forget about just telling a story.

Part of it too is that we really are a rapid fire kind of show that has a lot of jokes per square inch on it all the time. There are many jokes happening all the time and I think that a lot of shows don't have that tone. They're more telling like a sitcom type of a story. I think we are a sitcom, but we know we're a cartoon and we know that we need to push the boundaries of being a cartoon, otherwise, for us, why are we doing it. Why is this in animation if we're not going to push it? That's all of us. The group that makes the show grew up on old theatrical shorts from Warner Brothers and MGM and we like gags. We like to see gag cartoons and we need more of that because I think it gets lost sometimes. People forget how much they love that. And then all these other sitcom things, they all look the same. We need more fun. Gags are fun.

That's why I always think of it as being funny and fun. It goes hand in hand with doing gags and slapstick and things that you know you can stretch. That's why we stretch SpongeBob all over the place as much as we can. We blow him up. We do whatever we can to the characters to distort them and push them because it's funny and that's really our goal is to be funny. I think a lot of shows are out to tell their story about their characters, and that's fine too, but really for us, the bottom line for us is always "Is this funny?" Because if it isn't, we'll throw it back. If it's not funny enough, it bothers us. We sit there going, "It has to be funnier. There has to be a way to do this."

So, I mean, I think that's what it is about. We do precision comedy. We're trying to do well-timed comedy like we grew up with, like we've seen from other guys over the years that we loved in the industry. You know, just other guys who are really good at character comedy and making you really laugh at the situation between two characters who you know are perfectly matched to milk the best joke they can out of this situation.

Well, I want to shift gears to something a bit more serious. I'm sure everyone who works on the show and is involved in the production are probably still emotional about the death of Steven Hillenburg. I was just wondering if you could talk to me a little bit about what it was like to work with Steven, and besides brainstorming the entire enterprise, about what he specifically brought to the production of the show.

Well, we were friends on Rocko's Modern Life. We were both directors side by side on that show and even directed a few shows together. We did a few half hour specials together. So, Steve and I just always had a similar style of humor. We laughed at the same things. We liked the same kind of stuff and so, when you hang out with somebody, when you're on a show with someone, you just kind of have a kinship, and you know, "If I get something going, I'm calling this guy." And he says the same thing, "If I get something going, I'll call you, you call me," you know that kind of thing. So, it was that kind of connection we always had. If one was doing something, they called the other one.

So, this came up while he took over Rocko for one season, and he was able to swing a deal where he could get a pilot made. We were all trying to get pilots going around the same time. Not just me and him, but others from Rocko, and this is the one that happened. This is the only one out of all of us that actually got made because it was really still very hard, especially with us being younger then, to trust us and say, "Yeah, we want you to do this show." So, it finally happened and there we were again being close as we were in the comedy sense that we were on Rocko, now here we were trying to come up with this new thing. There was a [show] bible in place and all, but we still had to come up with how the character dynamics were going to work and who is going to play these characters and make them work. So far we only had Patrick and SpongeBob cast, and Squidward. But we weren't sure about all the characters yet. We hadn't explored them yet. Sandy wasn't there yet. Plankton wasn't there yet.

Right at the beginning it was mostly me, Steve and [writer, creative director] Derek Drymon and we would be in a conference room together just throwing out ideas for the next shows. In fact, one of the last times I got to work with Steve, where we were actually writing together, was on the second SpongeBob movie. I came in there to do punch up with him. The two of us and a couple of other storyboard guys were in the room and we were just coming up with ideas and pinning them up and having a ball laughing and stuff. That's what I remember the most about the show with our small group, was just enjoying laughing about what we were going to do with these characters, their dynamics with each other and how they were going to antagonize each other, and how we were going to bring all these ideas we had. It was exciting.

Steve's thing definitely was about character-driven stuff. Rocko was a good training ground for us. That's where we first started to deal with characters that will stick, characters that were solid, and I think that was part of what we wanted. We wanted to make sure that we got another show where the characters really resonate, that they stick. You can only guess half the time what to do, but we took a lot of chances with stuff because that's what you do when you're starting off with a show. A good thing about Steve and I was that he always looked over at me, because he knew that if I hated something, then I would just look at him like, "No, we're not doing that." I'd give him a look and he would know. We would talk about stuff like that all the time and it would be this back and forth about what's right. What should we do and what shouldn't we do for the show because we're making it up for the first time.

He knew what he didn't want a lot and that was really helpful, and so did I at times. We both kind of back and forth knew "that's not good, this is not good", but he knew as he was going through it where to navigate to try to get the best out of the situation and the animation, and the music, and everything else. He cared about each department of each thing, as you should when you're creating a show. And of course we all did that, but not everybody had the same dedication to the comedy of it. Some people, you get a show, you get it on and you're happy it's on and you're not worried about necessarily how good the humor is, you're just trying to get a show on.

Read more: SpongeBob Spinoffs - Which characters can carry their own show?

This was more like, "Okay, we have to be funny. We really have to be funny. Let's try to be as funny as we can within the boundaries of a kid's show, how far we could take it." And again, we were still young then too, so it was new territory for all of us, but at the same time, something we were sort of ready to do at that time. It was the perfect time for us. We had just finished another show and now here's this one and let's make this great. So, we all kind of laser focused hard, all together, to make that. But like I said, Steve was good at knowing who was good. He always surrounded himself with guys that he knew could help him put the house together. He was good at all that and good at picking the voices too, and good at being just the arbitrator of his vision.

We all have those shows where it's something about our childhood or something that comes from us personally, and this show came from a personal place. Even though it's silly and crazy, that's Steve bringing it from a personal place and saying that the optimistic little guy, the little guy who people kind of want to step on and put down, he's too optimistic to let that be a problem for him. There's something about that kind of character, the optimism and the hope of a character, and it makes you go, "Gee, I wish I was more like that when I was a kid when I was getting picked on." You know what I mean? I wish I was more like SpongeBob. There's something in that. And I think that's what we were trying to do, and Steve was definitely trying to do, was re-tell our childhoods in a way that's funnier and not as tragic.

So, I think that becomes part of what this all was, you know this all has become. It's sort of a re-imagining of our growing up and saying, "Boy, what if I had all that?" And some kids are like that. I was like SpongeBob when I was really little, but later you get more cynical. That's being a teenager.

You become a Squidward.

Yeah. So, it's fun, it's like a safe place to say here's what it could have been like. Here's what I could be like. Everybody wants to be like him, like SpongeBob. Be naïve, not stupid, but naïve enough where you can enjoy things a little bit more than everybody else and see the joy in everything and pay attention to the joy in everything. That's the way we'd all like to be. That's the thing that Steve brought that we now reap the benefits of, for that character and the characters surrounding that character, because without SpongeBob being relatable or believable, the other characters wouldn't work at all.

So, having our main character be somebody who everybody relates to, it makes it much easier to have the other characters emotionally also have resonance and have weight. It's a good group and like I said, as far as the cast goes, that's why Steve was the thing that helped us figure out what this was all going to be, because he didn't know either. In certain cases you don't know, you're just hoping you'll find out as you go along. It was fun to be part of that process with Steve. We miss him, of course. He was sick for a while, so he's kind of been gone for a bit as far as we're concerned on the show, but you know I think of him all the time because we're on the show and I always think, "Oh yeah, remember that time Steve was telling me this, or we went to that show and this happened..." There are so many touchstones in my head with Steve that goes back to Rocko. There are great memories connected to it. And then we keep making it, so it's even weirder, you just keep rekindling these memories constantly.

SpongeBob has taken on almost a new life online as a source of countless popular memes, and I was wondering if it's interesting to see the way that fans use SpongeBob and moments from SpongeBob as a means of reacting to things online pretty much every day in every situation?

Yeah, it's funny. It's a weird thing in general because they've been doing it with everything.

SpongeBob in particular.

You think you're not going to see it anymore and then there it is in a meme.

SpongeBob pops up quite a bit. Different little shots from different episodes all over the place.

They just came out with a series of vinyl dolls based on popular memes. There's a whole group of them. I'm looking at one right now. There's a whole bunch of these little box characters that look just like the meme and say the meme on it. It's a phenomenon that wouldn't be something I would have guessed they'd be coming up with. It's another thing. It's like a bumper sticker. It's like the stuff we grew up on when we were kids. There is always a sort of bootleg shirts of like Calvin and Hobbes and that kind of stuff. There's those bootleg copies. That's what memes are to me. They're like these bootleg tattoos you could get. It's not a tattoo, but its a visual version of something like that. Just something to throw out there.

It's funny when I see them because it's like a new version of the show. It's another thing that exists unto itself. It has nothing to do with the show except that it's derived from it, you know what I mean? We just keep seeing them too. There have to be billions by now. There are so many. People keep asking us, "What's your favorite meme?" I said, "I don't know, I've seen hundreds of them. I don't really have a favorite." There are so many, its hard to decide.

The only ones I remember now are the ones that they made the dolls out of because I'm like, "Oh yeah, that one." There are so many. It's nice that it resonates that way too. I like that there is another way that the show is permeating the culture and being part of the conversation, which I always think is good to keep the show relevant. I think it's a good way to keep the characters alive too.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.


From Den of Geek:

No, This is Patrick: Bill Fagerbakke Celebrates 20 Years of Patrick Star

Voice of Patrick Star, Bill Fagerbakke, talks about 20 years of SpongeBob SquarePants and playing a live-action version of the character.

There can’t be a Laurel without a Hardy, an Abbott without a Costello, or for the kids out there, a Will Ferrell without a John C. Riley. And certainly, there can’t be a SpongeBob without a Patrick.

For 20 years, Bill Fagerbakke has been voicing Patrick Star, the dim other half and best friend to SpongeBob SquarePants. Den of Geek had the chance to speak with Fagerbakke about making up one half of everyone’s favorite cartoon duo, how theater school doesn’t train you for a 20 year role, and about the upcoming third feature-length SpongeBob film, The SpongeBob Movie: It’s a Wonderful Sponge.

Den of Geek: Well, I'll jump right in here. 20 years, that has to be pretty surreal. I was wondering how does it feel to inhabit the same character for 20 years?

Bill Fagerbakke: Well, you know, it's not like when I was in acting school studying theater that had a chapter on how to handle the 20th year of a character. No, it's really obviously extraordinary and I really love my character and so that really makes it all wonderful.

I suppose if someone didn't enjoy doing this kind of stuff or didn't like the material or didn't like kids or something, it might be a real tough ride, but none of those things apply to me. I also love the people I work with. I had a taste of a long running job when I was on a sitcom that ran for nine years, so I was already built kind of in a way to be able to appreciate the longevity of the relationships and that it's a transient occupation, so being able to have sustained relationships is really extraordinary and there's really nothing bad about it.

Now, I've just got off the phone with Tom Kenny and he made the comparison that it's like playing in a band for a long time, like even though the solo that your bandmate plays might be different in some way, you kind of know what to expect and how to gel, and I was just wondering, obviously there's familiarity, but has your approach to voicing the character changed at all over the past 20 years?

Yeah, I suppose it has. And first of all, Tom, good observation and well stated. He's an extraordinary guy to work with. He's just one in a million and every session we have, I thank my lucky stars that he was cast as SpongeBob because absolutely, you know, there's no one else that could have done and is still doing like what Tom is. I mean, we are all so fortunate.

But in terms of changing character, you know, I'm more actively looking to just anticipate what I can do to it beyond what they've already wrote. It's not like camera work. There's already very specific ideas of what a given beat is supposed to be in animation, because there's a storyboard along with the script so you have a very specific concept and so I always want to honor that while at the same time also finding a way to play within that and bring a little something extra, you know, as a performer. So I suppose that certainly is something that's a built in part of the experience for me.

Was there anything that wasn't initially on the page about Patrick that you specifically feel like you brought to the character, I mean besides your fabulous voice?

That I really can't speak to. I don't know. I like to think I hope I contributed to his sense of warmth and play and also to that sense of bizarre potential that exists with Patrick but I can't really know for sure. In animation, you're so compartmentalized, there's so much work done before you get into the studio to record and then you walk out of the studio and there's all this other work done, and then maybe you get another look at it, but probably you don't, so it's hard to know that stuff.

For the 20th anniversary special, you essentially got to play a live action version of Patrick Star and I was wondering if presenting Patrick as a live action character felt a lot different than having to voice him in the booth?

Despite my career reality, which is to a large degree playing morons, despite that, it was still really strange because your focus, when you're recording, is so specific as to those moments but also your imagination. You know, it can go anywhere with what you imagine. You look at the storyboard and then you also let your imagination spring off of that to inform your vocal performance, and here I was bound by me and my body and it was really strange. It was a very unusual thing and I kept looking around the set going, "Why do I feel like I've never acted before?"

So that was an interesting challenge. Yeah, again, it's something that was never covered in my theater training.

I bet. You know, I wanted to switch to a little bit more of a somber note. Fans of the series, and I'm sure the cast and the people behind the scenes, are still emotional about the passing of Stephen Hillenburg and I was just wondering if you could talk to me a little bit about what it was like to work with Stephen and besides this whole thing being his brain child, what specifically he brought to the production of the series and the spirit of the show.

Well, all that unique heart and sweetness that characterized the show and the development of the show, that was all Steve. He was such a lovely human being, and you know what? You're so kind of fractured and compartmentalized in the process, it took me a while to get to know him beyond just a casual working relationship and everything about him was unique. Those first three years, he was our session director and he would sit in the room with us very often and he'd set up a table and he'd wear earphones and he would doodle and it would be kind of like he was a part of us performing the show, and he'd give us notes as we went along.

He was such a unique guy. I always got the sense that one of his skills, such a special skill, was to be clever and innocent at the same time and that's just such an amazing ability. That was him. He was a beautiful person and I miss him and I'll never forget going to the opening of the SpongeBob musical on Broadway. I just sat a couple of seats from him and seeing how happy he was and how excited he was, and I was. You know, out of anyone who ever saw that musical, no one cried as much as I did. But yeah, just having that sense, having that sense of what that meant to him.

Well, that sounds really special and I'm sorry about the passing of your friend. You know, you touched on it for a minute there, about the ability to be clever and innocent at the same time. I think the series has always appealed to both children and adults. I was six-years-old when the series started, I remember exactly where I was.


I still revisit so many of the episodes or my friends and I still make references to jokes on such a daily basis. It clearly has an appeal for both children and adults, and I was wondering why do you think there is that sort of connection, that the whole family can kind of get behind this silly show about underwater creatures?

I don't know. I really truly don't. It's hard to qualify that with something concrete. For me, personally, I think it's all built on Stephen Hillenburg's character and also I think the way it was developed was really important. The way Nickelodeon let it just happen and let it develop in an organic way was really critical, really crucial, because that's not an easy thing to do. To produce a show as a network and then just let a young animator kind of develop it on his own. You know, he really got to make this thing his and so kudos to Nickelodeon for that.

What a ride it is. I love every day. I love every session and your generation, you know, it feels like 80% of a person under 30, I can just say, "No, this is Patrick." And you start laughing or smiling...

Yeah, well, it does work because I just started laughing and smiling.

It's really an amazing scenario and I love it and I love Patrick. He makes me laugh and I feel that Patrick is linked in a real personal way to me as a seven year old, you know?


And there's something really deep and profound about it for me.

The show is broadcasted now in over 50 different languages and the show, the merchandise is everything from beach towels to band-aids to ice cream that you can get from the ice cream truck. I mean, SpongeBob is everywhere.


Is that bizarre?


Like if you travel outside of the country or you see Patrick onscreen speaking in a different language? That has to be quite a surreal feeling.

For sure. Yeah. Well, it's today's global commerce, right? And entertainment is an integral part of that but, yeah, that's pretty amazing and all the more reason to be grateful that my face has nothing to do with the product. But no, that's really cool, yeah.

You know, there are so many shows that I love that if you tried to translate it into a different language, it probably just wouldn't work, there'd be something off about it or there'd be something that would be lost in translation. What is it about these characters that make them so universal?

There's something elemental, isn't there? It's almost like a commedia dell'arte or something but I tell you, man, there's some weird alchemy at play here. I don't know what it is ... I don't know, with the colors and the shapes of the characters. I just don't know how else to explain it. I really don't.

But that the character of SpongeBob, I think, has some kind of profound fundamental human appeal. And Tom Kenny is just the right person to embody that and bring him to life. And then we all just kind of respond, we all just kind of relate to that character and bring what we can. Goodness, Roger Bumpass [voice of Squidward] is so hilarious, Clancy Brown [voice of Mr. Krabbs], so funny, Mary Jo Catlett [vocie of Mrs. Puff] and Carolyn Lawrence [voice of Sandy Cheeks], they're so wonderful at what they do, they bring so much humor and Lori Alan [voice of Pearl] and everyone, Doug Lawrence [various voices], wow, I mean, look at that vibrant character in Plankton and what that means to the show.

There's a balance there. It all works so well, but you remove SpongeBob from that, then I don't know. I don't know.

I find it interesting that you guys still record as an ensemble. You know, there are a lot of animated programs where you hear about people doing their vocal takes in isolation or even, you know the phrase "phoning it in," but doing it over the phone sometimes. What do you think that that has added? Do you think the fact that you guys are still so plugged in and together in the room, do you think that that's a part of the longevity of the show and why it's lasted so long?

All I know is personally how I feel about it and that recording by myself offers so much less satisfaction. When we're all in the booth and we're working together, it really lifts everything up and we're so in tune with each other. You know, it's so funny, when we're together I can't stop myself from doing Krabs and Squidward. I just go ... I've got them both. I love those characters so much, I can't stop doing them. It's like I have this weird envy of I want to do those characters too, you know? But I know that I couldn't do them like those guys do them.

Maybe if you guys get to 30 years, the next special will be you guys getting the chance to swap roles a little bit.

Yeah, well, how many of us will be in the home? (Laughs) Shady Shoals.

You know, SpongeBob, it's lasted a long time. There's no cartoon that I came up with as a kid that's still producing new episodes where the show hasn't been rebooted or re-imagined or anything like that.


The only comparisons you can look towards are the Looney Tunes or Mickey Mouse. Is it strange to think that 20 years in, these characters could be the Looney Tunes for a new generation of fans?

That phenomenon is not lost on me because, you know, that was the joy of my youth, the Looney Tunes. I enjoyed some other cartoons also, but not like Looney Tunes. So, yeah, I mean, to be able to be considered such a key part of the fabric of animation is really thrilling and it means a lot to me.

I'm sure there are some things that you can't, but anything that you could tell me about the upcoming third SpongeBob feature length film?

Well, I can tell you this certainly, that much of what we've talked about in the last 30 minutes or so is, in terms of recognizing the breadth of the show and the characters, I think that dynamic is a part of the story, if that makes any sense.

It does.

That's not a sexy quote that's going to get you very much but that's really about all I can say, I think.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.


From Den of Geek:

Squidward Actor Rodger Bumpass Discusses Being Spongebob's Voice of Despair

Voice of Squidward, Rodger Bumpass, reflects on 20 years of SpongeBob SquarePants and playing a live-action version of his character.

We all probably wish our personalities were more like SpongeBob SquarePants — friendly, selfless, and eternally optimistic — but there's a good chance that you more readily identify with his easily annoyed, pessimistic neighbor Squidward Tentacles. Squidward has been called the voice of "millenial despair" and the man responsible with imbuing the character with such a relatable malaise, Rodger Bumpass, is happy to voice the animated poster child for existential desperation.

Den of Geek had the chance to chat with Bumpass about voicing Squidward for the past 20 years, the series live-action anniversary speical, and why the successful SpongeBob Broadway show made him jealous.

Den of Geek: I'll start with the obvious: 20 years is a long time to be working in the same role. It's pretty peculiar. Definitely doesn't happen for a lot of actors, so I was wondering, how does it feel to inhabit the same character for 20 years?

Rodger Bumpass: It becomes a second skin. I used to say that he was my alter ego. As the years have gone on, I have become more Squidward, so I shoo people off my front lawn a lot more than I used to. It really is a very interesting thing and quite unique. With the possible exception of The Simpsons, we're pretty much up there, as far as longevity for animation, and it's a very honored position to occupy.

It's interesting that you said you feel yourself becoming more like Squidward. I find myself feeling the same. The show debuted when I was six. I watched the first episode, and 20 years later, whereas in the past I more so identified with SpongeBob, when I watch the show now I find myself more so identifying with Squidward. Do you have a lot of fans coming up to you and relaying similar sentiments?

I was just going to say this is perhaps the most common story that I am regaled with at Comic-Cons and wherever. When we premiered, most of our audience, our young adult audience, was somewhere between three and six. Very formative years, and they all identified with SpongeBob to begin with, the youthfulness, the innocence, the enthusiasm and all that. But then, as they got to be adults and saw what the real world was like and all its frustrations and anxieties, and they all tell me, well, they became Squidward. And I understand that fully. It's great to be a part of a human being's translation into pessimism.

Yes. Anything this long, there's an evolution. When we first started, Squidward was very monotone, almost like Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple, but he was [monotone Squidward voice] "blah-blah-blah-blah-blah." That was the signature. That was the thing I focused on when we first started. And then, as the show went along, the other writers found different things to do, and so I was able to spread my wings and actually become more and more me, more expressive in many different ways. And that's what I mean by me becoming Squidward, or actually, Squidward becoming me, because I wasn't doing this monotone thing. I was doing my acting and my characterization of him, so yeah.

And then they learned that I scream, and once they learned that I scream, they made me scream in every episode. In fact, when we do the post-production, I always say, "I did my words absolutely perfect." What they have to add in the post-production is all the screams and utterances and grunts and groans and all that stuff. But they enabled me to develop into this character that goes from sarcastic observation comments, "How did I ever get stuck with such loser neighbors?" to total apoplexy. And I get to scream. It's very therapeutic. I have saved a lot of money on psychiatry fees [laughs].

Now, like you said, the character's becoming more and more you. Are there any specific character traits, besides the yelling, that weren't on the page about Squidward that you feel like you brought to the characters or that the writers started writing specifically around aspects of your personality or your interests?

Yeah, there's just certain ... It's kind of a vague subjective answer, but there was just nuances and flows that I seemed to choose as my signature. It's just inflection things that I tend to do, and I was able to keep doing, so they became part of Squidward's persona also. It's just certain lilts. It's hard to remember exactly what I'm talking about, but I do know that going from monologue to more fleshed-out character is what he has become. But thankfully, he's become a more complex character, and yet simplistic at the same time, with all the screaming. And he explodes a lot. You ever notice that? He explodes a lot?

I have, actually.

There's was actually a YouTube collection compilation of the times that Squidward has exploded, and I didn't know that there was that many.

Was it surreal getting the chance to essentially play a live-action version of Squidward in the 20th anniversary special? I hope that you didn't have to be blown up.

No, yeah, I didn't [laughs]. You are right on the nose. The word is "surreal." In fact, we all turned to ourselves during the shoot and said, "Golly, this is surreal," because we have heard all of our fellow cast members do the parts for 20 years, but when we're on the set, on camera, in essentially costume, trying to look like our characters ... And I worked darn hard to look like Squidward. I mean, the mannerisms ... When you see this, I hope you'll appreciate the work that I'm putting in there, as far as the droopy eyes, the boredom, the sarcasm, the certain mannerisms that Squidward is. And to actually see ... see, I think that should be a spinoff, to tell you the truth. The spinoff should be a live-action version of SpongeBob, absolutely. We would have so much fun.

You kind of read my mind, because I had heard that spinoffs had been teased in a press release from Nickelodeon, and I was going to ask you if you had-

Yeah, they're going to do some.

Yeah, did you have any Squidward-centric ideas for a spinoff?

Well, like I said, I think the live-action would be absolutely novel and be absolutely just so silly, and you'd be hearing the voices, seeing live-action people. I think there's a hook there.

I think so, too. You have my interest.

But then, I'm selfish. I mean, if you want to do something really weird, a weird direction for the show, live-action's the way to go.

SpongeBob has always appealed to both children and adults. I love it just as much now that I am an adult as I did was when I was a child. And part of the fun of watching the show or rewatching my favorite episodes is, not only seeing all the jokes that hold up just as well as I thought they did when I was a kid, but finding new layers and things that I may have missed that were subtly ... I would never say overtly adult-themed, but just little things that are definitely hidden in there for a more mature audience. But why do you think it is that the show has this appeal to people of such a wide variety of age groups?

The comparison I always give is the old Looney Tunes. Looney Tunes, animation itself will attract young people because it's animated, it's a cartoon. But then Looney Tunes, like us, because we're both cartoon shorts, we're not half-hour shows, will appeal to different people. It's kind of like a parable, where it appeals to different people and different age groups for different reasons. The little kid will get something because it's colorful and moving around. A teenager will get something, "Oh, that's a little ... we said the word 'butt.'" And then an adult will get the topical references and even historical references. So there's something for everyone, and that makes this show non-age-specific.

It's not like a ... not to denigrate, but it's not like, say, watching Rugrats, which was a fine show, but it kind of appealed to the parents and the little kids, or The Smurfs, that had a relatively narrow appeal. Even though those were both good shows, they had a relatively narrow appeal. Our show has this broader appeal because funny is funny, and if you can have comedy as your central tenet, your central emphasis, then people, as you grow older, will get different things from it. You revisit and say, "Oh, I didn't get that before," just like I've done with Looney Tunes throughout the course of my life.

That's interesting that you bring up Looney Tunes, because is it strange, thinking that SpongeBob could have the same longevity that Looney Tunes has had, that 30 years from now, the show could still be on the air?

Yeah, well, Looney Tunes has been going on since pretty much the '40s, so that's 70 years, and it's still going strong. And yeah, I'm hoping that SpongeBob will last just a little bit longer than the pyramids.

I want to shift to something a bit more somber. Fans of SpongeBob, and I'm sure those involved with the creation of the show, are still emotional about the death of Stephen Hillenburg, and I was just wondering if you'd be willing to talk to me a little bit about what it was like to work with Stephen, besides brainstorming this entire enterprise, just what he brought to the production of the show.

Well I have, as we all have, worked with many, many directors and creators of various shows and stuff, and I have never seen a more mild-mannered, unassuming creator/director of a show. Working with him was so easy. He was easily pleased and yet he never compromised his original concepts for the characters. Very soft-spoken, and I have dealt with such demanding directors; hard taskmasters that make your work a living hell. To be around a person who was genuinely humble and yet wonderfully creative, it was a joy. Very few people get to see their legacy while they are still alive, and thankfully, Stephen got to see how much respect and admiration and love this world had for him, and I hope wherever he is right now, he can see that he is appreciated. He was a joy to know and to work with, and one of the true lovable people that I have ever come across.

Well, once again, I'm sorry about the passing of your friend, and I just have so much respect for the show and all those involved. And from what I've heard about him, he seems like such a lovely person.

He definitely was. Even that is an understatement. He really was.

I know that there is a third SpongeBob feature-length film, The SpongeBob Movie: It’s a Wonderful Sponge, on the way-


...and I'm sure that Nickelodeon doesn't want you to tell us too much about it, but I was wondering if there was any small details that you could share with us about what we can expect from the third SpongeBob full-length film.

Well, not knowing what I shouldn't say, I don't know what I should say, so I have to be cautious about that. I've already opened my mouth before. As far as I can tell, the way it looks right now ... because we don't see a lot of it, we come in and do our voice parts, and we may see a little bit of an unfinished segment to give us an idea of how that scene is supposed to go. But it seems to be, in at least some respects, a tribute to Stephen. That's my surmising about that, as far as I can see about the script and what's in there. But my lips are sealed, as far as giving away things. I'm just not going to do that. Sorry.


And I really can't, anyway.

How about the Broadway show? I was going to ask if you had-

I was so jealous.

You were jealous? Why is that?

I was so jealous because theater is where I started, and I wanted to be onstage. And I really enjoyed the performance of Squidward and the whole thing. And they had a really interesting costume dilemma because, in the cartoon, we're taking an octopus and anthropomorphizing him, and so that's why they have four tentacles forming two legs. Well, as a human who already has two legs, you have to make him look like a squid. So they had this wonderful appendage, extra tentacle appendages on him to make a human look like a squid, which was very difficult to do, and they did it beautifully. It was a wonderful sight gag. So to see the different incarnations... I'm a selfish person. I don't share my character very easily, but watching the execution of these various incarnations, it is a lot of fun.

When I was talking to Tom [Kenny, voice of SpongeBob] he was describing you guys recording as an ensemble. He was saying that part of the fun is not only knowing your character so well, but knowing the other characters so well. He likened it to a band, that you might not know exactly the solo that someone's going to play, but you know what's in their wheelhouse, and you sort of know what to expect. I was just wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what it's like to record as an ensemble, as I'm sure not all animated programs have the opportunity to do that. And what do you think that that brings to the overall quality of SpongeBob as a series?

It's an apropos comparison, as a band or orchestra, especially a jazz band. Knowing ... you have a skeleton of the melody and a progression, and everyone riffs off of that, and you know what the other person ... you know your colleague, you know kind of what they're doing and what they're going for, and then you play off of that. One of the good examples is that whenever Tom and I have a little scene together, we have very good chemistry and back-and-forth just because of the differences in the characters. And if you're old enough to remember the old Jackie Gleason show, The Honeymooners-


Jackie as Ralph Kramden and Art Carney as Ed Norton, and Norton was a SpongeBob kind of character. He was goofy, and he would go off on these abstracts, and then eventually, he would get to a point where Jackie couldn't handle it anymore, and Jackie would go, "All right!" And Squidward does that several times in several episodes with SpongeBob, and we always make reference to The Honeymooners on that. So that's a dynamic that's wonderful to both experience and to hear played back, because we know that we are jazz musicians that work together well.

Well, thank you so much for talking to me today, Rodger. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day. I'm really excited for the chance to see not only the upcoming film, but to get to watch you bring Squidward to life in live-action. I'm very excited to see it.

And please remember when you see it, I am working my butt off trying to be Squidward!

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.


From Celeb Secrets:

WATCH: The Cast of “SpongeBob SquarePants” Reflect on 20 Years

Celeb Secrets got the scoop about SpongeBob’s “Big Birthday Blowout” straight from the voices of SpongeBob, Patrick, Squidward, Sandy, Plankton and Mr. Krabs.

Can you believe it’s been 20 years since the first episode of SpongeBob SquarePants aired on Nickelodeon?

To celebrate this milestone, the network threw SpongeBob an epic “birthday blowout” last month at the Nickelodeon Animation Studio in Los Angeles where we got to see the special episode and speak with the cast about being apart of such a staple in animated television.

The episode, which premiered on Friday (July 12), featured the celebrated voice talent behind SpongeBob, Patrick, Mr. Krabs, Sandy, Squidward and Plankton playing live-action doppelgänger versions of the animated characters they voice. In the one-hour special, Patrick and SpongeBob journeyed to the surface world, where they came across a few familiar characters during lunchtime rush at The Trusty Slab restaurant. Meanwhile, the Bikini Bottom residents set up a surprise party for SpongeBob. It seems as if fans liked the finished product, as “SpongeBob’s Birthday Blowout” racked in over 2.2 million viewers across Nickelodeon, TeenNick and Nicktoons!

“I think SpongeBob has managed to become a comfortable companion — like a comfortable friend — to people. For years, their affection for the characters and the show and the type of humor doesn’t go away. They still like it and hang on to it,” Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob, tells Celeb Secrets when asked about his character’s longevity.

Up next, Nickelodeon will bring SpongeBob SquarePants’ Bikini Bottom to life at Comic-Con International: San Diego on July 18-21, 2019. The network also announced a pick up for a 13th season of the hit animated series (13 episodes) this week, which will begin production soon.

Watch our full interview with the cast of SpongeBob SquarePants below and let us know what you thought about the Birthday Special by either leaving a reaction at the bottom of the post or by sending us a tweet at @celebsecrets.


From The Pop Insider:


Every four seconds, someone in the world is talking about SpongeBob SquarePants on social media. Let that sink in.

The iconic, eternally optimistic sponge has also inspired multiple fashion designs for international runways, starred in a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, was the first square-shaped balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, and even has a species of tulips named after him in Holland — and that is just the beginning of SpongeBob’s legacy.

SpongeBob SquarePants is celebrating his 20th anniversary this year. He may live in a pineapple under the sea, but the Bikini Bottom resident is a worldwide pop culture icon. Fans in more than 208 countries watch SpongeBob SquarePants. The show is translated into more than 55 languages and is the most widely distributed property in Viacom Media Networks’ — Nickelodeon’s parent company — history. The series received countless awards throughout its history, such as multiple Emmy Awards, Annie Awards, Kids’ Choice Awards, and the British Academy of Film of Television Arts Awards, just to name a few.

The SpongeBob SquarePants animated series debuted on July 17, 1999, and chronicles SpongeBob’s nautical adventures alongside his undersea friends. He lives in a two-story pineapple with his pet Gary and spends his days working at the local restaurant, The Krusty Krab, or jellyfishing with his best friend, Patrick. More often than not, SpongeBob approaches life in an unconventional way.

“I think it’s that inherent optimism and eternal positivity,” says Charlotte Castillo, senior vice president of global franchise planning at Viacom. “No matter what, everybody smiles when they hear how he embraces the world and his approach to the world, and I think at different moments in his 20-year history, people have needed that, and now we need it more than ever globally, and that eternal positivity continues to shine bright and that never gets old.”

Nickelodeon kicked off the anniversary with the “Best Year Ever,” a tribute that included an original one-hour special, “SpongeBob’s Birthday Blowout,” which premiered on July 12. The episode was a mix of live-action and animation, featuring the voice cast playing human versions of their characters. It was the first time the voice talent behind SpongeBob, Patrick, Mr. Krabs, Sandy, Squidward, and Plankton played live-action doppelganger versions of the animated characters they voice.

“We’ve done [live-action] before in theatrical. Paramount did it in the first two movies. The first movie with David Hasselhoff — who could forget that great moment — and then the last movie when SpongeBob and his friends came up on the beach at Santa Monica and were like superheroes. So, we had experience with that before on a theatrical level, and it’s worked really well and fans are clamoring for more, and we thought on his 20th, this special one-hour episode would be a great moment to do that again,” Castillo says.

In the episode, it’s SpongeBob’s birthday, and Patrick and SpongeBob journey to the surface world, where they come across familiar characters during the lunchtime rush at the Trusty Slab restaurant. Meanwhile, the other Bikini Bottom residents set up a surprise party for SpongeBob.

The one-hour special was the beginning of a new season airing throughout the celebratory year. Fans can look forward to this season’s other episodes because they’ll feature a lot of moments that they’ve been waiting for, according to Castillo.

More than 200 SpongeBob SquarePants episodes have aired to date, with more on the way this year. Don’t let that number fool you: Despite the extensive catalog, the writers for the series keep coming up with fresh, new content. This summer’s new episodes will put the characters in situations they’ve never been in before, including SpongeBob closing the gap in his teeth, resulting in a personality change; SpongeBob finally becoming boss for the day at the Krusty Krab; and Plankton and Karen having a baby together (somehow).

“They have a great lot of fun within the writer’s room. They think that they’re going to dry up but they keep coming back. There are so many great stories, and fans sometimes send ideas. Sometimes questions fans ask on Twitter when they’re engaging spark other ideas, so they feel like there’s so much more to the world of SpongeBob,” Castillo says.

Nickelodeon is also developing spin-off projects for SpongeBob characters for the first time. While the projects are under more secrecy than the Krabby Patty Secret Formula, plans are in place to expand the SpongeBob universe into formats such as new series, specials, and feature-length movies, all with a focus on the core characters.

The anniversary will culminate with the May 22, 2020, release of the new theatrical movie It’s a Wonderful Sponge, from Paramount Pictures, Paramount Players, and Nickelodeon Movies.

Nickelodeon recently debuted an official global SpongeBob SquarePants YouTube channel, featuring the most iconic SpongeBob moments, music from the show, and more. SpongeBob is the first Nickelodeon property to be worthy enough of its own vertical channel; before, all of his content would sit on the multi-property Nickelodeon channel.

New, short-form content will also debut on the channel, such as “Bikini Bottom Mysteries,” which explores the secrets, scandals, and unsolved mysteries of the animated series. There will also be themed content added weekly, including Tuesday Tunes, Throwback Thursdays, and SpongeBob Saturdays.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a fry cook at the hottest restaurant in town? A new mobile game will launch next spring, giving fans the opportunity to share in SpongeBob’s experience of being a fry cook at the Krusty Krab in Bikini Bottom.

SpongeBob has garnered $13 billion in lifetime retail sales of consumer products, with no signs of slowing down. This year, there’s more new product on the way, and Nickelodeon is commemorating the series with Alpha Group for a new line of toys, collectibles, plush, and novelties. The star of the line is Masterpiece Meme, which embraces meme culture and reimagines fan-favorite memes into vinyl figures.

“Memes have become such an integral part of how many of us communicate,” says Amritz Lay, senior marketing manager at Alpha Group. “Making them into collectible vinyl figures is actually easier than you might think. With so many great SpongeBob SquarePants memes in existence, the fans around the world have essentially helped us to choose the very best of the best to bring to life as real vinyl figures.”

Viral memes, such as Mocking SpongeBob, Imaginaaation SpongeBob, Surprised Patrick, and Handsome Squidward, are all available for purchase in figure form. There are more memes in development that fans will love — simply because they’re already using them daily on social media, according to Lay.

“It was just so telling of how … SpongeBob has almost become synonymous with [meme culture]. The day that the Brexit vote was announced, and we found out the results, [what] J.K. Rowling … used to announce and put out there publicly for all her millions of fans was a meme of SpongeBob being so upset and horrified by what happened. That’s the level that he’s reached, that that’s what people turn to [to] really show their happiest and their most frightening feelings,” Castillo says.

New products also include black-and-white SpongePop CulturePants with designs inspired by the golden age of animation. Slimeez figures will feature Nickelodeon slime, which seems like a natural fit, and will be a first for the SpongeBob brand. In addition to collectible vinyl figures in various scales and novelties, such as wearable SpongeHeads, throwable SpongeBalls, and squishy Squeazies will be available. In the fall, Alpha Group will also debut the Giggle Blaster, which comes with a can of aerosol string that can be sprayed more than 15 feet, a working periscope, and sounds and phrases from the voice of SpongeBob himself: Tom Kenny.

“For those millennials who grew up with SpongeBob, there’s a sense of nostalgia. We find that they adore our new scales of collectible vinyl. For those who have become parents, it’s a timeless show with humor that resonates for the entire family. They appreciate the silly humor of our toys. Then there are the kids who identify with SpongeBob, Patrick, and the others in their own unique ways,” Lay says.

SpongeBob is no stranger to high fashion or fashion collections. For the past few years, the sponge has been part of multiple partnerships in the fashion industry, including being featured by designer Jeremy Scott on the Moschino runway at Milan Fashion week in 2014, a capsule collection with Pharrell Williams, a partnership with (RED) to raise awareness for the fight against AIDS, an exclusive collection with Vans, a colorful collaboration with Lisa Frank at Hot Topic, and more. For the 20th anniversary, Nickelodeon collaborated with lifestyle brand Cynthia Rowley, which sent a fun SpongeBob SquarePants wetsuit down its New York Fashion Week runway in February.

Nickelodeon also partnered with international, mixed-media artist Romero Britto, who reimagined SpongeBob in his vibrant, bold, and colorful style through a mixed-media art installation that will be exhibited at pop-up experiences across the U.S. He also developed a limited-edition piece of art for Nickelodeon to work with on a charitable basis.

“We have had so many incredible conversations with different designers, brands, retail, and IP, and everybody wants to get on board. What’s great about it is that people are actual fans. Most of the collaborations and partnerships are super organic in that folks say, ‘I remember when,’ ‘my child watched that show,’ or ‘I was a big fan of the show; I’d love to do something with SpongeBob,’ which to me is what results in the best product and the best design when there’s real, organic love for the property,” Castillo says.

There are more deals and collaborations with artists worldwide, including those in Hong Kong, Canada, and Brazil. These artists are inspired by SpongeBob, but they each bring their own take to the character for diverse interpretations. At the end of the day, though fans will get to see SpongeBob in so many ways, it still reads clearly and truly as SpongeBob.

“We’re doing product that is high end with designers and limited editions, but we’re also doing a celebration cake with a big food brand — and it works because that’s the beauty of SpongeBob. You can see designs inspired by him walking down the runway in Milan, but you can also see him walking down an aisle in Walmart, and it fits. It doesn’t feel jarring. As long as the interpretation is developed in the right way with the right audience in mind, it works,” Castillo says.

SpongeBob is one of the few characters that anyone could recognize anywhere. While there were some slight tweaks throughout the years to his overall modeling to keep up with technology and keep all of the animation sharp, SpongeBob’s overall look remains the same. People can spot his square pants, red tie, gap teeth, and iconic laugh anywhere. The ever-optimistic sponge appeals to adults and parents who grew up watching the show, as well as to a new, younger audience.

With such a broad fan base, there’s a particular level of strategy in play to make sure that activations reach all fans at every level. A 20th anniversary doesn’t really mean anything to a kid, and most kids don’t even know what “anniversary” means, according to Castillo. So for the hour-long episode, the theme is a birthday. For kids, the message is that it’s a party, a celebration, SpongeBob’s best year, and the ultimate party and birthday ever. But for superfans, press, the industry, and designers, talking about the anniversary is relevant.

“We had lots of debate about whether that’s confusing, but we felt like it’s not confusing because these are different audiences and we want to make sure that we’re really connecting to what the different audience really connects to and needs. Those live side by side and are parallel, and they are working together,” Castillo says.

Did you know that SpongeBob was originally named SpongeBoy in creator Stephen Hillenburg’s original idea for the character? [...]

The strategy of connecting to a wide fan base is crucial for events, such as pop-ups. There will be multiple layers to them to ensure that the whole family will get the most out of the experience. While pop-ups are going to have a high-level gallery space and showcase artwork, a family can come, and their child can also enjoy toys from the past 20 years, a scavenger hunt, or an obstacle course with the characters, for example.

Nickelodeon will also bring SpongeBob to other activations, such as a kit in a box to send to its partners around the world, and host celebrations at malls and retail worldwide. “The one thing that’s a wonderful thing to be able to say is that we’re never going to stop making SpongeBob. It’s one of our tentpole, pillar properties, which by the way, continues to perform. It’s been the top-five animated show for 19 consecutive years,” Castillo says.


From Den of Geek:

SpongeBob SquarePants: Celebrating 20 Years with the Classic's Cast and Crew

After two decades, SpongeBob SquarePants is as big and beloved as ever. We talk to the people behind the Sponge.

When Game of Thrones ended earlier this year, pop culture pundits not only mourned the end of a monumental hit, but also the perceived death of the monoculture – omnipresent pieces of pop culture that feel like most of the population is engaging with it. And while it’s true that creating brand-new worldwide blockbusters in the age of streaming, social video, and Peak TV seems increasingly unlikely, the death knell for monocultural television hasn’t quite rung. Need proof? Ask anyone between the ages of six and 26 about SpongeBob SquarePants, then stand back and listen to the barrage of quotes, favorite gags, and beloved episodes. Then marvel at the fact that after two decades on television, SpongeBob is still cruising, full steam ahead.

Celebrating its 20thanniversary this year, SpongeBob SquarePants is a comedic touchstone for a generation, spawning 244 episodes and counting, two feature-length films (with a third on the way), a Tony-winning Broadway show, global merchandise sales north of $13 billion, an upcoming spinoff series, and enough memes to power its own corner of the internet. Naïve, sweet, and optimistic, yet deeply bizarre and character-driven, SpongeBob SquarePants appeals to innocent children, mischievous teens, nostalgic 20-somethings, and parents enjoying time with their kids. Nickelodeon has released over 100 programs since SpongeBob’s first episode on May 1, 1999, and while most of those series have come and gone, the absorbent, yellow, porous pop culture icon perseveres.

“It just has gotten into people's lives. Everybody's got a story about some fun SpongeBob moment they’ve had, or some episode that they love, or some SpongeBob joke that they've been doing with their best friend every day for years,” Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob, says while reflecting on his gig for the past 20 years. “It's pretty great. We're definitely aware of the unusualness of it, and that it's just an incredible opportunity.”

The longevity of the series isn’t lost on the show’s voice actors. In the age of the gig economy and the increased scarcity of long-term jobs, the cast of SpongeBob knows that they’re in rare waters. “When I was in acting school studying theater, we didn't have a chapter on how to handle the 20th year of a character,” says Bill Fagerbakke, the voice of SpongeBob’s best friend and partner in nautical nonsense, Patrick Star. “That phenomenon is not lost on me.”

For Rodger Bumpass, who voices SpongeBob’s pretentious and cynical neighbor Squidward Tentacles, the line between where he ends and where the character of Squidward begins has started to blur. “It becomes a second skin. I used to say that he was my alter ego. As the years have gone on, I have become more Squidward, so I shoo people off my front lawn a lot more than I used to,” Bumpass says with a laugh. “It really is a very interesting thing and quite unique. With the possible exception of The Simpsons, we're pretty much up there, as far as longevity for animation, and it's a very honored position to occupy.”

SpongeBob has ebbed and flowed through the life of writer and story editor Doug Lawrence, who professionally goes by the name Mr. Lawrence, but it’s always remained a constant. Lawrence voices misunderstood villain Plankton and a plethora of other supporting characters, and while he’s always been an integral voice on the series, he’s left the show as a writer and come back - a rarity in the industry.

“Usually, you don't get the opportunity to keep going back to a show that's still there,” he says. “That rarely happens. After a while you start to count on it. You start to worry that you're counting on it too much to be there. We sort of feel an ownership or a responsibility to make sure that the shows are still quality and really funny and that they have a surprise in them or two, so it doesn't get stale. It's a hard thing to make a show keep having sparks flying out of it and I think we're still able to achieve that.”

There’s a lot you can credit SpongeBob’s success to: its use of character archetypes grounded in classic forms like commedia dell'arteand the works of Shakespeare, its penchant for broader slapstick and physical comedy that harkens back to duos like Laurel and Hardy, and its clever peppering of highbrow references, surrealist flights of fancy, and continued experimentation. However, ask the cast and crew of the series, and they’ll agree that it all comes back to creator Stephen Hillenburg, who tragically passed away at the age of 57 in November 2018 following a lengthy battle with ALS.

further reading - SpongeBob Spinoffs: Which Characters Can Carry Their Own Show?

“I never really met anybody like him, and I'm sure I never will,” Kenny says. “He was super smart and intensely interested in a lot of different things. Whether it was surfing, oceanography, earth science, animation, or comedy. He was just this amazing stew of stuff that he liked. SpongeBob, I think, was this lightning in a bottle, where he just synthesized a bunch of his interests into one bit.”

A former marine biology teacher, Hillenburg created SpongeBob back in 1989 as a character in a comic titled The Intertidal Zone, intended to teach children about the diversity of the intertidal pools. Hillenburg eventually moved into television and worked on Nickelodeon’s Rocko’s Modern Life. When that series ended, Hillenburg and several co-workers on Rocko’s, including Lawrence, got the opportunity to pitch a new series to Nick’s top brass. “We were all trying to get pilots going around the same time,” Lawrence remembers. “This is the only one out of all of us that actually got made.”

The cast fondly recalls Hillenburg as a creator focused on character, with a strong sense of what the show was and wasn’t. They credit him with having a knack for hiring the right people, for imbuing SpongeBob with his own sense of optimism and hope, and deeply caring about not only the comedy, but the integrity of the show. The cast describes the upcoming third SpongeBob film, The SpongeBob Movie: It’s a Wonderful Sponge, as a loving, feature-length tribute to Hillenburg.

The sentiment of respect and admiration shown to Hillenburg spreads throughout the whole cast. Since episode one, the voice actors have recorded as an ensemble, and their deep knowledge of not only their own characters, but of the others, has made them operate like a tight, improvisational jazz group, still capable of being blown away when a member of the band grabs the spotlight for a virtuosic solo.

Speaking about his colleagues, Fagerbakke says, “[Tom Kenny is] just one in a million and every session we have, I thank my lucky stars that he was cast as SpongeBob. Rodger Bumpass is so hilarious, Clancy Brown [Mr. Krabs], so funny, Mary Jo Catlett [Mrs. Puff], and Carolyn Lawrence [Sandy Cheeks], they're so wonderful at what they do, they bring so much humor, and Lori Alan [Pearl Krabs] and everyone. Doug Lawrence, wow, I mean, look at that vibrant character in Plankton and what that means to the show.”

Credit the vision, the craft, and the care, but at the end of the day, the goofy goober at the center of this landmark animated series is the ever-endearing hook. SpongeBob is both who we all are – capable of being silly, neurotic, over-confident, and a little annoying at times – and who we aspire to be: kind-hearted, selfless, happy-go-lucky, and innocent. Broadcast in over 50 languages, SpongeBob is a rare character that cannot be lost in translation or the evolution of pop culture. Why? Because at the end of the day, he still makes us smile.

“It's neat to know that all these different people with different cultures and different experiences all over the globe, they find something in SpongeBob and his world that's identifiable to them,” says Kenny. “All these different corners of the globe, there's something there that people glom onto, regardless of their hugely heterogeneous life experience and ways of life. I guess that's a testament to Steve Hillenburg, but in a bigger sense, a testament to comedy and silliness and laughter.”


From Animation Magazine:

In Praise of That Sweet, Hilarious Sponge

It’s hard to believe that everyone’s favorite absorbent sponge is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his arrival on Nickelodeon this month. Since SpongeBob SquarePants began his laughter-filled life in a pineapple under the sea, the animation world has gone through a lot of changes, but our collective fondness for this amazing, optimistic creation and all of his weird and wonderful friends remains untouched.

Stephen Hillenburg

“I wanted to do a show about a character that was an innocent, and so I focused on a sea sponge, because it’s a funny animal, a strange one, I thought he was a funny, nerdy, squeaky-clean square,” said SpongeBob’s creator, the late Stephen Hillenburg, in a 2001 interview. “It finally dawned on me that if I was going to do my own show, all those things I lectured about and obsessed about would make for an interesting world. I think we all thought the show would be good, but I didn’t ever assume it would catch on in a mass audience sort of way, that’s unexpected, and we’re flattered and relieved… Our characters act silly, even totally ridiculous at times, and most of our jokes don’t come out of pop cultural references, he added. It seems like we’re aiming at a child audience, but everyone can laugh at the basic human traits that are funny. It’s playful, the humor is playful, the world is playful. You can kind of let go.”

Of course, we are still grieving the loss of the amazing Hillenburg, who passed away last November after fighting ALS, but it’s a comfort to know the character will continue to live on in pop culture in many forms, after having launched many specials, movies, a Broadway musical, and an enviable global toy and merchandising emprise. Paramount is planning a new movie for 2020 which explores his beginnings, and a CG-animated prequel is also in the works at Nickelodeon. On the occasion of the porous one’s 20th birthday, Animag caught up with some of the brilliant men and women who are responsible for the show’s phenomenal worldwide success:

SpongeBob star Tom Kenny honored Stephen Hillenburg before death

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last 20 years, it’s that SpongeBob SquarePants means a lot to a lot of people. As the cast and crew of the show, we are fully aware of what a rare and special situation that is, and we are grateful every day! Steve Hillenburg gave me the gift of a lifetime when he asked me to voice his porous alter ego, SpongeBob SquarePants. He literally changed my life! He changed ALL of our lives!”
– Tom Kenny (voice of SpongeBob SquarePants)

Carolyn Lawrence

“This show has been such an incredible once in a lifetime opportunity. It is so surreal to be celebrating this milestone. Being able to work alongside the cast and crew for 20 years now to continue to bring these characters and world to life is enormously gratifying.”
– Carolyn Lawrence (voice of Sandy Cheeks)

Mr. Lawrence

“Having the incredible opportunity to work on SpongeBob SquarePants for 20 years isn’t something you plan on; it’s not something you think is going to happen. It’s an incredibly unique and rewarding situation to have a thing that you can go back to, almost like it’s nostalgic but it’s happening now.”
– Mr. Lawrence (voice of Plankton and writer)

Bill Fagerbakke

“I am tickled beyond measure at the duration of this show. It is amazing. I am in a ridiculously transient career and to have a fantastic job that you love as much as I love this, go this long, is incredible.”
– Bill Fagerbakke (voice of Patrick)

Rodger Bumpass

“I am deeply thankful to be a part of something that became an American icon, a show that people constantly thank us for accompanying them through their childhoods. The world that Steve Hillenburg created continues to draw fans in because of its humor, characters and relatability.”
— Rodger Bumpass (voice of Squidward)

Vincent Waller

“It’s been an incredibly rewarding journey over these last 20 years to have the opportunity to be a part of a show as uniquely special as SpongeBob SquarePants. Steve Hillenburg’s creation has left a lasting footprint on the world, and it is an honor to continue to tell authentic and entertaining stories with the rich characters of Bikini Bottom.”
— Vincent Waller (co-executive producer)

Marc Ceccarelli

“Thanks to Steve Hillenburg, SpongeBob SquarePants provides a huge palate to work with, and an incredible cast and crew behind the series. Since the debut, we have continued to tell stories from an honest place and it’s been the highlight of my career to be a part of it.”
— Marc Ceccarelli (co-executive producer)

“Working as a composer and editor on SpongeBob since 1999 has been a dream come true. Meeting Steve Hillenburg changed my life forever. I feel incredibly privileged to have the opportunity to work with those who I consider to be some of the best people in business and to be able to touch so many people around the world and make them laugh a little, that is what makes SpongeBob the best show ever.”
— Nicolas Carr (composer)


From Cartoon Brew:

How Cartoons Met Their Own Voice Actors In ‘Spongebob’s Big Birthday Blowout’

Spongebob Squarepants is at a turning point. This year, the franchise celebrated its 20th anniversary, which was marked with, among other things, a one-hour tv special, Spongebob’s Big Birthday Blowout. Meanwhile, the series was renewed for a 13th season, and audiences were shown the trailer for The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run — the character’s third theatrical outing, and the first to be predominantly cgi.

For the jaunty sponge and his aquatic friends, the future is secure. Yet it also contains unknowns, for this was the first year of the franchise since the death of its creator Stephen Hillenburg in November 2018. Although Spongebob’s Big Birthday Blowout was conceived before he died, it was subsequently recast as a tribute to him. The live-action director Jonas Morganstein, who studied at Calarts alongside Hillenburg, tells Cartoon Brew below about his efforts to honor the creator’s artistic spirit.

The special sees Spongebob (voiced by Tom Kenny) take a birthday tour of the live-action “surface world” with his best friend Patrick Star (Bill Fagerbakke). There, they encounter human versions of themselves, played by the voice cast (which, remarkably, has remained broadly unchanged throughout the show’s history). This surreal encounter — a first for the show — plays out in The Trusty Slab, the counterpart to the underwater burger joint frequented by the cartoon characters. Watch part of it below.

The special was well received when it aired on Nickelodeon in July, and has picked up an Annie nomination for best special production. Cartoon Brew caught up with Morganstein to discuss the joys and challenges of staging the hybrid scene in The Trusty Slab. He is joined by Hema Mulchandani, co-owner of the studio Jonas & Co., who served as executive producer on the special.

How did you direct the cast in this scene, particularly in terms of their physical performances?

Jonas Morganstein: This was an unprecedented situation: a group of actors who have been voicing characters for 20 years depicting a live-action “alternate reality” version of their characters for the first time ever.

When we’ve worked with Tom Kenny and Mr. Lawrence (Plankton) in the voiceover booth, you see them act out the lines physically: arms in air, animated faces. They bring the dialogue to life with their movements. Those pitch-perfect performances were already inside them.

We created the right set of parameters to nurture that performance. We built the perfect setting, founding a greasy spoon with the right layout of pass through window and grill and transforming it into The Trusty Slab. Next, we outfitted the cast in wardrobe that represented a real-world interpretation of each character. Then we rehearsed a few times with the entire cast, working out the blocking.

On the set of “SpongeBob’s Big Birthday Blowout.” Photo: Robert Voets / Nickelodeon. © 2019 Viacom, International, Inc. All Rights Reserved

The live-action segments are full of cartoonish touches, like Kenny’s magnified eyes and multiple arms. How did you decide how far to push the cartooniness?

Morganstein: In the show, Spongebob is generally the only character that physically transforms. He’s the Tex Avery character whose emotional responses and reactions to physical situations are more powerful than can be contained within the simple sponge rectangle. My favorite nook of the Nickelodeon animation offices is the storyboarding team’s door, where the artists tape up their favorite Spongebob body transformations.

We needed the physical manifestation of Spongebob to express that same level of boundless personality that defies physical reality. So [his human counterpart] Jimbob dances in high speed, twirls the spatula like a propeller, and sprouts multiple arms like a Hindu god. These effects required over-the-top performances from Tom Kenny.

Were the live-action segments precisely storyboarded and scripted, or was there room for improvisation on set?

Hema Mulchandani: The entire episode was precisely boarded and scripted by the Nickelodeon Animation team. They came to us with all the story beats in place — especially for how the animated characters are integrated into each scene. Shots without character integration were open to improvisation.

Morganstein: There was a ton of improv, because it helped the actors lose themselves in their characters. Much of the horseplay between Tom and Clancy [Brown] in the kitchen was off book, especially as Tom teases Clancy — the ultimate intimidating straight guy next to Tom’s over-the-top performance. Bill and Roger [Bumpass] (as Patrick and Squidward) improvised vaudevillian banter, some of which made the final cut. And Mr. Lawrence used his writing skills as he explored variations in his robbery monologue.

What were the main challenges in compositing and editing this sequence?

Mulchandani: To hit the fast-paced schedule, a lot of the character animation had gotten started before the shoot. We had to be very precise with the live-action plates so it would seamlessly composite in post. For example, Spongebob jumping out of the tank to touch the spatula is a combination of multiple live-action plates, animated characters, cartoon water effects, cg elements, and smoke effects. The whole project needed to bounce back and forth between Nickelodeon Animation and us, because we worked on the scene in tandem. Multiply that times 407 shots.

The cartoon cast are replaced with figurines in some shots — I found this striking. Why this choice?

Mulchandani: Generally, the wide shots use figurines and the closeups use cartoon animations. It was both a time-saving device and a fun way to keep that indie DIY surreal vibe.

Did any hybrid films or series particularly inspire you in staging this scene?

Mulchandani: Spongebob showrunners Marc Ceccarelli and Vincent Waller encouraged us to watch the early 1980s avant-garde film Forbidden Zone as inspiration for the whole special. This cult classic [directed by Richard Elfman] is filled with mixed live action and animation, in-camera special effects, and fun low-budget solutions to tell an unconventional story. Marc and Vince would always encourage and challenge us to make sure we take creative risks and find mixed-media solutions.

Morganstein: That recommendation was liberating for us. You can see the film’s influence in the diner scene with its in-camera effects, speed ramps, and unabashed use of figurines. You can also see it in the office scene, especially the conference room with the monkey outfits and a dog puppet.

Plus this sensibility affected how we brought the segments with Patchy [the Pirate, played by Kenny] to life. For instance, when Patchy sails down the sidewalk like a boat. This was created in camera through human stop-motion pixilation inspired by Norman McLaren’s Neighbours, a film I loved back when I was at Calarts with Steve Hillenburg. I felt a personal responsibility to contribute artistry that reflects Steve’s artistic spirit, so these avant-garde film techniques seemed right on target.

If you look back at the Spongebob episodes for 20 years, the show has always embraced its live-action segments with a similar DIY sensibility that’s in tune with the animation’s comedic point of view. It’s all part of the joke.

(This interview was conducted by email, and has been lightly edited for brevity.)


More Nick: Nickelodeon Marks 20 Years of "SpongeBob SquarePants" with the "Best Year Ever"!

Originally published: Thursday, June 27, 2019.
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