Absorbent, yellow, and porous — those are few of the words that could be used to describe Tom Kenny.
The voice of SpongeBob swam out from his pineapple under the sea for a while at C2E2 to chat with SYFY WIRE's Andre Meadows and Katie Wilson about everything SpongeBob SquarePants, from talking starfish to birthday cakes to who else was considered to play the iconic pants-wearing sea creature.
SpongeBob is one of those rare shows that is both nostalgic and new, joining the ranks of other animated shows that never needed a reboot, such as Family Guy and The Simpsons. It's also the only '90s Nicktoon still in production (though you can expect to see Rocko’s Modern Life come back from the vault soon).
"It's an anomaly in kind of a way — SpongeBob is like this crazy outlier that’s not like any other show or any other thing,” Kenny said of the wacky undersea animated series that first bubbled onto Nickelodeon in 1999.
This was the only role the actor didn’t need to audition for. Creator Steve Hillenberg had previously worked on Rocko's Modern Life, which was both his and Kenny's first animation gig. Hillenberg already had a certain types of voices in mind for the characters. He just hadn't thought of anyone in particular each voice belonged to — except Kenny, who remembers him literally saying, "Tom is SpongeBob, I don't want to hear anybody else."
If that isn’t the ultimate dream job interview, nobody knows what is.
Kenny did hear rumors of the network pushing for Fred Savage to voice everyone’s favorite Krabby Patty employee. Hillenberg insisted on his Rocko colleague, who is now the voice recognized by ‘90s kids everywhere.
"Once it started to take off, which took a season or two, that's when it started to get really exciting," he said, "where you’re like 'Wow! I saw a SpongeBob backpack in a store the other day!'"
He was even approached by a fan who got creative in the days before SpongeBob merch. She wanted a SpongeBob cake — which didn't exist in any form back then — for her birthday, so her mother improvised with yellow frosting.
The only other person to play SpongeBob is Ethan Slater, who flips patties and sings "Best Day Ever" in the SpongeBob Broadway musical. You would think this would be kind of like a body-snatching experience for the actor who originated the character.
Strangely, Kenny wasn't weirded out at all. "I was like Wow! That's cool!" he recalled.
Additional material by Elizabeth Rayne.