Tom Kenny reflects on 20 years of SpongeBob at C2E2


Are you ready kids? Tom Kenny took a break from his time under the sea to stop by C2E2 to discuss the incredible longevity of the show, and how it came to be.

He may not act like it, but next year, SpongeBob SquarePants is officially 20 years old. Well, at least the show will be.

Yes, it’s been nearly two decades since the show, led by Tom Kenny, premiered on Nickelodeon. He’s been the voice behind the sponge since the beginning, and last weekend he attended C2E2 to share his journey.

Tom Kenny attends C2E2 2018 to discuss Spongebob Squarepants, along with his other voice work. Photo: Danielle Ortiz

Kenny learned about SpongeBob SquarePants – though at the time, it was called Spongeboy – even before Nickelodeon did. Before it was a show, it was a comic book that Steve Hillenberg had created during his time as a camp counselor.

For Kenny, there was no hesitation in getting on board. “I just fell in love with it instantly,” he said. It worked out well then, that he didn’t even have to audition for the role. To date, it’s the only character he didn’t have to audition for.

It was a much different story for Adventure Time. According to Kenny, he auditioned to play the Ice King many, many times. Like the character’s personality, SpongeBob was a rarity.

A lot of that personality comes from SpongeBob’s voice. It, along with his laugh, is near impossible to imitate. And, like the job itself, the voice came naturally to Kenny. He even admitted that getting to record SpongeBob’s scream each episode is surprisingly cathartic.

The best part is, it hasn’t gotten old. “We all still really look forward to doing it,” Kenny said of recording with the cast. (They all record together, another rare occurrence in the industry).

It’s an impressive feat, keeping things fresh and fun, especially given how long they’ve been doing this. And while the writers have continually created great stories, Kenny confessed he’s a big fan of the show’s early seasons.

“I love that period where it’s just starting to catch on,” Kenny said. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have one specific favorite episode though.

Like most SpongeBob fans, Kenny singled out “Band Geeks” as his favorite. Its anthem, “Sweet Victory,” is just a classic. Unfortunately, it wasn’t on the DJ’s playlist for the day.

But, thanks to one audience member’s request, Kenny himself performed a different SpongeBob anthem: “Krusty Krab Pizza.” And it had just as much soul as it did in 1999.

Since then, the show has taken many forms: movies, games and now a Broadway show. Having been the only voice behind SpongeBob for almost 20 years, fans might’ve expected Kenny to be leery of the show going to the stage. And they were right.

“I was kind of suspicious about it,” Kenny said. He worried that it might hurt the original cartoon and that he and his cast would have to work hard to overcome it if the stage adaptation flopped.

Luckily, it didn’t. After seeing the show in previews in Chicago, “my low expectations turned out to be obliterated,” he said.

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With resounding praise for the musical – from Kenny and from critics – hopefully, SpongeBob will continue to live on for even more generations. It’d be a sweet victory indeed.