The phone rings and it is Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants, calling not from Bikini Bottom, but from Los Angeles where he lives.
On Friday, Mr. SquarePants swims into theaters as his first movie opens, and Kenny agreed to talk with Ellen Edwards about what it's like to be the voice of the hugely successful Nickelodeon cartoon. Kenny is 42, married with two children, a 7-year-old boy and a 15-month-old girl.
He says SpongeBob's age is a true mystery -- he is a combination of a child and a grown-up. He goes to school, but he has a job. He lives in a pineapple (with his pet snail, Gary, whose voice is also done by Kenny) and he's trying to get a driver's license.
Kenny grew up loving cartoons and has been the voice of Dog in "CatDog" and Heffer in "Rocko's Modern Life," among many others. In "SpongeBob," he also does the voice of Jacques Cousteau, the underwater explorer.
Kenny can slip into the little yellow guy's voice at any time. And he does.
Does your voice really sound like that?
People want to hear me do the voice, because they think the voice is altered and electronically pitched up like Alvin and Chipmunks. People say, "You just talk in your regular voice and they just speed it up, right?" And I'm like [in SpongeBob's voice], "No, absolutely not. That is not true. That story is no way whatsoever [laughing like SpongeBob] BAAHHHAAHHHAHAHA." It's pretty easy for me to take my normal nondescript vanilla voice and twist it around through my nose and do SpongeBob.
How do you make his laugh?
I have to use my hands to do it. It's probably a good thing you can't see me right now. I just make a kind of weird, smoky noise in the back of my throat -- EHHHHHHHHH -- and I move my hands up and down up on my Adam's apple. BAAHHHAAHHHAHAHA. It's very bizarre. I never knew I could do that until SpongeBob. There are very few jobs where that skill is going to come up.
Are all the actors there at the same time when you record?
Practically always. That's somewhat unusual. A lot of shows just have the actors come in one at a time and read their lines and they put them together later.
Do you record underwater?
No [laughing a lot]. I would say bringing complex electronic equipment underwater is never a good idea. Nickelodeon would yell at us.
Are you really good friends with all the other characters?
Yeah, everybody on the show gets along great. Bill Fagerbakke [the voice of Patrick] and I just went to a wrestling match in L.A. the other night. . . . Going to a wrestling match, that's exactly what SpongeBob and Patrick would do.
What cartoons did you watch as a kid?
I was an animation freak as a kid. I loved Looney Toons, Bugs and Daffy, Bullwinkle and Rocky, Yogi Bear, Top Cat. . . . You never know what thing you're really into now that might impact your whole future job life. If you're interested in something, get into it deeper, get into it further and learn everything you can about it. Writing, drawing, whatever your interest is -- science, math. Find out everything you can about that thing that interests you. You might be surprised where it takes you. I am certainly surprised, happily surprised. I get paid to do all this stuff you get yelled at for in school.
Tom Kenny voices SpongeBob
in the show and new movie.