Spongebob Squarepants is turning 20 years old next month, and it remains one of the most well-known, longest-running cartoons ever. It’s hard to come by someone who doesn’t know it, if not for watching it then definitely because of the multitude of memes it produces. It’s almost like it was made to be meme’d, even though that particular mode of comedy didn’t exist in the late ‘90s/early 2000s as it does now. And, by the sound of it, the very visual aspect of the show makes it the perfect playground for such a thing.
For the anniversary, Entertainment Weekly gathered all the main voice actors and executive producers together for an oral history of the show, covering everything from auditioning to working with guest stars to the creative process. Marc Ceccarelli, co-executive producer, said that storyboards weren’t really used a lot in animated shows, but that Spongebob was such a visual product that it made sense fo them to do so. “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,” he said. “It’s one thing to write a visual gag in text.”
Rodger Bumpass, who voices Squidward, notes that the visuals are what makes the show stand out. “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,” he said. “[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.” This emphasis on gags is why Spongebob produces so many memorable moments, ingraining them in viewers minds for decades, and producing some very strange memes later on. Older season bits are still being created into fresh memes today, like the traveling Spongebob videos from season one or season two’s “Sweet Victory.”
Tom Kenny, voice of Spongebob and voice director on 40 episodes, also has some kind words for the late Steve Hillenburg, SpongeBob creator “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 said.
He continued, “SpongeBob still feels like a subversive show, even though it’s kind of the most mainstream show of all.”. Ceccarelli backed that up, as did Mr Krabs’ actor Clancy Brown, who so eloquently stated that “it’s because nobody really knows how to fuck with it.”