When SpongeBob SquarePants first debuted in 1999, few expected it would become such a juggernaut. And yet, it turns out that people all over the world love seeing a sentient sponge have adventures in a pineapple under the sea. Are you ready, kids? It’s time to learn some side-splitting facts about SpongeBob SquarePants.
1. Named After SpongeBob
In 2011, scientists announced that they were naming a newly discovered species of fungus found in Malaysia after everyone’s favorite animated sea sponge. Spongiforma squarepantsii got its name because of the fungus’ sponge-like appearance. At first, hoity toity editors tried to reject the name, but the scientists insisted. In the end, they got their way.
2. SpongeBob Hits the Stage
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical premiered at Chicago’s Oriental Theatre in 2016, before moving to New York in late 2017. It features all the characters from the beloved cartoon and includes both new and original numbers. Critics adored the musical and the show received 12 Tony Award nominations. Not bad for a sentient sponge.
3. “My Leg!”
A most popular recurring gag on SpongeBob is a character uttering the line “My leg!” during scenes of wild commotion. That character is Fred. While Fred is mostly a minor player, he got a taste of the limelight in 2018 when he starred in his own special episode. “My Leg!” centers on Fred’s efforts to avoid getting his leg maimed once again by SpongeBob. Fred later realizes that he misses the nurse who has treated him over the years and enlists SpongeBob to send him back to the hospital.
4. Cairo’s Adopted Hero
Following the 2011 pro-democracy protests in Egypt, SpongeBob became an unexpected trend amongst young Egyptians. T-shirts, hijabs, and boxer shorts featuring the goofy yellow character became popular at street vendors in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Some young Egyptians adopted SpongeBob as a cult hero, because they share an optimistic outlook.
5. The Full SpongeBob Experience
SpongeBob SquarePants 4-D is an interactive ride that combines a 3-D movie with moving seats and features like wind, leg ticklers, sprayed water, bubbles, and smoke. Previously located at the Nickelodeon Universe theme park at the Mall of America, it’s now in a number of theme parks, museums, and aquariums around the world.
6. SpongeBob My Ride
In 2014, Toyota unveiled a, um, controversial SpongeBob-themed concept car of their popular SUV model the Highlander. It debuted at a San Diego Padres game, before embarking on a tour across the United States. The concept car featured an exterior that featured SpongeBob’s trademark grinning face, while the interior featured yellow leather seats and portraits of the show’s main characters on the headrests.
7. SpongeBob Makes His Debut
Nickelodeon first broadcast SpongeBob SquarePants on May 1, 1999 as part of a special preview following the telecast of the 1999 Kids’ Choice Awards. The episode officially premiered on July 17, 1999. The premiere episode’s first segment “Help Wanted” was about SpongeBob starting out in the position of fry cook at the Krusty Krab—a position he still holds to this day 20 years later.
8. The Story Behind Bikini Bottom
SpongeBob SquarePants takes place in the underwater city of Bikini Bottom. Bikini Bottom is named after the Bikini Atoll, a coral reef in the South Pacific. The Bikini Atoll is best known for a dark reason: it was the site of a series of nuclear device tests in the 40s and 50s conducted by the United States. Bikini Atoll is also the name inspiration of the two piece bathing suit known as a bikini.
9. From Marine Biologist to Marine Cartoonist
The visionary creator behind SpongeBob SquarePants is Stephen Hillenburg. Before entering the world of animation full-time, Hillenburg was a marine biology teacher at the Orange County Marine Institute. He taught young children marine science, ecology, and nautical history. During his time as a teacher, Hillenburg created an educational comic book called The Intertidal Zone. The comic featured anthropomorphic characters that would later inspire the characters on his future television show, including a character named Bob the Sponge.
10. Leaving Your Own Creation
The show went on hiatus so the cast and crew could work on the first SpongeBob film. At the time, Hillenburg felt that SpongeBob had run its course and the movie would be a fitting series finale. However, with the show being such a ratings and merchandise success for Nickelodeon, they ordered new episodes. In response, Hillenburg left his position as showrunner in 2004 and handed the reins to Paul Tibbit, only to return in 2014.
11. Farewell Stephen
In March 2017, Hillenburg announced that he had a neurological disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS. On November 26, 2018, Hillenburg passed away due to cardiopulmonary failure caused by ALS at the age of 57. His death sparked an outpouring of tributes from SpongeBob fans across the world. His remains were cremated and his ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. Hillenburg is survived by his wife Karen and son.
12. sPonGEboB meMeS aRe sO FuNny
SpongeBob has a healthy, if strange, life on the internet’s dankest of memes. It seems like every major event in entertainment, sports, or even politics can be better explained with an image of a winded SpongeBob, a menacing-looking Patrick, or a wistful Squidward. In a recent article on SpongeBob’s immense meme-a-bility published on Vulture, writer Lauren Michele Jackson explains, “Life is endlessly mundane, if you’re lucky, and ideally endured with a sense of humor…it makes sense that the Internet would latch onto a show that embraces this sensibility.”
13. SpongeBob on the Silver Screen
The success of the television show spawned two successful theatrical films about SpongeBob and his friends. After The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie in 2004 and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water in 2015, third film, tentatively titled The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run, is coming out in 2021. As an origin story, it will delve into how SpongeBob arrived at Bikini Bottom, first met his friends, and adopted his signature SquarePants.
14. Award Winner
Over its near-two decade run, SpongeBob SquarePants has racked up an astonishing haul of awards. It has won six Annie Awards, eight Golden Reel Awards, two BAFTA Children’s Awards, and four Emmy Awards. It also holds the record for most Kids’ Choice Awards with 15—a fitting mark considering the show first aired after the 1999 Kids’ Choice Awards.
15. Spongeboy is Taken
The original plans for the show, then called Spongeboy Ahoy!, featured a main character named Spongeboy. However, Nickelodeon’s legal team found that Spongeboy was already trademarked as the name of a type of mop. Hillenburg insisted that the name of his protagonist include the word “sponge”, otherwise viewers might mistake him for a talking block of cheese.
16. SpongeBob’s Comedic Influences
According to creative director Derek Drymon, some of the comedic influences that Hillenburg drew upon for the SpongeBob character were Jerry Lewis, Pee-Wee Herman, and Stan Laurel. Hillenburg wished to have a protagonist that possessed a “young, boyish” attitude like those three comedic icons.
17. Longest Running Nickelodeon Series
SpongeBob SquarePants is Nickelodeon’s longest running series. It reached the mark in its ninth season when it surpassed the previous record holder, Rugrats.
18. Courting Controversy
On occasion some people (seemingly without a sense of humor) find aspects of SpongeBob controversial. In 2005, a group of evangelical Christians in the United States thought the show supported homosexuality. The whole situation triggered a debate on the main character’s sexuality. Hillenburg asserted that he considers his main character to be asexual and that sexual preference doesn’t guide the show in any way.
19. What’s My Age Again?
In the episode “No Free Ride”, viewers got a glimpse at SpongeBob’s driver license. The license reveals his birthdate as July 14, 1986. Hillenburg once joked that he’s 50 in sponge years and has also stated that SpongeBob has no specific age.
20. What is Squidward Anyways?
Is Squidward a squid, as his name would imply, or is he an octopus? It’s been a long-standing debate amongst fans of SpongeBob. He seems to be neither as he only has six tentacles. So why the discrepancy? Well, according to creator Stephen Hillenburg, it was simply just easier to draw six legs than eight.
21. Plans for Patrick
The original plan for SpongeBob’s dopey best friend Patrick Star was for him to be a surly bar owner. He would have had a large chip on his shoulder because of his pink complexion. I’m sure SpongeBob was glad the initial idea got nixed. A slow-witted, yet kind and lovable starfish is far more fun to hang out with.
22. Don’t Tell Plankton!
The voice actors behind Karen Plankton, the supercomputer wife of the evil Sheldon J. Plankton, and SpongeBob SquarePants are married in real-life. Jill Talley, who voices Karen Plankton, and Tom Kenny, who voices SpongeBob, first met on the short-lived sketch comedy series The Edge. They wed in 1995 and have two children together.
23. The Architectural Style of the Krusty Krab
The building that houses the Krusty Krab resembles a lobster trap or perhaps even a crab trap. This might explain why the proprietor of the Krusty Krab Mr. Krabs spends so much time at work!
24. SpongeBob’s Number One Fan
On occasion SpongeBob SquarePants airs special episodes with live action segments featuring Patchy the Pirate, who is the President of the official SpongeBob fan club. His home in Encino, California is decorated with a variety of SpongeBob-branded merchandise. In a fun twist, Tom Kenny plays Patchy the Pirate. (Kenny is also the voice of SpongeBob.)
25. The Mutant Theory
There’s a theory amongst some fans of the show that the world of SpongeBob is the result of a nuclear mutations. As previously mentioned, Bikini Bottom is named after the Bikini Atoll, where the United States conducted a series of nuclear missile tests. According to the theory, the effects of the tests may explain how a world with a talking sea sponge could exist.
26. SpongeBob and the Seven Deadly Sins
Some fans of the show have another idea for Spongebob‘s secret meaning. They think that the main characters represent the seven deadly sins. Sandy is Pride, Mr. Krabs is Greed, Plankton is Envy, Mrs. Puff or Gary are Gluttony, Squidward is Wrath, Patrick is Sloth, and SpongeBob is Lust.
27. Transcontinental Production
Artists create the show’s storyboards at the Nickelodeon Animation Studio in Burbank, California, which also houses te the bulk of the show’s production. The storyboards are sent to Rough Draft Studios in South Korea, where animators work off the storyboards and create the cartoon. The drafted versions of the episode are finished back in Burbank, where staff edit the episodes and insert music and dialog.
28. A Squirrel Spotted on the Sidewalk
Carolyn Lawrence, the voice actor behind Sandy Cheeks, didn’t go through the typical casting process to win the part. She was actually discovered on the sidewalk by the show’s casting director Donna Grillo. Grillo ran into a friend who was with Lawrence on a sidewalk in Los Angeles. Grillo thought Lawrence had a fascinating voice and encouraged her to come in for a formal audition. And sure enough, Lawrence snagged the part of the science-loving squirrel from Texas who lives under a dome at the bottom of the ocean.
29. Hillenburg’s No Guest Stars Policy
While he was the showrunner in the early seasons, series creator Hillenburg didn’t want to have guest stars on the show. With The Simpsons becoming known for its use of numerous special guest stars, he wanted SpongeBob to carve out its own unique lane. However, there were two exceptions to Hillenburg’s no guest stars policy. Actors Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway provided the voices for SpongeBob’s idols Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy, respectively.
30. The Introduction of Guest Stars
Following, Hillenburg’s departure from the show as showrunner, SpongeBob started to incorporate guest stars like Amy Poehler, Robin Williams, Tina Fey, LeBron James, Pink, and Will Ferrell. Alec Baldwin, Scarlett Johansson, and Antonio Banderas voiced characters in the SpongeBob movies, while David Hasselhoff made a memorable cameo in the first film appearing in live action as himself.
31. Iconic Prop
Speaking of The Hoff, his cameo in the film required the use of a 14-foot replica model of himself. The model depicts a bare-chested Hasselhoff wearing his Baywatch red trunks in a plank position. Hasselhoff kept the model after filming. He even contemplated selling it in an auction, but later changed his mind and decided to hang on to it.
32. Saying Bye, Bye, Bye to JT
One person that Hillenburg did outright refuse to have involved with his show was Justin Timberlake. The Flaming Lips wanted their song on the first film’s soundtrack to feature Timberlake’s vocals. Hillenburg reportedly said, “I
don’t want any of those commercial weirdos on there…I don’t like those commercial people. I like you guys [The Flaming Lips], and Wilco, and Ween.”
33. The Expected Decline
Like with all long-running shows, SpongeBob seems to have had a dip in quality in its later seasons. Some fans feel that the show jumped the shark with the release of the first movie. Some fans also feel that the newer run of episodes veer too far into gross-out humor. While the new episodes may not be as great as the glory years, they’re still fun and way more entertaining than a lot of other shows on television.
34. Keeping the Writers Stimulated
Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury became a major influence on the writer’s room in season two. Story editor Merriwether William provided copies of Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing in the hopes of sparking episode ideas. The writing staff adopted an exercise from the book called “The Noun Game.” The writers would write a noun on a small piece of scrap paper and place them in a hat. They would pick out one of the pieces of the paper and then come up with a story based off the drawn noun.
35. Presidential Seal of Approval
Like many parents his age, former President Barack Obama has been sucked into the SpongeBob whirlpool. In a 2007 interview, he revealed that SpongeBob is his favourite television character. He used to watch it with his then-young daughters.
36. Make ‘Em Laugh
One of the great aspects about the show is SpongeBob’s strange and infectious laugh. To achieve that signature almost vibrating laugh, voice actor Tom Kenny creates a smoky noise in the back of his throat and moves his hand up and down his Adam’s apple.
37. SpongeBob Spoofed
A show called ILL-ustrated made an obvious SpongeBob parody called “SpongeBong HempPants.” The shorts never aired, presumably because Nickelodeon was less than enthusiastic about the, shall we say, psychadelic spoof. Unfortunately for Nick, the short then went viral on YouTube.
38. The Influence of Jacques Cousteau
Hillenburg’s love for the ocean goes back to his childhood fascination with Jacques Cousteau. Hillenburg stated that the French oceanographer’s films “provided a view into that world” that he didn’t know existed. Hillenburg worked in a subtle nod to Cousteau on SpongeBob with a French-accented narrator who often introduces the episodes and reads out the intertitles.
39. A Worldwide Sensation
SpongeBob is a truly global phenomenon. The show is broadcast in over 170 countries and has been dubbed in over 50 different languages. SpongeBob-branded merchandise, everything from clothing to bedding to video games, brought in over $13 billion. In 2002, SpongeBob dolls outsold Tickle-Me-Elmo dolls, with 75,000 units selling each week.
40. The Art of the Pitch
Hillenburg really set the mood when he and his team first pitched what would become SpongeBob to Nickelodeon executives in 1997. He dressed up in a traditional Hawaiian shirt, brought an underwater terranium with prop stand-ins for the characters, and played tropical Hawaiian music in the background. The execs loved the pitch and Hillenburg secured funding for the pilot episode.
41. A Man of Many Voices
In addition to being the voice behind SpongeBob, Tom Kenny also provides his voice talents to a whole bunch of other animated series. Some of his famous non-SpongeBob work includes being the voice of the narrator and the Mayor on The Powerpuff Girls, Penguin on The Batman, Ice King on Adventure Time, Yancy Fry on Futurama, and various characters on Rick and Morty.
42. Hillenburg’s First Taste of Television
Hillenburg’s first foray into the world of animated television was on the show Rocko’s Modern Life, which like SpongeBob also aired on Nickelodeon. Hillenburg served as a director on the show and later became a producer and the creative director until the show’s cancellation in 1996. In addition to Hillenburg, many people who worked on Rocko’s Modern Life eventually wound up at SpongeBob SquarePants. They include the voice of SpongeBob Tom Kenny, the voice of Plankton, writer, and story editor Mr. Lawrence, and creative director Derek Drymon.