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Posted at 1:30 PM ET, 12/25/2009

'Don't Be a Jerk -- It's Christmas!': SpongeBob talks

By Christian Hettinger


Need a cure for Grinchitude? Listening to TOM KENNY -- best known as the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants -- is as good a panacea as any.

For this holiday season, Kenny, 47, has written, recorded and released his new CD, "Don't Be a Jerk (It's Christmas)." The title song and video notably feature Kenny's rubber gullet, as SpongeBob's infectious enthusiasm reminds us: " 'Tis the season to be jolly not jerky."

"I like how the lyrics go from reminding people to get in the Christmas spirit to such everyday things like, 'Squeeze toothpaste from the bottom of the tube' or don't cheat the Express line," says Kenny, speaking by phone this month from Los Angeles. "This all makes sense from SpongeBob and his outlook."

It's hard to stay Grinchy listening to Kenny even when he's not in character. The "Man of a Thousand Voices" is rapid-fire with a punch line, a pun or a funny anecdote, such as when describing which saltier synonyms for "jerk" he thought up but obviously couldn't use for the SpongeBob crowd. (Plus, he notes, "jerk" is just plain funny.)


For all his joking, Kenny -- who first sang "Don't Be a Jerk" for Comic Riffs this past summer (during San Diego Comic-Con) -- has some true musical chops. Born in East Syracuse, N.Y., he was lead vocalist for the area band The Tearjerkers in the '80s. Kenny is a serious music buff, citing numerous '60s acts -- particularly the Beach Boys -- as influences. (Several years ago, Kenny even got Brian Wilson to join in when the voice actor wrote and recorded "SpongeBob SquarePants: The Best Day Ever.")

The smash-hit Nickelodeon show, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this past summer, has just been picked up for another season (naturally) -- and that suits Kenny just fine. He likes voicing a world-famous actor while maintaining his relative visual anonymity when he goes out in public.

"I don't know how some celebrities do it, living in the fishbowl, chased by paparazzi," says Kenny, who pauses to wonder how a superstar of Tiger Woods's magnitude ever thought he could escape the ever-probing eye of global fame.


Kenny, who has appeared in music videos by the Smashing Pumpkins and Travis, also spent part of his earlier career doing standup comedy -- another show-business road that he says being SpongeBob has saved him from.

"I used to open for comics like Dennis Miller and Steven Wright," says Kenny, who's married to former Second City troupe member Jill Talley. "It can take a long, long time to build an hour's worth of material, but once you perform it for HBO or a late-night show, suddenly so much of it isn't fresh to audiences when you hit the road."

Plus, there's the added "perk" of those SpongeBob paychecks. While some entertainers may squander their newfound riches on expensive autos, Italian villas or an otherwise lavish lifestyle, Kenny admits to one indulgence: He's a big-time comics collector.

"I really love 'Popeye' and 'Krazy Kat,' " says Kenny, who counts nearly 80-year-old original artwork by Popeye creator E.C. Segar as among his most prized collectibles.

Would he ever consider putting all his many vintage cartoon originals on display -- perhaps even home tours?

"I'd have to get 'em all out of the packaging and boxing and actually mount them properly," says Kenny, punctuating his point with an infectious laugh that could only come from the mouth of SpongeBob.

TOM KENNY says he loves it when his songs can inspire fan videos -- he specifically cites this Lego video, for which Nickelodeon permitted the song's use.


THE 'RIFFS INTERVIEW: "SpongeBob" creator Stephen Hillenburg

By Christian Hettinger  | December 25, 2009; 1:30 PM ET
Categories:  The Animation  | Tags:  SpongeBob SquarePants, Tom Kenny  
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Next: 2009: From Tiger to terrorist, the Year of the Overexposed Underpants


Call me a "Grinch", but there is not a single animated or comic character that is more irritating than "Sponge Bob". On rare occasions, I have seen episodes that exhibited intelligent humor, but the vast majority of them are like long distance running: it feels so good when the pain stops.

Posted by: kilby | December 27, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

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