interview by nigel shady
illustration by jocco






nigel: I recycle paper at school.

Tom: I'm actually at the recycling center right now. That's very “Nickelodeon” of me.

n: So, you're SpongeBob, right?

T: Yes, I am. Or SpongeBob is me. I've gotten the chance to let SpongeBob possess me. It’s sort of like demon possession.

n: So who told you that you could be SpongeBob?

T: I had worked with the creator, Stephen Hillenburg, before on an earlier cartoon called Rocko's Modern Life that was created by Joe Murray. When Stephen got the chance to do his own cartoon, he remembered that we had enjoyed working together and he had me come in and throw something down.

n: Did you make up the voice yourself?

T: Well, Stephen remembered a very, very minor character I had done on Rocko's Modern Life; basically it was a guy in a crowd scene. He had one line and spoke in what's now known as the SpongeBob voice. But I didn't even remember it. Stephen played the episode for me and said, “That guy, right there!” And I said, “Oh, okay. I forgot about him.” So Stephen definitely had a very clear idea of what he wanted it to sound like. After that, we tweaked it and worked on it really hard just for the presentation to Nickelodeon. It was mostly Stephen directing me into the right zone.

n: Why don't you want to be a movie star instead of doing voices?

T: I always wanted to do voice, and knew of voice actors in cartoons. Even as a kid there were guys I really liked. And a childhood friend of mine once said to me, “Ya know, Tom, we all wanted to be John Belushi, but you wanted to be Mel Blanc.” So I definitely always wanted to do it, even before I got a chance to bust into it. I did stand-up comedy and some acting. Hey, there's a cop behind me. Wouldn't that be hilarious if I got pulled over during your interview with me?

n: That would be cool! (Laughing)

T: It would all be recorded. I'd be all, “Listen, Barney Fife, I'm doing an interview with tastes like chicken, okay?!? Layoff!” (laughing)

n: My mom told me that when you were younger, you were in a carnival. Were you the bearded lady?

T: No, I was not the bearded lady. I wasn’t even the fat man. But for a couple of summers I was a monster in the haunted house. It was a summer job for a couple of weeks at the New York State Fair that is held in my hometown of Syracuse, New York. My best friend, Bobcat Goldthwait, and I were both monsters in the carnival.

n: So you weren't one of the carnival freaks?

T: I wasn't one of the freaks, but I do love the freaks. We had Frog Girl, Anato the Anatomical Wonder and Sealo the Seal Boy. But they were all pretty elderly by that point because it was towards the end of the whole sideshow thing. Like Sealo the Seal Boy was about 80, but they still called him “The Boy”. They just didn't want to change the banner, I guess.

n: Do you like orange Tic Tacs? And do you think of them as a mint or as candy?

T: I think of the white Tic Tacs as a mint. The orange Tic Tacs don't really function as a breath freshener, but if you just need a little hint of citrus in your day, you should go for the orange. But you can't eat just one.

n: What shows do you do voices on?

T: Well, I'm just coming from PowerPuff Girls and Dexter's Laboratory over at Cartoon Network, and at Nickelodeon I’ve done CatDog, SpongeBob and Rocko's Modern Life. I did The Mummy for WB. I also do some straighter stuff like commercials for Home Depot and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese: “E.T. wants to send you to Space Camp!”

n: You did that commercial?

T: Yeah.

n: Do you get to go to Space Camp for free because you did that commercial for them?

T: I would love to, but no. They do not send me to Space Camp. Although I could probably get a free packet of powdered cheese.

n: I love cheese.

T: Cheese is good. “It's the cheese,” as the campaign says.

n: Do you get to say whatever you want on the show or does some guy write the stuff for you?

T: It changes from show to show. I probably have the most free-range on SpongeBob, ya know, to do my own thing. Then second is probably PowerPuff Girls. But there's always a written script.

n: I heard you were in a band when you were younger. What instrument did you play?

T: I didn't play anything. I sang. Well, I actually jumped around and screamed a lot.

n: What kind of music did you guys sing? Was it like *NSYNC or Backstreet Boys or something?

T: No. It was like a punk rock/hillbilly kind of thing.

n: Do you have any pets?

T: I have two cats. No snails.

n: SpongeBob has a pet snail! How come he meows instead of making a snail sound?

T: No one knows. They ask him and all he does is say, "Meow!" But if you come across a translator that speaks catsnail, we would love to know.

n: I thought his mom was a cat and his dad was a snail.

T: Oh! That may be. Product of a mixed marriage. And they say it can't work.

n: Do you think dogs have lips?

T: Yeah. I think they do. Because sometimes a car will drive past me with a dog's head flapping out of the window, and I hear a flapping noise, and it just has to be lips. I think that's what those things flapping in the breeze are. But some dogs are more lippy than others.

n: How does CatDog go to the bathroom?

T: That is probably the most frequently asked question about him, believe it or not. But I guess you'd have to ask the creator, Peter Hannan. He has to have come up with an answer by now because he is constantly asked that by curious children.

n: I just don't see how he could go to the bathroom because he doesn't have a butt.

T: I know. I'm not even sure how SpongeBob goes to the bathroom, and I've seen him with his pants down.

n: What do you think you do that's the same as SpongeBob?

T: Well, I would say I'm pretty high energy and optimistic. I would say I can be naive. I would say that I try to be nice to people.

n: Do you have any kids like me?

T: I have one child, a boy who is four-years-old. His name is Mack.

n: Do you like being a cartoon voice guy instead of being a recognizable actor so that people don't run up to you on the street if you just want to go out and get some ice cream or something?

T: Yeah. It's really the best job in show business. I feel like I get both sides; where I have a regular, steady job, but also the fun of working in this weird world of cartoons.

n: If you could set Squidward up on a blind date with any other cartoon character, who would it be?

T: WOW! That's a good one. Who would you set him up with? You really wouldn't want to put him on anyone. I've never really thought of Squidward dating. He's such a solitary person. I honestly think anyone he was set up he would just end up pushing them away. And I would tell him, “It's okay to be alone, Squidward. Some people are meant to be alone, and you're one of them.”

n: Will Plankton ever get the secret recipe for crabby patties, and will he ever have any friends?

T: Hmm. I think he just needs to let go a little bit. As soon as he stops wanting the recipe so badly, it will come to him. And I think then he'll start having room for relationships in his life.

n: How do you feel about them serving tacos at Burger King?

T: I'm glad you finally asked! This is just wrong. It needs to stop now and we need to mobilize. That needs to be stopped. You don't see “Burger Bell”. Let Taco Bell have the tacos. Burger King doesn't know about tacos, and they're trying to jump on the taco bandwagon. Although I do give Burger King points for having the SpongeBob toys in their kid meals.

n: Yeah! I collected all of the toys and I have them in my room!

T: But, I would say that if you're in the mood for a taco, go somewhere else!!! That's like saying, “I want prime rib. I think I'll go to Domino’s.” It's just wrong!

n: Man, you seem really upset about this.

T: I know! Thanks for letting me vent!