Tom Kenny might not be a household name, but the character he’s voiced for over 20 years is. The actor-turned-standup-turned-voice-artist is best known for his work as SpongeBob SquarePants.
However, Kenny’s impact on children’s lives from the nineties onward goes far beyond his most iconic role. From the depths of the sea to a galaxy far, far away, Kenny’s work has shaped the childhoods of several generations.
Who is Tom Kenny?
According to his biography on Fandango, Kenny got his start in standup. After several small appearances on television and the big screen, he tried his hand at voice work. Children of the nineties might know him best for his work as Heffer on Rocko’s Modern Life. However, his impact goes beyond cartoons. Kenny was one of the creative forces behind Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’s Mr. Show.
However, his voicework paid the most bills. Dexter’s Laboratory, Powerpuff Girls, Dilbert, Futurama, Kenny has a fingerprint on many of the last few decades’ biggest cartoons. Since 1999, however, his most iconic work has been SpongeBob. The show started as children’s entertainment but remained a staple of their viewing in adulthood.
However, one of his more memorable was not in Bikini Bottom, but in a rare franchise that is even bigger than SpongeBob.
Tom Kenny’s next biggest role
While SpongeBob is enough to allow Kenny to remain in the annals of cartoon history, he also has a fingerprint on the Star Wars universe. According to his fandom page, Nute Gunray, whose animated form premiered in the film The Clone Wars, the Viceroy of the Trade Federation. Working with Darth Sidious in the days before he became the emperor, Viceroy Gunray did the Sith lord’s bidding.
Kenny appeared in just a few episodes as Gunray. Still, his impact on the series helped bring it to the beloved level that it holds in a world where Star Wars media isn’t the guaranteed home run it once was.
However, if you ask Kenny, it’s another role that he can leave his impact on. He recently spoke about this impact and how it touches him.
Kenny on Kenny
Kenny spoke with Esquire about the impact of his work. While he might not have the pioneering instincts of the late Mel Blanc, he sees how Blanc inspired him and hopes that maybe he can do the same to future generations of fans.
“People say that, and it’s so meaningful because I was a kid who grew up loving cartoons and thinking the people that did the voices of them all the time. Other guys would fantasize about meeting whatever sports stars or whatever, and I would fantasize about hanging out with Mel Blanc,” he told the publication.
Now, Kenny is that person for another generation. He doesn’t take this lightly, either. While some voice actors may want for a spotlight that the medium doesn’t always allow, he’s perfectly content letting his characters live for themselves. After all, while many cartoons came and went over the last 22 years, SpongeBob is as popular as it’s ever been. Kenny spoke about the emotional connection he has with fans.
“[The fondness] is tied up with their childhood, you know what I mean?” Kenny told Esquire. “Like they remember, you know, old times, people that are gone, how their lives are changed. Whatever it is, people get really emotional, you know, and I’m an emotional Irish guy, so next thing you know I’m sobbing along with them. But one thing I’ve noticed that people, that makes people crazy, in a good way, is when they see me and Bill Fagerbakke, Patrick’s actor, hanging out, like just socially.”
It’s easy to get caught up in cartoon characters and forget that there’s an actor behind them. The fact that SpongeBob is such a significant part of the cultural lexicon helps explain this. However, while the nautical nonsense is what made Kenny the behind-the-scenes star he is, it’s just a tiny part of his overall impact on the entertainment industry over the last thirty years.
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