If you've spent much time on social media, you've probably seen a SpongeBob SquarePants meme. There's "Mocking SpongeBob," where our protagonist takes the shape of a chicken and the CaPtIoN iS wRiTtEn LiKe ThIs. There's "Surprised Patrick," where SpongeBob's starfish best friend is in jaw-dropping shock and superimposed onto various backgrounds. And more than a half dozen others.
The cast of SpongeBob SquarePants is well aware of the memes -- and they love them.
The Nickelodeon cartoon about a yellow sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The franchise has spawned a Tony Award-winning musical and an upcoming prequel, tentatively titled Kamp Koral. On Wednesday, the cartoon was renewed for its 13th season.
But one of its most unexpected achievements has been its contributions to meme culture. It was never on purpose, and neither the voice actors nor writers ever saw it coming, several of them said during an interview Thursday at San Diego Comic Con.
"It wasn't me," Bill Fagerbakke, who plays Patrick, said in his baritone Patrick voice. His favorite memes, naturally, are the ones starring Patrick.
Carolyn Lawrence, who voices the Texan squirrel Sandy Cheeks, said she thinks the show is so meme-able because it has a lot of physical humor compared with other cartoons. The characters are also given very rich facial expressions, which is a testament to the animators, she said.
But even though the cast and writers know their work could very well end up splashed across Twitter and Instagram feeds, they don't try to force it, said writer Doug "Mr." Lawrence. "We don't take it into account," he said, but adds that seeing the memes on social media is a good way to keep tabs on how people are relating to the characters.
Most importantly, if the script were written with the goal of going viral, it would seem phony, Carolyn Lawrence said. "Even if you wrote one specifically for a meme, people would probably take it out of context [and turn it into another type of meme]," she said. "You can't plan for it."
On Thursday, the cast also reflected on the show's two-decade run.
"It's something no one in the entertainment industry expects," Fagerbakke said. "Frankly, you're an idiot if you even hope for it."