What the Voice of SpongeBob Has Absorbed About Money


As the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants, Tom Kenny has his own take on the money IQ of TV's premier prattling poriferan. "He works 97 hours a week; he gets paid for 40," Kenny told The Price of Fame. "I don't know whether he's the best person to ask for financial advice."

Kenny, 49, is moonlighting as Rabbit on the Disney (DIS) big-screen reboot of Winnie the Pooh, opening Friday. It's not just another gig. It never is, he said. "I get excited just being employed making funny voices into a microphone and paying my rent. I don't know that will ever stop being shocking to me. I have total freelancer mental illness where you think it's all going to go away tomorrow."

Voice of Spongebob
Voice of Spongebob

Perhaps you or your children have also heard Kenny's pliable vocals on TV's PowerPuff Girls, World Girl or Dilbert, or in any of dozens of movies.

Kenny has been day-job-free for 25 years, yet his fiscal wherewithal has apparently not climbed with his fancy show business income. "I have the financial acumen of a 1920s blue singer," he said.

'A Live Within My Means Guy'

Kenny has been called a "modern day Mel Blanc," perhaps the highest praise in the vocal trade. Kenny considers Blanc, best known for voicing Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and other cartoon characters, as Muhammad Ali and Babe Ruth combined. The actor appreciates any link to greatness, but avoids the extravagance of many outsized icons.

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"I've always been a live within my means guy," he said. "I'm always smart by mistake. You drive a crappier car than you should be driving or live in a smaller house than you should be living [in]."

Kenny did splurge on a financial adviser after he and his wife took turns doing the family books. His juggling of contract gigs became too complex for amateur accountants, he said.

It wasn't always so complicated: He remembers when he could have tallied his salary with chalk, back when he was playing comedy clubs in San Francisco and Boston. All that changed when he landed his first animation voice job, on a 1995 cartoon adaptation of the Jim Carrey movie Dumb and Dumber. He played an H. Ross Perot-type bad guy. The series lasted one season. It almost didn't matter. "I remember it was euphoric," he said. "It was doing what I always wanted to do. It was my dream job as a kid. To finally have someone compensating me for that thing, I thought it was this huge Rubicon that I crossed," he said.

The Dumb and Dumber gig also introduced him to Bill Fagerbakke, who would later play SpongeBob's best pal, Patrick Starfish. The Nickelodeon (VIA) show has logged more than 200 episodes since its 1999 debut, making Kenny one of the few voice actors with a steady job. But when other roles come up, he pounces on them like Pooh's pal Tigger. IMDB.com listed 16 projects that Kenny worked on this year. "I can't say no to anything because I have to sock it away," he said. "I gotta be an ant, not a grasshopper. ... Or both."

With so much at stake atop of the larynx-endowed heap, Kenny was asked by TPOF if he ever considered insuring his voice. "Like Betty Grable's legs?" he replied, referring to the World War II pinup queen whose famously gorgeous gams were indemnified for $1 million. "Maybe it would behoove me. Maybe some crazed psycho comes up and punches me in the throat. It can happen."

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