SpongeBob and Patrick (aka Tom Kenny and Bill Fagerbakke) preview hosting the 2024 Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards

The dynamic duo will be donning mo-cap suits to host this year's awards "live."
#IMDboat At San Diego Comic-Con 2022: Day Two
#IMDboat At San Diego Comic-Con 2022: Day Two / Vivien Killilea/GettyImages

In just a few short days, SpongeBob Squarepants and Patrick Star will be hosting the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards live, from Bikini Bottom, for the first time ever. Only of course it won’t actually be SpongeBob and Patrick – it will be Tom Kenny and Bill Fagerbakke, the actors who have been voicing the iconic characters for 25 years.

It isn’t the first time Kenny and Fagerbakke have performed “live” as their cartoon counterparts… Thanks to Nickelodeon’s ongoing partnership with the NFL, the duo provided commentary for the slime-spattered Nick airing of the Super Bowl, earlier this year. In order to do so, Kenny and Fagerbakke donned motion capture suits which allowed them to chat with real-life NFL commentators, while on-screen kids (and adults) got to see what looked like 3-D versions of SpongeBob and Patrick sitting in a booth and talking about the game.

But this year’s KCAs will take things to the next level, with the undersea pals hosting the whole star-studded show, from beginning to end. It’s a very different mode than recording in the booth, as they’ve done for a quarter century, as The Parent Watch found out when we chatted with the duo late last month, in advance of the KCAs.

“We play all around,” Kenny noted of the normal recording process. “And when we're recording SpongeBob we're not sitting down. We're flailing around and knocking stuff over.”

Added Fagerbakke on being locked into the mo-cap suits, “But we can't do that. We have to be more controlled. It's a different kind of way to perform our characters.”

To find out much more of what goes on behind the scenes to bring SpongeBob and Patrick to life, what their move is if SpongeBob loses Best Animated Show, and their thoughts on July 17th’s 25th anniversary of the series, read on.

The Parent Watch: Not to get too in the weeds immediately, but I'm very curious about the process of how you're hosting the awards. Will it be the mo-cap suits like you used at the Super Bowl? Is it pre-taped? Some combo? How are you tackling that?

Bill Fagerbakke: Well, at least we don't have to wear SpongeBob and Patrick costumes. It may come to that. But no, yeah, we'll be in the mo-cap.

Tom Kenny: Yeah.

Fagerbakke: And let me put on the suit and do a car show. Why not? Have you ever done a car show? You ever done a car show?

Kenny: No. No. My band has played in some, but yeah. Alex, I'll say like-

Fagerbakke: [whispers] This is Tom Kenny talking.

Kenny: Oh, hi. Yeah, this is Tom Kenny.

Fagerbakke: I'm Bill Fagerbakke.

Tom Kenny: The manly voice is Bill, the adenoidal nasal voice is Tom Kenny.

[Laughs] Thank you.

Kenny: Yeah, man. First of all, yes, we've been doing interviews all day, but this is the first Charlie's Angels style when we've had just a phone on a table and we're talking to it. Here's your assignment, Angels. But yeah, it's going to be the mo-cap suits, like the Super Bowl, same technology, and this is a direct outgrowth of that because it worked well, and of course, you want to be in show business anytime something works, let's do more of it.

Fagerbakke: Sure. And I'm sure they're writing it as we speak.

Kenny: Yeah, maybe. But hopefully they're also going, "Ah, those guys riffed pretty good. Let's leave them to their own devices to a large degree." That's always better. But so yes, those mo-cap suits from the Super Bowl, me and Bill wired into them, hardwired into them, and SpongeBob and Patrick commenting on the KCAs in real time. What could possibly go wrong?

Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke
Nickelodeon Unveils SpongeBob SquarePants: The Bikini Bottom Experience In Los Angeles / Charley Gallay/GettyImages

Staying on the technical end for a second. Obviously you guys are professionals and have been doing this for a really long time, but having those mo-cap suits on, does that physically change how you approach the voices at all?

Fagerbakke: Well, they're a constant reminder that how you're moving is relevant to what people are seeing. So yeah, it does affect what you do vocally because you're using your body more specifically. When we're recording a cartoon, Tom and I are both very physical in the booth, so we use our bodies locked.

Kenny: We play all around. And when we're recording SpongeBob we're not sitting down. We're flailing around and knocking stuff over.

Fagerbakke: It's a workout. Yeah.

Kenny: It's a workout.

Fagerbakke: It's an awesome workout. But we can't do that. We have to be more controlled. It's a different kind of way to perform our characters.

Kenny: And also what our bodies are doing when we're recording an episode, whatever it takes to get to that vocal performance we can do in the booth, because what our bodies are doing doesn't matter, right? It's just whatever the voice recording is, [that’s] what it's about. And with this, it's a little different. Your body does matter, and there's certain parameters of movements that the motion capture suit can handle and some stuff it can't. The main difference is that you're surrounded by this kind of Daytona 500 meets NASA [group] of people that are messing with your suit and tweaking it, like, hold on, adjusting the camera-

Fagerbakke: Poking at you.

Kenny: Because the suit requires a field time futzing, and those mother futzers are really good at that.

Fagerbakke: And you also, you don't want to waste the opportunity to use the technology to work for what we're doing. So you want to try using your arms and want to try, how do I move my head here?

Kenny: Yeah. What can I do? What can't I do?

Fagerbakke: What will accentuate and help everything work better?

Kenny: Yeah, if you go the other way, when you do that, you're off camera. SpongeBob and Patrick can't turn into one another, because one of them disappears. I don't know how inside baseball you wanted to go, but this is pretty inside baseball.

Nickelodeon Commemorates 25 Years of SpongeBob at San Diego Comic-Con 2024 - credit: Nickelodeon /

No, no, I love it. To keep on this same bent, you've been looping your voices to the show for years at this point, 25 years actually this month. But when you're performing live, are you thinking about them on screen, how SpongeBob moves, how Patrick moves? Or is there variation there? Because obviously you're not cartoons.

Fagerbakke: Well, yeah, that is a part of it. You have to be cognizant of that. And so that's where an extra part of your brain has to be employed, which can be frankly inhibiting a little bit because when we're recording a cartoon, you really lose yourself. You lose yourself in just what is happening vocally. And so the performance is purely vocal. Anything that happens with your body that is a part of that; while being crucial, is also irrelevant. Now, that's no longer the case, so it's a different kind of performance.

Kenny: But that being said, SpongeBob and Patrick, we know them. And like you said, we've been sharing headspace with those characters for a quarter of a century. So in a way, you just have to let yourself, as a performer, give yourself over to be taken over by those characters. Bill and Tom got to kind of go away. Yeah, Bill and Tom have to banish themselves and then just give your brain over to these characters. But you are also ad-libbing in real time in character, so that's a little of a tightrope act, for sure. Because if you say everything that comes into your head in the moment, there might be some other guy doing SpongeBob on Monday.

As wise guys and an ex-standup comedian myself, it has to be stuff that SpongeBob and Patrick would say, not stuff that Bill and Tom would think. So, it's a really interesting multifaceted juggling act, and we've only done it – well, Bill's done it twice at football games, one of them being the Super Bowl, and I've only done it once at the Super Bowl. But I feel like it went well, and I think we'll get the hang of it even better this time.

Fagerbakke: We'll have rehearsals to really work on the physical realities. And I'm looking down at the phone as we do this interview. And are these new pants, Tom?

Kenny: These are new pants.

Fagerbakke: Those are really nice. I like those, man.

Kenny: Thank you. Thank you.

Kenny: I wish Alex could see them.

I do too. I'll write “nice pants” in the transcript, so everybody knows the pants are nice.

Kenny: Yes, yes. Nice pants, and wife pants, because she buys all my clothes for me.

Are the presenters going to be in the same room as you? Is it basically being done on a stage, but with you replaced with Patrick and SpongeBob? Or how's that part going to work?

Kenny: I defer to you, Bill. We haven't really had a tech rehearsal yet. Now I know if the Super Bowl is an indication, we were actually in the broadcast room with a big giant window that looked directly onto the football field where they were playing the Super Bowl. Here's us sitting at a table, and then in front of us is this big window and there's the biggest football game of all time.

Fagerbakke: And we were sitting next to Nate Brooks and Noah Eagle, and ironically, they had to close the curtains on the window overlooking the field because they didn't like the optics of people being able to see in at what was going on in there. So we actually were at the stadium in a press box overlooking the field, watching the game completely on a monitor that was planted in front of us.

Kenny: Yeah, yeah, you're right about that. Yeah, look out the window. And when the game started, they closed the drapes. I'm like, "F***. We used to be in front at the Super Bowl. Close the curtain. Noah."

Fagerbakke: Because we had to have all the noise to-

Kenny: Yeah, there was a lot of noise.

Fagerbakke: So we'll see. We may very well be, I suspect, in some kind of a technical truck right next to the facility.

Kenny: The funny thing is, for years I've been the announcer at the Kids' Choice Awards, the booming announcer guy. “We'll be back with your favorite star when the Kids' Choice Awards returns.” That kind of stuff. But I can't do that this year because I'm being SpongeBob, so I'm going to miss that. Because I really like that job. I don't know if they're going to have us offsite or onsite having been at both the Super Bowl and the Kids' Choice Awards, they're equally loud. Like Bill alluded to earlier, yeah, trying to ad-lib and be in the moment when there's this super loud rock concert level of cacophony happening… It's real concentration. You know what I mean? You're like, "Wow, this ain't for babies." You know what I mean? This ain't for bubble blowing babies. This is real.

Tom Kenny
Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards 2023 - Arrivals / Gregg DeGuire/GettyImages

I'm going to ask a hard question here, but SpongeBob is nominated for Best Cartoon. What is your move if you do win – or if you don't win?

Fagerbakke: Well, it's an honor just to be nominated.

Kenny: Well, it's an honor just to be nominated. We have won a lot of blimps in the past. My move, if we do win, my move is to cheer the whole cast and crew on loudly. If we don't win, my move is to feverishly, take off my motion capture suit and stalk out of the Kids' Choice Awards in a huff and never come back.

Good. I'm selfishly hoping you don't win, just because I want to see that.

Kenny: Oh, wow. I want to see that tantrum.

I want to see that happen. I want that TV moment. But last thing to ask you guys, this is part of the overall celebration of SpongeBob that's rolling out over the course of the year, but the actual 25th anniversary is on July 17th. Do you have plans for how you'll be celebrating it?

Kenny: I am going skydiving that day. No, not really. No. I mean, the Kids' Choice Awards is probably our big celebration of it. I think probably the actual anniversary on the 17th, I will take a moment to reflect on the luck and good fortune that this thing has brought into my life and the people that it's brought into my life. Just a quiet moment of eyes closed. Gratitude, I think will work for me.

Fagerbakke: Thank you for not using the term manifesting.

Kenny: You manifest the s*** out of me.

Fagerbakke: I just had my first grandchild, I'll think about as happy as I was watching SpongeBob with my daughters in 1999. I will be equally happy anticipating watching it with the little guy in two, four years.

Kenny: And by that time, that little grandchild will be going, "That's not you, Dad. That's AI." Grandpa that's AI, that's not you!

The 2024 Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards air live on Nickelodeon on Saturday, July 13, at 8 pm ET / PT.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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