Extra peg legs, hooks, eye patches, a sword and rum would be on the packing list of a pirate hitting the open sea. OK, maybe pirates don't make lists, but if they did, they would not include what this pirate packs -- seasick pills.
Yes, Patchy the Pirate gets seasick, even on the rather calm waters of the Hudson River around Manhattan. On a blustery night, Patchy -- legally known as Tom Kenny, with tooth blackened and scraggly black beard pushed down -- settles his thin frame into a director's chair to discuss giving voice to the world's most famous sponge.
Though Kenny may not be instantly recognizable, his voice is. He is arguably the most popular character on television (sorry, Simon). Yes, he is the porous fellow who lives in a pineapple under the sea. Kenny is the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants.
"I'm stunned you can make a living doing this," Kenny says.
He's managed to do so for 20 years. What's striking is that Kenny's added his voice to so many major cartoons in the past decade he must be the hardest-working man in animation. These include "Rocko's Modern Life," "CatDog," "Family Guy," "The Wild Thornberrys," "Dilbert," "Johnny Bravo," "Dexter's Laboratory," "The PowerPuff Girls," "Jimmy Neutron," "The Fairly OddParents," "Justice League," "Kim Possible," "Camp Lazlo," "Duck Dodgers," "The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy," "My Gym Partner's a Monkey," "Handy Manny" and "Class of 3000."
As extensive as this list is, it represents a fraction of Kenny's work, which spans preschool shows to more adult-themed cartoons. He's also done live-action performances.
He began his career as a stand-up comic and naturally, held a day job.
"I worked in the bowels of a building, working a machine that filmed checks for people," he says of his days working for a bank. "Nobody even knew I did stand-up. Then, they'd see my name, and say, 'Is that you?'"
"I have no skills," Kenny, 44, says plainly. "I am the worst career-day guest because I did everything wrong."
Yet his parents never discouraged him when he was interested in comic books and later in comedy. "Now that I have kids, I realize how nice they were about the whole thing," he says.
The father of a boy, 8, and a girl, 3, Kenny is a natural with kids. As the boat sways a bit, he adjusts his pirate hat and makes his way onto the open deck. There, dozens of children gather to serve as the background cheering section as he films wraparound promotions for Nickelodeon.
It's a surreal sight. Kids, all wearing yellow SpongeBob shirts, cheer on command as the ferry sails past the Statue of Liberty. It's interesting to imagine what the immigrant great-grandparents of these screaming children would think, considering not one child stops to stare at this majestic symbol of freedom. After all, Patchy's talking.
Parents who suspect that Nickelodeon constantly runs "SpongeBob SquarePants" are right. On weekdays, it airs at 8 and 8:30 a.m., from 2 to 3 p.m., and at 5 and 8 p.m. On weekends, it's on at 9 and 9:30 a.m., 2 and 2:30 p.m., and 5 p.m.
That's an awful lot of the world's most optimistic sponge who wears tighty whities under his brown square pants. The challenge is finding a child who cannot sing the theme song.
Besides its goofy, optimistic star, the show also features Mr. Krabs, SpongeBob's money-grubbing boss; Squidward, his ornery co-worker; and Patrick, a dimwitted starfish, and Sandy Cheeks, a squirrel -- his best friends.
"Tom brings pure enthusiasm at all times," says Carolyn Lawrence, who provides Sandy's chirpy voice. "You are not going to get the jaded actor thing at all with him. That's one of the many things that makes the character beloved."
As Lawrence talks, it's clear she adores this show. "I love the innocence of it, it's so pure," she says. "It is still so fun. I love Patchy because it's Tom, and Plankton is hilarious."
Plankton is the small green creature who resembles an ambulatory pickle.
"The concept of that deep voice came from a tape I made to audition for the pilot," says Plankton's human counterpart, Mr. Lawrence. Incidentally, he has a real first name, Doug, but thought "Mister" sounded funnier.
Like others on such a hit, Lawrence had no concept of how huge "SpongeBob" would be. Lawrence says the success of his yellowness dawned on him when the show's popularity trickled down to his grandmother.
"She was glad I made a living at this, but this is not necessarily her cup of tea," Lawrence says. "When she called up and said she is a celebrity because of being my grandmother, and all of the kids in the neighborhood in South River, N.J., know she is Plankton's grandmother, then I knew."
Kenny points out that when "SpongeBob" premiered in July 1999, "people were saying 'wazz up,' and there were the Budweiser frogs. It's ephemeral, pop shows, and you feel like you dodged a bullet, that you are in one of those things that had staying power."
Kenny is a fan of Looney Tunes, "Rocky & Bullwinkle," and "Top Cat" -- all among the rare cartoons that also have staying power. He watched these growing up in East Syracuse, N.Y.
"Anything that blows your mind or wows you at a tender age, stays with you for life," he says.
As for what's next for the skinny seasick pirate, Kenny says, "I was always just sort of borne along -- like a leaf in a gale. I want to do more writing and get more involved in more music."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times