Voice actor Tom Kenny is probably best known as SpongeBob SquarePants, who debuted over twelve years ago on Nickelodeon has only grown in popularity since then. The comedian has also given voice to animated versions of DC Comics characters like the Penguin and Plastic Man as well as Marvel Comics characters like Iron Man and Captain America. Currently, Kenny voices the hysterical villain known as the Ice King on the smash hit Cartoon Network series Adventure Time, and will be voicing Doctor Octopus on Ultimate Spider-Man on Disney XD. During the Los Angeles Animation Festival, Toonzone News caught up with Kenny for an exclusive interview:
TOONZONE NEWS: So what are you excited about at the Los Angeles Animation Festival?
TOM KENNY: Well, you know, a lot. I’ve known John Andrews and Miles [Flanagan] for many years, and the great thing about the LAAF is that there is something for everybody. There’s stuff like the Shrek ten-year anniversary and also The Iron Giant, which I’m really excited about because I have a fourteen year old and an eight year old who have never gotten to see The Iron Giant on the big screen, and I think that’s going to be so cool. If you’ve only seen things in your home or your living room, there’s no comparison. That communal experience of seeing it in a theater full of people is so great. My wife and I met Bill Plympton on the show my wife and I met on, which was a short-lived Fox show called The Edge back in the early 90’s. Even before I ever thought I would be a married guy with kids, I knew Bill Plympton. And now I’m married to this woman who was in the cast of that show and we’ve got a fourteen year old kid and an eight year old kid. It’s weird where life takes you. You never know.
TOONZONE NEWS: It’s like this whole thing created your family?
TOM KENNY: You know it’s true. All the weird and goofy stuff that you’re into sort of does end up shaping your whole life if you play your cards right.
TOONZONE NEWS: You’re playing the original Spider-Man supervillain, Doctor Octopus.
TOM KENNY: Yes, Ultimate Spider-Man.
TOONZONE NEWS: What’s your take on Doctor Octopus, Otto Octavius?
TOM KENNY: Well, their take on him was that he was a person that worked for Norman Osborn. In a laboratory accident, he lost the use of his body and has been very embittered by that and has kind of been under the thumb of Norman Osborn for X amount of time. He suddenly realizes once he gains power of these telepathic limbs that he can turn the tables and he can be the boss. It’s kind of that thing where the underdog – the person whose working the mailroom – suddenly realizes, “Hey, screw it! I can be the CEO, mofo! Get out of the way!” And it’s been really fun to play that arc.
TOONZONE NEWS: What’s the approach for his sound and voice?
TOM KENNY: Well they wanted a little bit of Peter Lorre in there, one of my idols of all time; a great character actor, Peter Lorre. So we threw him in there. And it’s always amazing to me when I’m the guy that gets the gig because you’re always competing against the best in the business, to my mind guys who are way better than me.
TOM KENNY: Still, even twelve years later. [In SpongeBob’s voice] *I just did SpongeBob today, I came right from SpongeBob to the LAAF.* I can’t believe that’s still a place that I go . . . it is one of those things that you can’t believe that you’re still doing it after all this time, in a good way. I’m gratified that, wow this thing is still going and it’s still fun and people love it. When that comes to its end, I will be very sad. And not only in a financial sense, but in the sense that I like spending time with this little guy every Wednesday afternoon where me and Bill Faggerbake (that does Patrick) and Roger Bumpass (that does Squidward) and Clancy Brown (that does Mr. Krabs) get to hang out and be weird and crazy for four hours.
TOONZONE NEWS: I think it’s a legacy that’s going to live on.
TOM KENNY: I hope so. You know I hope it’s one of those Ninja Turtles, Strawberry Shortcake things that gets revivified every twenty years. I’m fifty, so I’ve only got so many twenty years’es left.
TOONZONE NEWS: I’m constantly amazed by what you do on Adventure Time and the Ice King character.
TOM KENNY: Oh thank you. I just did that yesterday.
TOM KENNY: He’s the loneliest guy in town. And I definitely identify with that. As with all these animated shows, the lion’s share of the credit totally goes to the writers and the creators who bring you in. Then you just slap what mustard you can on to things. From the get go, they said the Ice King is a lonely guy. He’s pathetic. He’s sad. He doesn’t see himself as evil. The only way he can women to hang out with him is for him to kidnap them. It’s like OK I get that. This guy is so lonely, that unless he takes someone prisoner, they won’t be in his presence. That’s sad and creepy and fun to play all at the same time. It’s as close as I’ll ever get to being able to play Hannibal Lecter or something.
TOONZONE NEWS: And I like how Fiona and Cake was his fan fiction of the show. I love that.
TOM KENNY: *laughs* He’s by himself at night writing his fan fiction about Adventure Time.
TOONZONE NEWS: The Super Hero Squad Show was recently syndicated by The Hub. Are you happy people will now have another way to watch the show and the second season?
TOM KENNY: Yeah. That was a show that didn’t quite find the audience it should have, which was mostly younger kids who are looking to get into superheroes. So much of the post-Dark Knight hero world is a little too realistic for them. As much as I love Frank Miller and Alan Moore, my six year old nephew can’t watch that. It’s great to have like a starter kit for super heroes where they know who Thor is. They know who the Hulk is. It’s like an entry level superhero start kit.
TOONZONE NEWS: It’s like a Marvel Gateway for kids.
TOM KENNY: It’s the Marvel Gateway.
TOM KENNY: I did. They came to me and said, “You know all this stuff anyway.” I’ve been a fan of all that for all my whole life. All the crazy, stupid, goofy stuff that I’ve made my living at is the stuff that I was into since I was four years old. It’s like comic books, or monster movies, or cartoons, three chord rock and roll, all that stuff that enables me not to be living under a bridge overpass is the stuff that I’ve been into since I was a cub. So, they came to and said, “You know this stuff. Do you want to write a crazy comedic episode with The Impossible Man?” I was like, “Yeah, yeah! I love the Impossible Man!” He’s like the Mr. Mxyzptlk of the Marvel Universe. That’s cool.
TOONZONE NEWS: Having played both Marvel and DC characters, do you consider yourself a Marvel guy or a DC guy?
TOM KENNY: Am I Marvel or a DC? I’ve never been asked that question. You know that’s a great question. And the answer is that since my parents were not keen on me reading comic books of any kind, anything that was a comic book was forbidden fruit contraband. MAD magazine, Marvel, DC, superhero comics, war comics, ghost comics, funny comics, I loved it all equally. I really don’t have a preference. I wallowed in all of it as a kid because it was all forbidden fruit. So whether it was Batman, Spider-Man, Sgt. Rock, Sgt. Fury, I loved it all.
Thanks to Tom Kenny for taking the time to speak with us. Ultimate Spider-Man premieres April 1, 2012 on Disney XD. The Super Hero Squad Show airs Monday thru Friday on The Hub. The new season of Adventure Time begin on April 2, 2012 on Cartoon Network. SpongeBob SquarePants is of course on Nickelodeon with new episodes set to premiere starting April 2, 2012.