There probably isn’t a single day where I don’t quote something from Spongebob Squarepants. While I certainly enjoyed the show as a child, I learned to embrace the smart, pointed, and absurd comedy of Stephen Hillenburg’s cartoon as a young adult. With Hillenburg’s passing away from ALS not too long ago, I struggle to not say the cliché that part of my childhood has died—but that is just what has happened.
The first three seasons of Spongebob and its first featured film are works that I celebrate unknowingly every day. This is a show that so many people I’ve crossed paths with in my short life thus far have appreciated even more as they grow older. Quoting Spongebob is an odd universal language, one that allowed me to communicate with, joke with, and befriend many others. We’re all familiar with the memes, but true millennials will just say “May I take your hat, sir?” “Not at all, boy!” or the lyrics to the “Campfire Song Song” with no prompt or context and still garner a laugh.
It’s with this heavy heart that I try my very best to narrow down some of my favorite Spongebob gags—they may not be the most popular ones, but to me, they’ve lasted the test of time for one reason or another.
“Not at all, boy!”
Let’s start with a familiar one. Remember that one episode where Spongebob made a terrible sundae and it made his breath smell? It was a fantastic example of how versatile the writers and animators were when retelling the same joke over and over again but in a different way. To show just how bad Spongebob’s breath was, every character and extra each had a different reaction—maybe their head melts, or their face caves in, or they just straight up die and float away.
This particular chum in this movie theater scene should win an award for best line reading of all time—I couldn’t tell you if it was one of several voice actors they had on hand, or if it was a staff member on the show, but the specific cadence of “Not at all, boy!” followed by those inhuman grunting in reaction to the bad breath gets me every time.
A Dying Animal on the Premises
It probably wouldn’t be a sin to suggest that “Band Geeks” is the greatest Spongebob episode of all time, so why not start with the opening scene? It’s such a skillful set-up for probably the most triumphant episode for poor Squidward Tentacles. He’s alone in his studio, badly playing his clarinet, which in turn gets mistaken for something else. That familiar purple fish doctor, perhaps the best “straight man” character in the show, brings a medic with him, and Squidward, nary a smile, slams the door for great comedic timing. This is something he’s probably experienced before.
Not to mention, the phone call afterward with his rival Squilliam Fancyson was a well-written way to further paint a picture of Squidward’s misery. “I hope the audience brings lots of- ibuprofen.”
“Flag twirlers, let’s move!”
Heh heh. More band humor. There are too many gags to count from “Band Geeks,” but I have to give special mention to one that gets lost to “big meaty claws” and the rest. The entire episode was a myriad of gags to show how incompetent everyone in Bikini Bottom was, but this one just had me guffaw. The band sounds downright awful and Squidward is desperately trying to make it work until the flag twirlers cartoonishly fly up to their violent deaths.
I can’t tell which is the funnier part afterward: the trumpeter immediately playing “Taps,” everyone else instantly putting their hand on their heart, or Squidward going into a fetal position and totally giving up. Same, Squidward.
Also, honorable mention to: “Yeah, for the fireman!”
Dismantling the Oppressive Establishment
Have you ever thought about how Spongebob Squarepants is a story about the working class? That obviously isn’t anything that I thought of (or could even comprehend) as a child, but “Squid on Strike” is the most overt example. Enter this scene, where Spongebob, totally inept throughout Squidward’s strike, takes his rhetoric far too literally. Even during times of real class struggles, my stupid brain will revert to “knaw at the ankles of big business!”
I do not, however, start taking giant chomps of a building.
Wat the Wusty Wab
Remember being a silly, dumb child and just comically riffing of your best friend at the expense of random passersby? This little moment captures that perfectly. “Wuidward’s woing to work!”You can find me quoting this every time anyone’s occupation comes up in conversation. Yes, I am a nightmare to socialize with.
“Magic conch shell? You mean like this?”
Speaking of the episode, just imagine being in Squidward’s position by the end of it. You’ve gone through absolute trauma and desperation, and you think rescue is near. This random stranger makes a dramatic entrance, and then… that ridiculous face. Some voice actor must have had a lot of fun performing that ululating.
“Where’s the leak, ma’am?”
The Doodlebob episode of Spongebob is perhaps one of the most non-sensical episodes in the show’s history, right down to Doodlebob’s incomprehensible screaming. There was the live-action “artist at sea” to bookend the episode (which must have been a hoot to shoot), and various scenes of Patrick Star in pain. This is one of several examples where you stop questioning and allow the absurdity to take you away. Plus, excellent line delivery as always.
“No, just into this hole.”
As William Shakespeare reminds us, brevity is the soul of wit. Not every gag in a cartoon has to be outlandish and super-animated, but could even just be a really well-timed deadpan line of dialogue.
Patrick choking on snow
Assuming you were a bratty child, you likely also had your own Squidward as a neighbor. Imagine being that neighbor and having to put up with the nonsense of children on a daily basis, to the point where it’s routine. From both ends of this Squidward/Patrick conversation, the dynamic is captured perfectly, with Patrick summing up his dilemma in childish fashion to a deadpan “facinating.” Also, that face as he chokes is just hilarious.
Life on the Outside
As adults, it’s sometimes surprising thinking back to Spongebob and remembering just how comically cynical it could be upon a second thought. Take this one clip that generally circulates around the internet amongst young adults, just finding out about the monotony and futility of working life. Funny, right?
“-and then we die.”
“Wow, street performers!”
Not only are Spongebob and Patrick just being plain dumb in this scene, having thought they popped a “stolen” free balloon, but leave it to random folks thinking this is avant-garde street performance. Not too far off, I guess. It was only topped immediately after with the gag of Spongebob saying “We have to move fast and cover our tracks,” as we pan to Patrick saying “I’m way ahead of you, Spongebob” as he runs with a red paintbrush behind him.
Man, the regular citizens of Bikini Bottom are just mean-spirited people, aren’t they? Either that or there are some weirdly-named places under the sea. Other episodes featured the “Doofus Convention,”“Doofus Drive,” and so on. Patrick’s trying really hard, okay?
Here’s another exercise in deadpan humor. Of course, I have several questions: who are these pirates? Why do they have a ship underwater? What are they going to do with those bombs, and why do they look like pies? It’s a complete non-sequitur that becomes the most important development of the episode—at this point, you’ve already accepted the absurdity.
The Perfume Department
Speaking of absurdity, someone on staff must have just come from a miserable experience at a shopping center, resulting in yet another non-sequitur. But at the same time, we’ve all been there, haven’t we? The Flying Dutchman’s ship is truly a hellscape, featuring only the most notorious dungeon that only the most nefarious minds could concoct. Plus, overhear any conversation and you’ll probably catch me saying: “I have an idea.” What? “Let’s leave.”
“We should dig a moat!”
Look, I recognize that Patrick’s “dig Bikini Bottom and push it somewhere else” is a popular meme, but why was there a knight there? The rule of three is always a great comedic guideline, but the Spongebob writers know how to just take that to another level. This “concerned community” meeting will go down as one of my favorite collections of individual gags in this show.
You Stupid Dumb Animal
Patrick Star can be best summed up by the image of his blank face as a board is nailed to his head. It was a quick gag in this seahorse episode where Patrick failed to build a seahorse stable, but the writers knew how to further extend the gag in this brilliantly blocked scene.
“Now it’s my turn!
“Wet Painters” also has to be up there in the top episodes, and it just goes to show how creative the writers are in stuffing as many gags as they can in one sequence. There’s the stress and anxiety coming from Patrick as Spongebob attempts to open a paint can of seemingly permanent paint, followed by Patrick abruptly expressing the exact opposite of Spongebob’s delicacy. Brief music cues, sound effects, and comically large axes are always funny, too.
I probably have to wrap it up here—there are just too many moments to talk about and not enough space on this website. Again, it’s a bit clichéd, but as Nickelodeon officially put this up shortly after Hillenburg’s death, it seems only appropriate to end with “Sweet Victory.” Stephen Hillenburg may have left us, with he has left us a legacy of absurdist and pointed comedy accesible to all generations, one that will never fail to make us laugh.