In these uncertain times, no one is completely secure in the economy’s choppy waves, not even the hardest working short order cook in the Pacific Ocean. When SpongeBob is fired from the Krabby Patty in an upcoming special episode aptly titled “SpongeBob, You’re Fired!,” his best friend Patrick tries to teach him the joys of unemployment. Unlike Patrick, voice actor Bill Fagerbakke’s no slouch. Along with working on SpongeBob SquarePants since the ‘90s, he had a nine season run as Assistant Coach Dauber on Coach and has been a recurring character on How I Met Your Mother as Marvin Eriksen Sr, Marshall Eriksen’s father. We spoke to Bill about Patrick’s childlike wonder, the Dauber’s influence on the role, and how his kids reacted to him being Patrick.
Den of Geek: You went from working on Coach almost directly to SpongeBob SquarePants; did the role of Dauber on Coach influence your portrayal of Patrick?
Bill Fagerbakke: To be honest, the first couple of years of SpongeBob I did call Patrick “AquaDauber.” [laughter] The business I’ve found myself in for my adult life, it requires a certain amount of stereotyping. It’s just the nature of the beast. You have a limited amount of time to tell a story; in particular on camera. So you want the visual information there to provide a certain amount of background. People that look a certain way are cast in certain roles. “You look like a cop, so we’ll cast you as a cop,” blah blah blah that sort of thing. So I was typecast coming out of the womb by the way I look. When you’re an actor and you’re 6’6” and you look like a goofball, you’re going to play big goofballs. So it’s kind of my milieu, my specialty I guess, and so even by the time I had done Coach [in 88], I had already played a quirky goofy character or two. I had a comfort level with that, and I suppose it probably on some level is a reflection of my own natural demeanor. By the time my business led me to voice overs in the early ‘90s, I realized oh, I also sound like a big goofball, because that’s mostly the kind of animated characters I portrayed too.
The audition for SpongeBob happened around ’97 and we first went to air in ‘99, but there was a big lag-time in there between the time we did the pilot and when Nickelodeon said “okay, we’ll take a few of those.” It’s not always done that way, so I was actually able to see a finished version of the pilot before we commenced on production of the series, which was really great. I had no idea what the pilot was going to be like; I wasn’t as experienced in anticipating what animation was going to look like or be produced like, so when I saw that version of the pilot it was just a real thrill. I realized, this is something really special. It was maybe only 8 minutes long, and I had my own little testing groups. When people would come to the house and they’d have their kids, I’d say “I want you to watch a little cartoon and tell me what you think,” and it was really fun to see people react to this cartoon. So anyway, I kind of stumbled my way in to that initial performance of Patrick and when I saw the pilot I realized from that point on where it needed to go and the juicy kind of potential of Patrick as a character.
On that topic, how do you think Patrick has developed during your performance of him?
I’m always looking for opportunities to explore that freewheeling imagination and insanity of children. To be able to plug in to that and let that carry you in to a performance is such a gas, I have so much fun with that. I love kids; I raised two girls and I love being a parent. Being a parent is hands down the greatest thing of my life, and I loved when they were young because as a parent you can spend that special time with them when they’re young and you can attach your imagination on to their ride and go with them and do what they’re doing. I always loved that and it’s kind of how I approach Patrick. I don’t know if this makes sense, but I guess that’s my approach and that’s what I continue to do because I’m so fortunate to keep going with this character. It’s very satisfying and enjoyable.
Your two children, did they ever watch any of your voice over work when they were young? What was there reaction?
SpongeBob debuted when they were five and seven; they were right in the wheelhouse for the cartoon so it was a great ride to begin and go on with your kids. It really became a part of our relationship, and occasionally they would come in and hang out when I did a session. In fact, my youngest daughter, who’s now 19, popped in for a session a year or two ago; she just wanted to watch.
That’s sweet that they enjoy your work and you’re able to share it with them.
Yeah, it is. And it’s affected their childhood in a fairly profound way in terms of other kids. I remember when my older daughter was 11 she changed schools. She went from a smaller public school in the Hills to a large public school where very few kids knew her. She had been there for a couple months and she came home one day and she said “I haven’t told anyone yet” which I thought was a very interesting and mature perspective on her part. She had already realized that when kids knew her dad was Patrick, it would affect the way that they saw her or would want to get to know her. So she wanted to get to know the new kids on her own terms.
That’s very smart of her. I’m sure people recognize you from Coach, How I Met Your Mother, and other live action roles, but do children ever pick up that you’re Patrick?
[Laughter] I think that has happened a few times where people have heard me say something and put it together. But fortunately Patrick’s voice is different enough from mine that it’s not a constant thing. I haven’t actually thought about that, “what if Patrick was just my speaking voice?” [More Laughter]
What is the recording process like for the show?
For the series we’ll record an 11-minute episode in an afternoon and perhaps revisit it several months later to do some adr tweaks where they say “we need some grunts here, a different laugh here, we changed this line, et cetera.” But in terms of involvement for the performers it’s really minimal, especially in the face of comparing it to the extraordinary labor done by the storyboard artists and writers. Those guys are the real engine.
Do you record with the rest of the cast?
We absolutely always record together as a cast. It works so much better. There’s just so much performance energy that happens. You can get the performance you need when doing it by yourself, but I believe that there is something remarkable that happens when people are working together that is unique to that.
Do you have a favorite line or quote from the series?
[Laughter] Oh, there are lots of Patrick moments. Certainly, “The Inner Machinations of my mind are an enigma.” He says this incredibly remarkably astute observation characterized by polysyllabic words and then you see the live action milk tip over and dump its contents and he immediately slips in to his drool pose. He’s completely spent his entire intellectual capacity in one line. That’s one of my favorite moments.
And of course riding the hook, when he discovers the pleasure taken with teasing the fishing line and getting a ride up and then jumping off. SpongeBob chides him that it’s dangerous and we cut to Patrick and he’s got hooks stuck in each end of his mouth and says, “Does this look dangerous?” I thought that was a wonderful line too.
“SpongeBob, You’re Fired” airs November 11th at 7pm eastern on Nickelodeon.