SpongeBob SquarePants comes from a long line of subversive children's programming. Creator Steven Hillenberg made his big break in animation writing for Rocko's Modern Life, a show infamous for its dirty jokes and adult-oriented satire. Many of the show's artists came from Ren and Stimpy, perhaps the most twistedly controversial of the Nicktoons. The character of SpongeBob himself owes a heavy debt to Pee-Wee Herman, Paul Reubens' parody of kids' show hosts who somehow got his own deranged kids' show in the form of Pee-Wee's Playhouse. More distant but still noteworthy influences include the classic Looney Tunes and Fleischer cartoons, which weren't originally made for kids to begin with.
There's a reason SpongeBob SquarePants has always had a huge adult following, even before the kids who watched the early seasons came of age and took over the internet meme discourse. It's a show which has jokes for all ages... and then some jokes which aren't so much for the kids. Sometimes the darker adult humor arguably goes too far, but most of the time, especially in the classic seasons, it's delightful. Here are 15 of the weirdest, darkest moments from SpongeBob's 19 years on the air. Are you ready, kids?
15 BIKINI BOTTOM WAS A NUCLEAR TESTING SITE
It goes without saying that life in Bikini Bottom bares little resemblance to typical undersea life. The innocent explanation for SpongeBob SquarePants' scientifically innaccurate surreal wackiness is "it's a cartoon," and that's certainly more than enough to explain away all the show's nautical nonsense. But Stephen Hillenberg, clever marine biologist that he is, has an extra secret explanation for the nature of SpongeBob's world.
Bikini Bottom officially exists under the oceans surrounding the real world island of Bikini Atoll. Bikini Atoll was a nuclear testing site for the US government in the 1950s. Knowing this history, everything about Bikini Bottom makes sense. All those weird-looking talking sea creatures are nuclear mutants! This also puts the show's many gag cutaways to nuclear explosions in a new light.
14 THE KRUSTY KRAB IS A LOBSTER TRAP
Bikini Bottom contains a lot of unusual architecture: pineapples, rock and glass domes, Easter Island heads. Compared to these, the Krusty Krab fast food establishment might look like a normal building. Pay attention to the details and cconsider the underwater context, however, and suddenly a somewhat disturbing secret emerges: the Krusty Krab is a refurbished lobster trap.
There is something a little bit creepy about how Mr. Krabs' business is built out of an instrument of entrapment and death for his crustacean brethren. Perhaps it's a positive reclaiming. But is he killing lobsters with unhealthy fast food? Even worse, could he be killing lobsters FOR the food? It's unlikely, given he gave Larry the Lobster a temporary managerial position, but we still don't know the secret ingredient of the Krabby Patty...
13 SQUIDWARD'S "GOODBYE" IS (ALMOST) CANON
"Squidward's Suicide" is an internet urban legend (commonly known as creepypasta) about a "lost episode" of SpongeBob in which everyone has creepy photorealistic eyes, the action gets interrupted by cutaways to lifeless children and Squidward "ends it all." It's obviously fake, but the story spread around the internet. The real show, however, did get extremely close to portraying Squidward's "finale"... let's call it.
The episode "Are You Happy Now?" contains two fake-out suicide gags. First, Squidward sticks his head in an oven, only to pull out a tray of brownies. Then he carries a rope saying "Maybe this will help," looking like he's going to hang himself, only to instead use the rope to pull down a birdcage. The episode isn't as horrifying as the creepypasta, but it does reach a level of bleakness and potential insensitivity SpongeBob rarely goes to.
12 GASOLINE EXPLOSION CUT
"Just One Bite" is a classic episode of SpongeBob in which Squidward learns to stop worrying and love the Krabby Patty. That secret love drives him to break into the Krusty Krab at night. In the original airing, the Krusty Krab's security system causes him to endure two gasoline explosions before making it to the Patty vault. This was apparently too violent for Nickelodeon.
Reruns on Nickelodeon have inconsistent censorship: on some airings, both explosions are cut, but other times only one is eliminated. Without any official statement on why the episode got censored, some theorize that Nick's standards and practices became extra sensitive following 9/11 (the episode first aired less than a month after the attacks). Interestingly, the Canadian channel YTV always airs the uncensored version.
11 SPONGEBOB WATCHES SALACIOUS ANENOME VIDEOS
SpongeBob is, according to Stephen Hillenberg, an asexual character, given sponges in nature reproduce asexually. So what exactly was his interest in that anemone video? At the beginning of the episode "Your Shoe's Untied," SpongeBob watches this video of a live-action dancing sea anemone on the edge of his seat. When Gary enters the room, SpongeBob acts embarassed, claiming he was just trying to flip to the sports channel.
The implication of the joke is that SpongeBob was enjoying some sort of salacious underwater "entertainment." This is not a side of him we get to see very often. Even when he shows romantic attraction to other characters, sexuality seems to be the last thing on his mind. Perhaps he just appreciates the anemone's physical prowess without any desire to ogle its body?
10 SPONGE + STARFISH = SCALLOP?
The most frequently believed and sometimes controversial alternative to the "SpongeBob is asexual" canon is the "SpongeBob is gay" headcanon. While this common interpretation of the character was not intentional (at least initially; it's hard to say if later writers weren't playing up the idea), it's easy to see where people got that idea, given the flirtatious rapport he has with both his best friend Patrick and frenemy Squidward.
Perhaps the gayest-seeming SpongeBob episode is "Rock-a-Bye Bivalve," in which SpongeBob and Patrick adopt a baby scallop. Patrick plays the role of the scallop's "dad" while SpongeBob plays the role of the "mom." In the episode's most suggestive moment, two passersby seeing the couple with their "child" think to themselves in a thought bubble, "Sponge + Starfish = Scallop?"
9 SANDY IN THE BUFF
Is there a double standard in regards to male and female nudity on SpongeBob SquarePants? Male characters walk around without clothes all the time for a quick joke, but in the finished version of the episode "Someone's in the Kitchen with Sandy," Sandy's "exposed" scene still has her wearing her undergarments. Perhaps it's not a gender double standard but a mammals vs. invertebrates standard? Regardless, this was not always going to be the case.
Robert Ryan Corey's original design for Sandy's "exposed" scene (shown in part above) had no undergarments. It was also a lot more grotesque, a joke on just how freaky some animals look without fur. There are obviously no intentions of sexualization with this design (...unless you have really, really unusual tastes), but ultimately it got rejected for a normal-looking Sandy without fur, wearing a bikini.
8 SNEAKY INNUENDO IN "NO FREE RIDES"
SpongeBob SquarePants tends to be aggressively nice to everyone, even when they don't reciprocate friendly behavior. Still, he has a subdued mean streak beneath that happy go lucky exterior. Or at least, the writers do. That's the thing with double entendres. Even if the characters don't read into them, audiences certainly will, and the writers have to know these things.
It's completely possible that SpongeBob had no idea what he was saying when he told his driver instructor Mrs. Puff "See you next Tuesday!" after failing another driving test in the episode "No Free Rides." Yet those four words form a euphamism for a certain word that's incredibly offensive in America, though perhaps endearingly rude in the UK. Is SpongeBob really calling his teacher THAT!?!
7 DON'T DROP THE SOAP
There's something odd how comfortable our society is with making jokes about sexually assault in prisons. It's especially odd that we're so comfortable making such jokes that they're considered tame enough to include in SpongeBob SquarePants. Of all shows, one so generally positive seems like one of the last ones you'd expect to find a "don't drop the soap" joke in.
And yet, in the season three episode "Gary Takes a Bath," SpongeBob warns his snail Gary not to drop his "dubloons" of soap. This episode is actually banned in the United Kingdom, though it's unclear if it's the edgy humor in the "Gary Takes a Bath" segment or rather the scary images in its paired-up segment "Shanghaied" that is the reason for such censorship.
6 MARINE BIOLOGY BONUS
Here's a joke you need to know your marine biology in order to get why it's so dirty. At the end of the season two episode "I'm Your Biggest Fanatic," the Jellyspotters jellyfishing fraternity rip the crown off their former leader Kevin the sea cucumber and give it to SpongeBob. SpongeBob assumes that the crown is some sort of hat, but a crying mutilated Kevin confirms that it was part of his body.
This is already fairly gross and violent by SpongeBob standards even without knowing anything about the biology of a sea cucumber. But any marine biologist would know that a sea cucumber's crown is actually its anus. Yes, this episode seriously ends with SpongeBob wearing his enemy's dismembered butt as a fashionable headpiece!
5 SANDY VS. "THE TICKLER"
A lot of the adult jokes in SpongeBob SquarePants require you to put two and two together. The character pictured above from the season four episode "Karate Island" is called The Tickler. That in itself isn't anything dirty, it's merely descriptive of how he tickles people as part of his martial arts fighting. He's also a walking French stereotype. Put the two things together.
"French tickler," in case you weren't aware, is a term for a condom with ribbed protrusions. So yes, SpongeBob SquarePants made a condom joke. And this isn't the only time the series has made one! What do you think those "balloons" SpongeBob blows to make a balloon Squidward in the season seven episode "The Play's the Thing" are supposed to look like?
4 MR. KRABS CALLED SPONGEBOB WHAT!?!
The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is rated PG, and as such had a bit more leeway in regards to content than the TV series does. Even so, the movie tried to stick to the show's ethos of keeping its more risque content on the subtler side, even in regards to something as usually in-your-face as bad language. Thus, when Mr. Krabs calls SpongeBob a "jackass," he says it in a whisper, to which SpongeBob replies out loud "I'm making a complete WHAT of myself?"
It's a more subdued use of such language than, say, the Shrek movies, but it is there and you can clearly hear what Mr. Krabs is whispering if you pay attention. Because of this, in most recent airings of the movie on Nickelodeon, his whisper dialogue is muffled over.
3 PATRICK CHRIST, SUPER STARFISH
While still maintaining the lighthearted humorous tone of the cartoon, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical takes its story in bigger, slightly darker directions than the cartoon does. In the musical, Bikini Bottom is facing an apocalyptic threat. It deals with xenophobia, mob mentality and religion. How it addresses that last subject is downright insane.
Essentially, an apocalyptic cult of Sardines comes to believe that Patrick Star will save them all with his "wisdom." Patrick goes along with the cult, essentially abandoning his friends and causing conflict with SpongeBob. The sardine cult performs one of the funniest songs in the show, a gospel number composed by Yolanda Adams titled "Super Sea Star Savior." It plays like a comedic homage to the musical Jesus Christ: Superstar, except it's about Patrick Star, the biggest idiot in Bikini Bottom.
2 SQUIDWARD GOT "TRIGGERED"
In early preview performances of SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical, Squidward talks at one point about being "triggered." They changed the line to be about him "snapping," a less sensitive phrase. The word "triggered" refers to a PTSD-based reaction to specific stimulae that on the internet is often misused to refer to any time someone is angered or offended. The initial use of the word was decidedly not getting laughs, so they changed it before the official premiere.
One post by tumblr user, stuff-and-shenanigans, describing the change received over 16,000 notes. Many users thought it was a joke, or part of some otherkin roleplay or something. The idea that a SpongeBob musical even exists, let alone is the topic of serious discourse regarding triggers, is surreal to many, but this is actually a thing that happened in a musical that actually exists and is supposedly very good.
1 THE SPONGEBOB ADULT PARTY CARTOON?
So SpongeBob SquarePants gets away with some pretty mature humor for a kids show. But what if it was a show specifically for adults? A persistent rumor exists that in 2003, Spike TV pressed Stephen Hillenberg to make a SpongeBob SquarePants Adult Party Cartoon to go along with its Ren and Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon. While it's hard to find an official source confirming this, Frederator, an animation studio that's worked with Nickelodeon, has reported it as fact, making this rumor appear legit.
Of course, Hillenberg and the people at Nickelodeon rightfully said no to Spike TV's request. Ren and Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon was terrible, and SpongeBob was still making boatloads of money as a kids show on Nickelodeon. It's clear SpongeBob was working perfectly fine as is for all ages, and it didn't need to force in excessive "adult content" to appeal to adults.