He first appeared on television in the series' pilot episode "Help Wanted" on May 1, 1999. SpongeBob was created and designed by cartoonist Stephen Hillenburg shortly after the cancellation of Rocko's Modern Life in 1996. Hillenburg intended to create a series about an over-optimistic sponge that annoys other characters. Hillenburg compared the concept to Laurel and Hardy and Pee-wee Herman. As he drew the character, he decided that a "squeaky-clean square" (like a kitchen sponge) fits the concept. His name is derived from "Bob the Sponge", the host of Hillenburg's comic strip The Intertidal Zone that he originally drew in 1989 while studying at the California Institute of Arts. SpongeBob is a naïve and goofy sea sponge who works as a fry cook in the fictional underwater town of Bikini Bottom.
SpongeBob has achieved popularity with both children and adults, though he has been involved in public controversy. The character appeared in a We Are Family Foundation video promoting tolerance, which was criticized by James Dobson of Focus on the Family because of the foundation's link to homosexuality.