The year 2003 was a different time. George W. Bush was president, MySpace had just launched, and U.K. animator Joel Veitch created what would eventually become one of the weirdest — and most enduring — characters in all of advertising history, the Spongmonkeys. Originally a bizarre online video, the potato-shaped, human-toothed, rodent(ish) critters were adopted by Quiznos and turned into the stars of a series of commercials, sparking both outrage and eternal meme glory. Now, 20 years later, they’re back.
Four years before Tim and Eric debuted on Adult Swim — arguably the height of mainstream absurdist comedy — the Spongmonkeys were unavoidable. If you watched TV at all in 2003, you almost assuredly saw a Quiznos commercial featuring these unholiest of creatures wailing about how much they love the restaurant chain’s subs. “We love the subs, ‘cause they are good to us,” they sang hoarsely. Quiznos ditched the Spongmonkeys in 2004, likely because both their store franchisees and consumers alike hated those commercials. The Spongmonkeys could have been just a fleeting bit of internet ephemera, tossed in the nostalgia bucket atop contemporaries like “Shoes” and “Charlie the Unicorn,” but their distinct weirdness has kept them in the conversation, even as Quiznos filed for bankruptcy in 2014 and shuttered more than 4,000 stores.
In 2023, Quiznos is plotting a major comeback, and the Spongmonkeys are, improbably, part of it. The chain has a new look, a new model, and plans to open dozens of stores over the next year, along with a new Spongmonkeys ad from Veitch that debuts this week. We sat down with Veitch to talk about where the hell the Spongmonkeys came from in the first place, how they’ve endured in meme culture, and why Gen Z’s love of absurdist humor makes now the perfect time to bring back these furry little weirdos.
Eater: I think most people would agree the Spongmonkeys are the weirdest, most unexpected mascots in fast food history. Where the hell did they come from?
Joel Veitch: It’s quite a long time ago now. Twenty years, I think. I was hanging out with my brother, and we were talking about how good the moon is. We went back to my place and just started jamming with a guitar. He was playing guitar, I was singing, and improvising this song in a silly voice. I recorded it, because I tend to record things, and I had these characters that I had been mucking about with, the Spongmonkeys — it was perfect for them. I made the video and just shoved it on the internet, as you did in those days, not expecting anything in particular to happen. They went a bit bonkers, and not long after that I got a call from Quiznos asking if I would like to work with them. And the rest is history, I suppose.
What, exactly, is a Spongmonkey?
God knows. They’re an enigma wrapped within another big enigma. Who knows what they actually are? It’s a bunch of this and that tossed in there, bits of textures from rabbits, and some quite substantial dental defects from humans. They’re heavily influenced by strange-looking bears and tarsiers.
What sub would the Spongmonkeys order at Quiznos?
All of them. They’re just insatiable little beasts. I think you could keep throwing anything into those gaping mouths, and they would just never stop.
Do you ever hear the Spongmonkeys screaming “WE LOVE THE SUBS” in your dreams?
Not so much my dreams, but you know how you have an internal monologue? Quite often I’ll be thinking “Oh, I really loved that,” and in my head, the voice is a Spongmonkey.
Were you surprised when Quiznos came to you 20 years later to recreate these commercials?
I didn’t expect Quiznos to get back in touch, but I was so pleased they did. I was over the moon. My experience of the mayhem that was making these commercials originally was just unbridled joy. Really, really good fun. And I’ve enjoyed the way that they’ve continued to have a life afterward.
What’s the weirdest context you’ve seen the Spongmonkeys in online now that they’ve taken on a life of their own as a meme?
There were people making Spongmonkey Halloween costumes back in the day, and those photos ended up making their way back to me, which was great fun. I don’t know whether I should mention this, but there was a really, really bad taste “we love the subs” thing when that submarine imploded. It was just so awful, I thought there was no way I could amplify this. Oh god, I’ve just amplified it. That’s the worst, it was in terrible taste.
There’s been a lot written about Gen Z’s love of absurdist humor. How do you think they’ll feel about the Spongmonkeys? Is right now the most obvious moment for them to make a comeback?
All times are good times for the Spongmonkeys. I’m really intrigued to see what young people think. There are those of us who were around when it first came out, and it has a specific relevance for those people. Now you have this huge group of people who were much too young, or weren’t even born at that time, and I’m really intrigued to see what their reaction is. Obviously it won’t be as shocking to them, because the culture has moved on. But there’s still something fun about the Spongmonkeys.
What kind of future do you envision for the Spongmonkeys? Do you think they’ll stick around?
A presidential run. I’d love to keep doing stuff with them. They’ve got this boundless enthusiasm about them. That’s really key. They’re so positive, there’s no negativity at any point, and I just really liked that. I adore these little critters.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.