Friends was a television phenomenon like no other. It spawned catchphrases, hairstyles, iconic water-cooler moments (“I, Ross, take thee Rachel…”) and of course ten seasons overall. To this day the show has a massive fandom. But behind the scenes there were some chaotic, funny, or even scandalous things going on.
40. Reese Witherspoon found being on the show difficult
When Reese Witherspoon was cast as Rachel’s sister on Friends, she wasn’t prepared. At the 2011 Elle Women in Hollywood gathering she revealed she had “panicked” in front of the cameras, explaining, “It became immediately clear to me that I had no idea what I was doing and I was completely out of my league.” Luckily Aniston came to her aid – and the two are still close friends.
39. Lisa Kudrow couldn’t play the guitar
Phoebe was meant to be a guitar player, but Kudrow disliked that idea. She just couldn’t master the instrument. The show producers hired a tutor for her, but that didn’t work either. Kudrow suggested that Phoebe play the bongos, however eventually everyone settled on the character just plain not being good at the guitar. And that led to some great comedy anyway, for example, “Smelly Cat.”
38. One episode was changed because of 9/11
After the 9/11 terror attacks there were some subjects sitcoms no longer wanted to tackle. Thus, an already filmed scene featuring Chandler making a bomb joke at an airport was cut out and replaced with one about Monica being jealous of another couple. The original scene can still be found online, however.
37. Cox was just like her character
Courteney Cox shared Monica’s love of cleaning. Back in 1995 show co-creator Marta Kauffman revealed this to newspaper The Los Angeles Times, saying, “She has the neatest dressing room. She even cleans up the other actors’ dressing rooms because she won’t go in there if they are too messy.” Pure Monica.
36. The animals on set were a problem
The various unusual pets the Friends characters kept posed issues sometimes. You see, Lisa Kudrow was scared of the duck since she had a phobia of birds. And the two monkeys who played Ross’ animal companion Marcel weren’t always cooperative, plus the cast were informed that it wasn’t a good idea to bond with them.
35. Ross stayed the same age for years
Smart Friends fans have noted that Ross appears to stay the same age for far longer than he should. Yes, in seasons three, four and five – which cover a period of about three years – he gives his age as being 29. Of course, there’s always a chance the character was lying in order to appear younger than he was.
34. One famous episode happened because of budget cuts
The episode “The One Where No One’s Ready” is one of the most popular episodes of Friends – Jay-Z even spoofed it in a music video once. But if not for the writers having to get creative due to budget cuts, it might never have happened. Money was so tight they had to set one episode entirely in Monica’s apartment, and “The One Where No One’s Ready” was the result.
33. The actresses always ate salad
Courteney Cox, Jennifer Aniston and Lisa Kudrow would always eat together while filming Friends. But curiously, they always had the same meal. In 2010 Cox told newspaper The Los Angeles Times, “We always had the same thing — a Cobb salad. But it wasn’t really a Cobb salad. It was a Cobb salad that Jennifer doctored up with turkey bacon and garbanzo beans and I don’t know what.”
32. NBC were afraid of a homophobic backlash
When Carol and Susan were married on Friends, it was the first ever lesbian wedding on network television. NBC were afraid of getting complaints. But in 2016 Kauffman told Hollywood Reporter magazine, “[NBC] put 104 operators on for fear of getting a million phone calls. They got two. A month later, they got the letters, but nobody called.” Furthermore, all the letters were from just one guy.
31. Monica and Chandler weren’t intended to be together
“Mondler” was never supposed to have happened originally. In 2019 co-creator David Crane revealed on the Today show, “We didn’t really know that Chandler and Monica were gonna end up together until even after that episode in London where they wake up in bed together. And the audience went insane.” The relationship was so popular that eventually Monica and Chandler married.
30. Jennifer Aniston never liked her famous haircut
Jennifer Aniston’s hairdo, created by stylist Chris McMillan, was so popular it became known as “the Rachel.” Unfortunately Rachel herself hated it. In 2011 Aniston told Allure magazine, “I love Chris, and he’s the bane of my existence at the same time because he started that damn Rachel, which was not my best look. How do I say this? I think it was the ugliest haircut I’ve ever seen.”
29. Carol was replaced after one episode
Originally, Ross’s ex-wife Carol was played by actress Anita Barone. But after just one episode, she left and was replaced by Jane Sibbett. You see, Barone had wanted to find a more regular acting role, which the part of Carol wasn’t. However, such was the eventual popularity of Friends that she might have been better off if she’d stuck around.
28. The set designers bought things from thrift stores
Creating Monica’s apartment presented an exciting challenge for the show’s designers. They visited thrift stores and swap meets to try and find inexpensive things which would fit her style. In 2019 set decorator Greg Grande told Entertainment Weekly magazine, “Monica really couldn’t afford a matched set of dining table chairs, but it was meant to be that the character had a really good eye.”
27. The cast negotiated together for higher pay
During the early days of Friends, the cast weren’t paid equally, with Matt LeBlanc getting the least. But as the show grew, they wanted more. So all six of them teamed up and negotiated a pay rise together – a big one. This had simply never happened with television stars before, and it opened new doors. By the end of the show each of them was getting a million dollars per episode.
26. Lisa Kudrow really was pregnant
When Lisa Kudrow became pregnant, the writers decided to simply write it into the show. They had to use some creativity, though, and Phoebe ended up being a surrogate for her brother’s kids. The cast loved that Kudrow was really expecting, and were always feeling her bump and talking to the unborn baby.
25. Live audiences weren’t allowed to watch the cliffhangers
Friends was filmed in front of a live studio audience, but there were moments when bosses had to keep them in the dark. The risk of spoilers leaking was just too great. So when Ross’ disastrous wedding to Emily was filmed, the audience all had to leave before Rachel made her appearance.
24. The man behind one iconic bit of set design got no credit
Right above the television in Monica’s apartment there’s a French “Jouets” poster. It became downright iconic, but the man who discovered it never got his due. In 2019 designer Greg Grande told Entertainment Weekly magazine, “It’s awesome to think that I put such a fingerprint on that show – and it’s really sad that I can’t get any piece of the action! Somebody owes me, for God’s sakes!”
23. Matt LeBlanc was broke before being cast
Being cast as Joey marked a massive turning point for Matt LeBlanc. Beforehand, he was so broke he even had to do his own dental work. In 2019 the actor told Conan O’Brien that he was down to $11 before getting the good news, and “would have starved” without getting the role that changed his life.
22. Phoebe’s twin was an already established character
Phoebe’s twin sister Ursula was a recurring character on Friends, but she actually existed before Phoebe did. Ursula was the waitress Kudrow was playing on Mad About You when she was cast in Friends. It was decided that Ursula could be Phoebe’s twin and pop up on the other show because, why not?
21. Bruce Willis appeared on the show after a bet
Bruce Willis guest-starred on Friends because he lost a bet to Matthew Perry. Apparently it was regarding whether or not their movie The Whole Nine Yards would become a box office number one. And so Willis donated his whole salary for the show to various charities – now that’s a pretty nice move from a very “neat guy.”
20. The cast didn’t like the show’s opening
According to Jennifer Aniston, the cast weren’t fans of The Rembrandts’ “I’ll Be There for You” opening sequence. Appearing on The One Show in 2016, Aniston revealed, “No-one was really a big fan of that theme song,” before quickly adding, “I don’t mean to say that. We felt it was a little, I don’t know. Dancing in a fountain felt sort of odd but we did it.”
19. Helen Baxendale’s pregnancy had to be worked around
The actress who played Emily, Helen Baxendale, was pregnant during some of her most important scenes. As it wouldn’t have made sense for Emily to be suddenly having a baby, the show directors had to carefully hide it. So Emily’s dress was altered to hide her bump, and later shots of the betrayed bride showed her in bed, her stomach area not visible.
18. The Etch-a-Sketch features secret messages
If you look at the door of Chandler and Joey’s apartment, there’s an Etch-a-Sketch there. And sometimes it has a funny or plot-relevant message or image on it. Take Chandler’s frantic attempt to apologize to Joey after kissing his girlfriend for example. In 2019 set designer Greg Grande told Entertainment Weekly magazine that one of the crew members did all the Etch-a-Sketches.
17. Christina Applegate already knew most of the cast
Christina Applegate played Rachel’s sister Amy, starting in season nine, but she knew most of the Friends already. Indeed, she’d known Matthew Perry since childhood. In 2019 she told the Today website about the experience. She said, “I’ve known [Perry] for 100 years. Schwimmer’s amazing and Lisa and Courteney, I’ve known from like, 20-something years prior. It was just a great group, a lot of love there.”
16. Sarah Ferguson was afraid to do her cameo
When the Friends crew filmed in London they recruited a very special guest star: Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York. But she was incredibly nervous, not least because her daughters Beatrice and Eugenie were massive Friends fans. So Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry proved themselves true gentlemen by helping her relax and learn her lines.
15. James Michael Tyler really was a barista
James Michael Tyler still makes money out of Friends, but he might never have been cast as Gunther if he hadn’t been a real-life barista. He might have stayed as just a background extra with no lines, but he happened to know how to work an espresso machine. In the end, Tyler appeared in 148 out of 236 Friends episodes.
14. No-one liked Rachel and Joey together
The plotline where Rachel and Joey fell in love was not a popular one, even among the actors. Matt LeBlanc told Vanity Fair magazine in 2012, “It felt wildly inappropriate. That’s how close we all were to the character. I was like, ‘That’s Rachel. She was supposed to be with Ross. Wait a minute.’ Everybody got super-defensive about the whole thing.”
13. There was one hidden dirty joke
In 2019 Jane Sibbett confessed to The Guardian that there was a secret filthy joke involving Carol and Susan in Friends. She said, “Ross comes over at an inopportune moment, and I had to telegraph to him that it isn’t a good time. So I removed a little pube from my tongue. That was the only time I pitched something that was really outrageous, and it actually got on air.”
12. Cole Sprouse had a crush on Aniston
Cole Sprouse played Ross’s son Ben, and he had a childhood crush on one of his pretty co-stars. In 2019 he told the Today website, “I’m pretty sure I fell in love with Jennifer Aniston, which the whole world had at that point…I remember blanking on my lines, and having a kind of stage fright when she sat next to me on the couch in one episode.”
11. Giovanni Ribisi was a different character at first – or was he?
Giovanni Ribisi played Frank Jr., Phoebe’s half-brother on her father’s side. Now, Phoebe had never previously met him and was delighted to find him. But actually, she might have met him before. You see, in “The One With the Baby on the Bus” a guy runs up to Phoebe to retrieve a lost condom. And that’s Giovanni Ribisi before Frank Jr. became a character. So in the show’s universe, was “Condom Boy” actually Frank all along?
10. Matt LeBlanc nearly had a breakdown
Fame didn’t come easy for Joey, but it certainly took its toll on Matt LeBlanc. The notoriety Friends brought him, combined with personal problems, certainly built up. In 2016 he told newspaper The Mirror, “Most actors call their agents and say, ‘What’s going on?’ I’d call mine and say, ‘Please lose my number for a few years.’ It was a very dark time. I almost had a nervous breakdown.”
9. Fans were cruel to Lauren Tom
Lauren Tom played Ross’ girlfriend Julie, and that opened her up to abuse from fans who wanted Ross and Rachel together. In 2019 the actress told the Today website, “I wasn’t prepared for the amount of venom I was about to receive in a live audience where they actually booed my character. And, of course, I was trying very hard not to get my feelings hurt.”
8. Joey and Monica were meant to be the main couple at first
It would have been a very different show if Joey and Monica had hooked up, but that was the original intention. In 2004 David Crane told Matt Lauer in an interview, “Initially we thought the big love interest was Joey-Monica. This is before we wrote the script, when we were just pitching the series… We didn’t know, when we pitched the show, the idea of Ross and Rachel. That was something we discovered writing it.”
7. NBC’s rules were inconsistent
In 2012 the writers of Friends shared some tidbits about NBC with Vanity Fair magazine. The network imposed rules about the show’s content, but they kept changing. David Crane remembered, “For the first three years, we could say ‘penis.’ Then we couldn’t say ‘penis.’ Then we could say ‘penis’ again.”
6. LeBlanc and Kudrow wanted their characters together
All the other Friends paired up, so it makes sense for Joey and Phoebe to as well. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the actors, it never happened. LeBlanc told Entertainment Weekly magazine in 2016, “Towards the end we actually pitched the idea that Joey and Phoebe had been having casual sex the entire time.” But no.
5. Janice wasn’t meant to be a recurring character
Everyone who’s seen Friends remembers Janice, Chandler’s extremely irritating one-time girlfriend played by Maggie Wheeler. Wheeler was very good at being annoying – so good, in fact, that the writers decided to keep on inviting her back. It was even Wheeler who came up with Janice’s hilariously grating laugh.
4. Matt LeBlanc really did injure himself
There’s a few Friends episodes where Joey has his arm in a sling after a mishap. But that wasn’t just for comedic effect – Matt LeBlanc actually needed the sling. In 2012 he recalled to Glamour magazine that he “popped” his shoulder and “they wrote that in I remember, as Joey jumping on the bed.”
3. Kathleen Turner didn’t have a good time
Kathleen Turner played Chandler’s drag queen – or, more likely, transgender – father. Turner has had some things to say about her time on set, though. In 2014 she told Vulture magazine, “I didn’t feel very welcomed by the cast. I remember I was wearing this difficult sequined gown – and my high heels were absolutely killing me. I found it odd that none of the actors thought to offer me a seat.”
2. Matthew Perry was struggling with substance abuse
Matthew Perry was already drinking heavily when a 1997 jet ski accident got him addicted to painkillers. It was a very rough time for him, and he still had Friends to think about. Luckily, the cast and crew stood by him, desperately hoping he would get better. And eventually, before Friends ended, Perry was able to beat his addictions.
1. Ross and Rachel nearly didn’t get their happy ending
Everyone wanted Ross and Rachel to end up together, but the writers weren’t so sure. In 2014 David Crane told Entertainment Weekly magazine, “We did talk about, with Ross and Rachel, a gray area of where they aren’t together, but we hint there’s a sense that they might be down the road. But we thought, ‘No, if we’re going to do it, let’s do it.’” And thankfully they did.