You don’t need to be a Friends expert to notice that the long-running sitcom is extremely white — so much so that co-creator Marta Kauffman donated millions to her alma mater Brandeis University’s African-American studies department. Money can’t change the past, but in a new interview with The Daily Beast, Lisa Kudrow opined that the show’s writers had “no business” writing about “being a person of color” in the show.
“[Friends] was a show created by two people who went to Brandeis and wrote about their lives after college,” the real-life Phoebe Buffay said. “And for shows especially, when it’s going to be a comedy that’s character-driven, you write what you know. They have no business writing stories about the experiences of being a person of color. I think at that time, the big problem that I was seeing was, ‘Where’s the apprenticeship?'”
Especially for being set in New York City, Friends’ character roster is disappointingly homogenous. Well-known actors of color like Gabrielle Union and Craig Robinson have made brief appearances; At a whole nine episodes, Aisha Tyler was the most frequently featured non-white actor when she played Charlie, a professor who dated both Joey and Ross.
Kauffman has long brushed off the accusations of whitewashing, up until the murder of George Floyd in 2020: “I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years,” Kauffman told the Los Angeles Times. “Admitting and accepting guilt is not easy. It’s painful looking at yourself in the mirror. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t know better 25 years ago.”
Kudrow does have a point about the lack of apprenticeships — how did Rachel become an assistant buyer at Bloomingdale’s so quickly? — and she’s right that white people should, in general, steer clear of writing about experiences people of color. We can think of one easy way to work around that, though: Hire more non-white actors.
Kudrow reunited with her former co-stars David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, and Matt LeBlanc last year for the one-off HBO Max special Friends: The Reunion. It included an encore performance of
Kudrow’s Phoebe’s hit “Smelly Cat” with none other than Lady Gaga.