Friends Is Empirically Funny

Jessica Lynn

Photo by José Sánchez on Unsplash

I keep hearing about the TV show Friends, a sitcom, created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, which aired on NBC from 1994 to 2004, lasting ten seasons.

The TV show is in the cosmos lately, most likely because its 25th anniversary is this weekend. Friends first aired on September 22, 1994.

It keeps crossing my path via Google ads, Facebook, and recently my daughter asked if she could watch it on Netflix.

Pottery Barn is releasing a new collection inspired by Friends, including accessories, furniture, and tabletop items. And Ralph Lauren has partnered with Warner Bros. to create a curated Wear to Work collection based on the Rachel Green character.

The other day I turned on NPR and caught the tail end of two millennials debating whether or not Friends is funny, whether it holds up in the #MeToo era.

One of the critics flat out said, “There is nothing funny about Friends, it was a stupid show with vapid characters who made fun of trans and overweight people, and that’s not funny.”

Is anything funny in this excessive politically correct era in which we now live?

I agree, it is not funny to make fun of people who struggle with obesity, back in 1994 or now, and the same goes for making fun of those in the trans community, that doesn’t mean Friends wasn’t funny at all.

Friends was funny, AND it made fun of Monica in a fat suit and it made fun of Chandler’s trans father, while at the same time being entertaining. Both can be true. Just because one part didn’t make me laugh, doesn’t mean the whole of the show, for the most part, was not funny.

Times change. For a good reason. We evolve in some areas as a society; we get better with age and education.

Friends aired a quarter of a century ago

It is unfair to hold a sitcom from the 1990s to the standards of 2019 when so much has changed.

After all that’s been revealed through the #MeToo movement, and the stealing of the presidency out from under the first female candidate of a major political party by one of the most despicable human beings who has made clear how he regards women, injustices are less tolerable — for a good reason. We are less tolerant and more aware of sexism and the marginalization of minority groups, this is an evolution that keeps moving forward.

What is inaccurate is that Friends, when it aired in the ’90s, wasn’t funny. It is also inaccurate that Friends isn’t funny now.

At the time, Friends was fucking funny.

Friends first aired on September 22, 1994, a full seven years before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The late ’90s was a more innocent, carefree time.

Clinton was president from January 20, 1993, to January 20, 2001, the country was humming along. We had a robust economy, strong economic growth, and record job creation. After Clinton left office, we got another Bush, and then September 11 happened.

The terrorist attacks had an alarming and sobering effect on our nation, especially those living in New York City at the time of the attacks.

It was the first time in several generations we felt helpless and unsafe on American soil. 9/11 threw us off balance as citizens of the most democratic society; it shook us to our core.

Our consciousness as a country changed for a long time while our liberties shrank and our freedoms were under attack, our perception changed forever, not unlike the effect the current administration is having on our nation daily.

September 11, 2001, was so significant that in its immediate aftermath many in the country, and especially those living in NYC made drastic life-altering decisions they would not have otherwise made had 9/11 not happened.

Some moved out of New York City. Some married their partners right away when they had no intention of marrying before 9/11, or broke up with their partners when they had no intention of breaking up before; those who swore they’d never have children decided to have them, these stories go on and on.

We changed our lives because we wanted to grab hold of life after witnessing unbelievable terror and observing first hand how fragile life is.

In the context of the innocence pre-9/11, Friends was funny. And yes, inappropriate and politically incorrect at times.

The character Joey makes derogatory comments about women throughout the series. He has no interest in being in a relationship and talks about sex at inappropriate times and ogles women. I’ve known a few guys like Joey in my lifetime.

Ross and Chandler fat-shame Monica. They joke about her weight when the character is both in and out of her fat suit. We’ve all heard fat jokes IRL, rarely do we stop the person from telling them or educate the person with bad taste why those jokes are hurtful to others. Should we, yes we should. Would we want to watch a show where someone lectures Chandler about making fun of his trans father? I doubt it.

Yes, Rachel was shallow at times and spoiled. She hadn’t had many hard days in her life, and I don’t think you can count being a waitress — where she hung out with her friends all day — a hardship. Her love of fashion doesn’t make her unlovable. In high school, Rachel Green makes fun of a boy, Will, played by her then-husband, Brad Pitt for being overweight and unpopular. But she is a sitcom character; even sitcom characters make mistakes.

Yes, there is no way they would have been able to afford that large apartment in NYC and the fabulous clothes.

I believe Phoebe and Monica were the only two characters who were politically correct by 2019 standards, although I’m sure if one digs deeper and long enough, you will find something they said which offends.

However, the show was hands down empirically funny.

The Thanksgiving episode in which the six characters play a game of touch football to win the “Gellar Cup.” Funny as fuck.

The episode where Phoebe can’t stop her fire alarm from beeping and tries everything, including smashing it with a hammer. Funny AF.

Another Thanksgiving episode which ranks as hilarious is the one where Brad Pitt guest stars as the character Will who was made fun of by Rachel in high school, and the “I hate Rachel Green” fan club is exposed, in which Ross was one of the founding members. Funny, funny, funny.

The “you feel asleep” episode when Rachel and Ross are yet again struggling to define their relationship — funny. She writes him a six-page letter, “FRONT AND BACK!” that he can’t get through. It’s too long and too dull to read, and, stay awake at the same time. It put him right to sleep much to Rachel’s ire. Funny.

The Pivot episode when Ross, Chandler, and Rachel are trying to move a couch up a narrow staircase to Ross’s new apartment. I watched it again recently, and I still laugh when he screams, “pivot.”

The episode in which Rachel and Monica switch identities so that Rachel can use Monica’s health insurance to go to the ER after she sprains her ankle. The two have to keep up the ruse during a double date with two doctors from the hospital played by guest stars Noah Wyle and George Clooney. Monica and Rachel fight like siblings and best friends. Funny AF.

There are many more that are just as funny.

The beauty of friends was not only its comedy. It was its well-defined characters, the relationship between all six central figures, and the side relationships when any one of them paired off with another.

Because there were six characters, there were many different combinations of two to explore; whether it was Ross and Phoebe dealing with each other, or Rachel and Chandler, or Monica and Joey, or Rachel and Phoebe (the funniest pairing for me) and on and on.

The personality of each stayed true to its character in each matchup. And who dealt with whom seemed to get reshuffled for the next episode.

The Friends characters were a family. Most of us have had close friendships that are more like family members to us than friends. Our friends, a lot of times, become the family that we choose.

They see all of us — the good, the bad, and the ugly. And, love us in spite of our “flaws.” Those friendships make life worthwhile. We all have that confidant we go to and expose the worst part of ourselves, our most vulnerable part, and are seen and heard, and that friend loves us anyway.

Those well played out relationships, and the comedy that ensued is why Friends was such a huge hit. People were not just drawn to the great haircuts and fabulous clothes but were attracted to the relationships and the ability to relate to each character. That was the beauty of it. We can all relate to how all six of those charaters were honest with one another and loved each other anyway.

Was Friends as funny as Seinfeld, the show that aired immediately after Friends on NBC’s “Must See TV” night? No. Friends was not as consistently funny as Seinfeld.

A Friends episode was hit or miss, with many hits, and few misses. Seinfeld knocked it out of the park nearly every single episode.

Jerry Seinfeld was smart. He ended his show before we were sick of the characters. Friends went one or two seasons too long. The characters ended up as caricatures of themselves. Their qualities exaggerated to the point of being annoying.

Monica became intolerable as her dominance and control over Chandler grew when they married. Chandler’s funny and sarcastic humor dulled when they became an item. How many times do we see couples like Monica and Chandler in IRL? Better as friends then as intimate partners.

Ross got whinier. Joey more insufferable in his cluelessness, Rachel (actually she never bothered me, which in part is due to the actress playing her, something is appealing about Jennifer Aniston and her comedic timing).

Phoebe also never grated on my nerves during the final two seasons, and the addition of Paul Rudd as her partner made me hang in longer, they were a great couple.

But you can’t tell me the first eight seasons of Friends was not funny. The first five seasons especially.

I challenge you to watch them and not laugh.

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Writing on all things California and Texas. It unfolds here. Your daily dose of local news. From politics to food, from celebrity culture to current events. Follow me for the latest updates. Twitter: @girl_thriving

Los Angeles, CA

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