In a new book chronicling the massively popular NBC sitcom Friends, a writer from the series says that actor Matthew Perry (who played the joke-cracking character Chandler Bing) nixed a storyline that had him sneaking into gay bars because he loved their tuna melt sandwiches.
In Generation Friends: An Inside Look at the Show that Defined a Television Era, writer Saul Austerlitz shared that Perry was pitched the idea, but he didn’t like it.
“Perry said no, and the story was shelved,” he writes.
Despite the fact that the show had two lesbian side-characters — Ross’ ex-wife Carol and her partner Susan — the late ’90s/early 2000s show has often been criticized for its general queerphobia.
As queer cultural critic Samantha Ridel notes, the show’s lesbian couple seemed “constructed primarily to make (lead character) Ross uncomfortable and emasculated by appearing to trump his fragile masculinity…. Outside of their relationship with Ross, neither character is especially well-defined.” The couple never kissed onscreen even though they had a kid and a wedding together.
Bing’s biological father — who works as drag and burlesque performer Helena Handbasket in a revue called “Viva Las Gaygas” — also became a repeated punchline, subject to misgendering and transphobia despite her being a fabulous and self-assured individual.
It’s unclear if Handbasket was supposed to be gay or trans, but the fact that the character was played early on in the series by a cis male and was later on portrayed by actress Kathleen Turner suggests the latter.
Here’s a clip showing Bing’s parent (played by Turner):
The show had other instances of queerphobia too, The Independent notes:
“Chandler and Joey were repeatedly mistaken for a gay couple, male characters were mocked for perceived ‘feminine’ behavior, Ross is unable to handle the idea of having a male nanny, and Chandler was frequently portrayed as being paranoid about being thought of as gay.”
In 2011, video artist Tijana Mamula put together a 50-minute video entitled “Homophobic Friends” which showed the series’ ongoing use of queerphobic humor during its 10-year run.
Here’s the video:
Despite its antagonistic attitudes towards LGBTQ identity, the show received two GLAAD Media Award nominations and one win for Outstanding Comedy Series.