Lisa Kudrow made headlines in May 2020 when she acknowledged that “Friends” had a serious lack of diversity during its 10-season run on NBC. The actor said that if the show ever returned to TV then “it would not be an all-white cast.” In a new interview with The Daily Beast, however, Kudrow somewhat stood by the original sitcom’s lack of diversity, or at least made sense of it. The actor said “Friends” creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman had “no business” telling stories about people of color given their own backgrounds.
“Well, I feel like it was a show created by two people who went to Brandeis and wrote about their lives after college,” Kudrow 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.”
Kudrow added, “I think at that time, the big problem that I was seeing was, ‘Where’s the apprenticeship?'”
Apprenticeship is now of upmost importance to “Friends” co-creator Kauffman, who told the Los Angeles Times earlier this year, “I want to make sure from now on in every production I do that I am conscious in hiring people of color and actively pursue young writers of color. I want to know I will act differently from now on. And then I will feel unburdened.”
Kaufman announced in July that she was so “embarrassed” by and feels such “guilt” over the lack of diversity on “Friends” that she donated $4 million to create the Marta F. Kauffman ’78 Professorship in African and African American Studies at Brandeis University. Kauffman said it was originally “difficult and frustrating” to have the show criticized for its lack of diverse characters, but she became critical herself after the 2020 murder of George Floyd.
“It was after what happened to George Floyd that I began to wrestle with my having bought into systemic racism in ways I was never aware of,” Kauffman said. “That was really the moment that I began to examine the ways I had participated. I knew then I needed to course-correct.”
All six main characters on “Friends” were white, and the show rarely featured actors of colors in prominent roles across 10 seasons and 236 episodes. The likes of Lauren Tom, Gabrielle Union, Mark Consuelos and Craig Robinson appeared on the show in small supporting roles, while Aisha Tyler, the most prominent actor of color featured on the series, only starred in nine episodes. Tyler played a paleontology professor who dated both Joey and Ross.
“I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years,” Kauffman said. “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.”
According to the LA Times, Kauffman’s $4 million African and African American studies program will “support a distinguished scholar with a concentration in the study of the peoples and cultures of Africa and the African diaspora.”