I’m currently rewatching Friends from the very beginning and I’m having a real good time.
I never doubted how good the show is, but there’s something about watching it over and still laughing at the jokes that makes me love it even more.
However – and this is a big one – I realise a lot of the jokes made on the show wouldn’t pass as good humour on the sitcoms of 2019.
Jokes about sexuality and sexism and eating disorders and gender, Friends has it all. But as our world has moved on from the 1990s and become increasingly more woke, these things have become more pressing issues and, therefore, less okay to joke about.
I understand and respect the thinking behind this: someone else’s pain is not another person’s pleasure.
But I also don’t think humour is that simple. I think the jokes on Friends – yes, while often tongue-in-cheek – were important conversation starters. They showed an awareness of certain every day issues without saying “HEY LOOK AT THIS”.
The jokes were sometimes abrasive, sure (remember that time Rachel greeted Julie at the airport by assuming she couldn’t speak English) BUT they were relatable. Humour is supposed to be relatable – it’s why we laugh.
When Ross assumed a male nanny MUST be gay we laughed because we related. Even the most understanding, accepting, non-homophobic people are guilty of making assumptions about gender and sexuality. We’re not proud of it, but we relate.
Is the joke hurtful? Yes. But that’s the point. It’s supposed to highlight the every day assumptions people make about sexuality and debunk those assumptions.
When Monica joked about food or ‘Fat Monica’ was used as the butt of a joke, we laughed because we related. Perpetuating stereotypes about overweight individuals and using weight as a measure of self worth is not funny. But we all know what it’s like to eat our feelings (post-breakup ice cream, anyone?) or obsess over our bodies a little too much.
And when Ross became absurdly jealous and possessive over Rachel when she started working for Mark? Well, we all know a Ross. We’ve all loved a Ross. Maybe you still love a Ross.
Toxic masculinity is not okay and Friends uses Ross’ panic to highlight this. They also use Rachel’s response to bring their point home: she’s not okay with how Ross is acting and voices that. In fact, they ‘break up’ because of it.
Same goes for the casual objectification of women on the show – it’s not funny but it’s a familiar experience for any woman. By including it in the show so casually and so often, Friends ultimately raises awareness for the issue.
And, let’s be real ladies, if we don’t laugh we might cry.
If Friends went to air today I think a lot of humour would still hold up. I think the jokes are just as relevant. In fact, I think they’re more relevant than ever. If we can’t joke about the things we’re struggling with as a society then what’s the point?
Friends doesn’t make jokes in poor taste, it makes them with awareness and with the aim of easing tensions. And, with so many tensions in the world, I believe it’s important to be able to laugh every once in awhile.