It would seem that life in the writers’ room for Friends was either the most high-pressure party, or the most hilarious prison sentence.
Yes, television‘s favourite group of… um, pals… was apparently a delight-slash-nightmare, according to an excerpt from Generation Friends by Saul Austerlitz, a forthcoming book about the show. Vulture have published a chapter and… well, it’s an eye-opener.
While the show’s co-creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman ran an impressively supportive-if-competitive room where the best joke won over people’s own egos, there are plenty of quotes that make it clear that writing for comedy is not for the faint hearted.
Or the sleep-hearted. Or the having kids-hearted. Or the wanting to see anyone that’s not also trapped in the writers’ room with you-hearted.
You can understand why, though:
“A single season of Friends would require seventy-two separate plots, each with its own introduction and resolution, each with its own array of jokes and emotional moments. And fully plotted stories would regularly be tossed out because they flopped in rehearsals or during a shoot.”
That’s 12 people doing that amount of writing, rewriting, re-rewriting and punching up (ie: taking something that’s OK and putting the killer lines in).
A good day typically went from 9am to 10.30pm. A typical day, however…
“It was fun to be in a room of raconteurs, entertainers, and one-liner machines bantering, debating, and performing for each other. But there also was no specified end to the workday, no moment when the writers would punch out and head home… On David Lagana’s first day on the job as a writers’ assistant, he showed up for work at nine-thirty a.m. and left for home at six-forty-five the next morning. The last day of the workweek was widely known as Fraturday, as it often did not end until Saturday morning. “
Kaufmann often found herself driving home in the wee small hours to get her kids up, fed, dressed and sent to school before turning around and going back to the office. Writer Jeff Astrof was convinced he’d meet himself going to work on the way home, thereby tearing a hole in the universe.
In fact, the whole Friends’ joke about Chandler failing to be able to do the whipcrack noise came from a writer getting a call from their financee wondering when and if they’d ever be coming home, and another writer trying and failing to suggest they were whipped.
So you know, comedy out of tragedy and all that.
It’s a longish read but definitely ideal for anyone thinking of joining a writers’ room, or who wants to know how many of the humiliating plot points of Friends came directly from writers’ lives (spoiler: all of them).
There is also, however, a story about the writing of ‘Smelly Cat’ which we won’t ruin. It’s pretty good.