Friends’ creators weren’t always sure if Chandler would be straight. It’s probably best he was
A longstanding and oft-repeated urban legend is that Chandler was originally supposed to be gay in Friends until Matthew Perry was cast in the role.
Speculation was rampant even back in the early years of the show, prompting Friends co-creator David Crane to give this quote to The Advocate in 1996.
“We didn’t go into this determined that Chandler would be straight,” Crane said at the time. “If we had cast a different actor – who was gay – there was the option that we would have taken the character in that direction.”
This contributed heavily to fan speculation that Chandler was originally supposed to be gay – a theory given credence by Phoebe Buffay actress Lisa Kudrow, who in 2014 revealed that she thought the character was gay when she first joined Friends.
If Chandler had been, it would have been a groundbreaking moment for LGBT+ representation on television at a time when there were few openly queer characters on-screen.
But not everybody is convinced it would have been an entirely good thing.
Journalist Matt Baume, who is co-host of YouTube series Culture Cruise, told HuffPost that Friends often “faltered” in its efforts to explore LGBT+ identities – so maybe Chandler being straight wasn’t a bad thing after all.
Friends might not have pulled off having TV’s most visible gay character
Baume said Chandler has “a gay sensibility, but no gay storylines”.
“If they had made it fully gay – written gay, played gay – would that have been a good thing or a bad thing?” he asked.
“On the one hand, it would have been amazing to see a gay main character on one of the most popular shows in TV history.
“But on the other, Friends seemed to falter sometimes when they tackled queer topics. They’d often repeat the same simple joke, that it would be funny if a person was gay.”
Baume said Friends was at its best when telling “heterosexual stories”, adding: “I’m not sure they could have pulled off the challenge of featuring TV’s most prominent gay character.”
Friends kicked off on NBC in 1994 and picked up an enormous fanbase over the course of its 10-season run.
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The show won some praise at the time for depicting Ross’ ex-wife Carol as a lesbian in a same-sex relationship – however, Friends has faced criticism in recent years for some of its more offensive jokes at the expense of LGBT+ characters.
Friends has faced fierce backlash for its depiction of Chandler’s dad, played by cis female actor Kathleen Turner.
The character was introduced as a drag performer, but after the show finished airing co-creator Marta Kauffman confirmed she was a trans woman. Despite this, the character’s appearance and gender identity were used as a running punchline.
The sitcom’s Kauffman teared up during a virtual panel of female showrunners in June 2020 when reflecting on the lack of diversity in Friends.
“I wish I knew then what I know today,” Kauffman said as she began to tear up.
“Sorry, I just wish I knew then what I know now. I would’ve made very different decisions.”