Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Gunther's Entire Friends Story Explained

The beloved NBC sitcom "Friends" tells the story of six young New Yorkers enduring the trials and tribulations of early adulthood. From first jobs to first serious relationships to first heartbreaks, they grew up and grew together during the show's 10-year run. The series is still a major cultural phenomenon, and according to the New York Times, its finale alone drew more than 52.5 million viewers.

Besides Monica's (Courteney Cox) apartment, the most iconic setting in the series was the local coffee shop, Central Perk, with its ever-present barista Gunther (played by James Michael Tyler). The show's popularity hasn't waned since it went off the air, and when a replica of Central Perk was built in 2014, Tyler didn't miss the chance to stop by for a cup of coffee (via Time).

Though James Michael Tyler admitted to Insider that he only got the part because he was able to work the espresso machine, his role eventually grew, and Gunther became a memorable supporting character on the series. Gunther appears in the most number of episodes after the main cast (according to his IMDb page), albeit usually as a background player without many or any lines. With the exciting news that Gunther will be part of the "Friends" reunion special, let's take a look back at the man behind the counter.

Gunther doesn't speak on screen until Friends Season 2

Before he becomes a barista at Central Perk, Gunther works as an actor. His biggest accomplishment? Starring in the soap opera "All My Children." Unfortunately, when Gunther's character Bryce gets killed off, dying in a tragic avalanche, he has to find a new job. (This all comes to light in Season 2, when Gunther is chatting with Matt LeBlanc's Joey, who's panicking about his "Days of Our Lives" character suffering a similar fate.) Although Gunther first appears in the show's second episode, he does nothing but serve coffee to the main cast for the entire first season. It isn't until Season 2, Episode 9 that he utters his first word, which was "yeah." 

Though Gunther isn't much of a talker, his signature peroxide blond hair is difficult to miss in a crowd. Over the years, numerous characters express their attraction toward his distinctive look. Joey (Matt LeBlanc) is dismayed when he thinks Gunther is planning to change his hair, exclaiming, "But I love your natural color!" Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) has a burgeoning attraction to Gunther, once remarking that he's "sexy, in an obvious way." She also plants a passionate smooch on Gunther in Season 4, hoping to catch his cold. Phoebe's interest in Gunther spans the entire series, and in the finale, when Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) is heading off to Paris for a job, Phoebe emphasizes the sexual appeal of Parisian men, stating, "It's a city of Gunthers."

Another woman who isn't shy about her feelings for Gunther is Judy Geller (Christina Pickles), Ross (David Schwimmer) and Monica's mother. She refers to him as "the sexy blond behind the counter" in Season 7, Episode 23, strongly implying that Gunther is the reason the shop had so many female patrons. Judy even places Gunther on a  personal "list" of people who aren't her husband whom she can romantically pursue.

Gunther's love for Rachel is completely selfless — if a bit obsessive

In Season 3, it comes to light that Gunther has a crush on Rachel, which eventually becomes more intense over the years. We hear Gunther's inner monologue fantasize about marrying Rachel, and he even admits that the one perks of his job is being able to stare at her all day. Though unable to express himself directly, Gunther demonstrates how he idolizes Rachel on numerous occasions. 

For example, even though Rachel is an undeniably horrendous waitress at Central Perk, Gunther never fires her or criticizes her job performance. In fact, when Rachel is angry with Gunther for firing Joey in Season 6, he immediately agrees to rehire him just because she asks. In another instance, when Gunther learns that Rachel is looking for a place to live in Season 6, Episode 3, he offers her his apartment, even though doing so would make him homeless. Gunther even buys Rachel's vicious hairless cat Mrs. Whiskerson, hoping it will bring them closer together. 

Gunther holds a torch for Rachel for years, but he doesn't pluck up the courage to reveal his feelings until the end of the series, when Rachel is planning to move to Paris. Rachel is flattered by his confession but ultimately rejects him, stating that her feelings for him are simply platonic. Regardless, this act of vulnerability is still a big step for Gunther, allowing him the chance to move on from his fanatical day dreams and get some real closure.

Gunther has a strong moral compass and isn't afraid to call people out

Gunther is a man of strong ethics and principles. When he finds out about Ross cheating on Rachel in Season 3, he informs her not only because he loves her, but also because she has a right to know. Later, when Phoebe kisses him in Season 4, he confesses the incident to Rachel out of guilt, despite the fact that they aren't in a relationship. Granted, that's kind of a weird move on Gunther's part, but it does demonstrate his values and that he would be a faithful partner.  

Gunther's morality is on full display again in Season 6, Episode 14, when he suspects that Phoebe was once an actress in adult films. His confusion is understandable, considering that the actual actress is Phoebe's twin sister Ursula. When he assumes that it's Phoebe and not Ursula in the films, Gunther doesn't judge or condemn her actions in any way; instead, he speaks frankly about the situation to Joey. Meanwhile, Phoebe's other friends are much more critical of the situation right off the bat.

Beyond that, Gunther also isn't afraid to call people out when he feels that they are acting inappropriately. In Season 3, Episode 13, he's the only person who confronts Phoebe's boyfriend regarding some, ahem, indecent exposure at Central Perk, saying, "Hey buddy, This is a family place. Put the mouse back in the house." Additionally, Gunther sticks up for himself when he realizes that people are trying to use him. When Chandler (Matthew Perry) is mad at Ross and retaliates by choosing Gunther as the new best man in his upcoming wedding, Gunther immediately retorts, "What's my last name?" In doing so, he exposes Chandler's insincerity, refusing to be a pawn in this petty fight.

Gunther is his own person — and by no means a groupie for the friends

Though audiences see Gunther only within the four walls of Central Perk, it's revealed that he actually has an interesting life outside of the coffee shop. Beyond being a former soap opera actor, Gunther is also fluent in Dutch, and used to be a heavy smoker before finally quitting. (That takes a lot of will power!) Additionally, though Gunther clearly dislikes his job, he still exhibits a strong work ethic, always giving his all to the shop despite his discontent.

Gunther may put Rachel on a pedestal, but it should be noted that he doesn't suck up to everyone in the friend group. We never see him fawn over all of them, or try to gain each of the members' attention and approval. In fact, in Season 4, Episode 8, when Joey asks Gunther if he's seen Chandler, Gunther nonchalantly replies, "I thought you were Chandler." 

Elsewhere in the show, when two new characters show up at the coffee shop and bully Chandler and Ross, Gunther decides not to intervene, since they're all adults and he feels no obligation to protect his customers as if they were children. Contrary to popular belief, Gunther isn't some desperate loser trying to worm his way into the cool crowd. In fact, for the most part, he's completely indifferent to the gang — other than Rachel, of course.

Gunther is one of the most supportive characters on Friends

From the very beginning of the show, Gunther plays an important yet subtle role in the overall narrative of "Friends." His companionship is supportive without being intrusive, he employs both Rachel and Joey when they're down on their luck, and he lets Phoebe perform at the cafe, even though her music isn't exactly popular with Central Perk's patrons. 

There's even a popular theory about Gunther's greatness: Some fans have speculated that the reason the group is able to always snag their beloved orange couch at Central Perk is because Gunther puts up a reserved sign so the gang can gather there without interruption. Even though Gunther is never part of any main storylines during the show's run, his dependability — and his caffeine hookup — are the fuel that keeps the series running. 

At the end of "Friends," Rachel gives up her job opportunity in Paris to stay in New York, a decision largely motivated by Ross' last-minute profession of love. Knowing that Rachel picked Ross once and for all, choosing a relationship with him over a new chapter in her career, was probably the last push Gunther needed to move on from Rachel. While we're not sure what exactly happens to Gunther after the show ends, actor James Michael Tyler has his own thoughts about where Gunther ended up. 

In a special video for TODAY, uploaded to YouTube in November 2019, Tyler mused, "I believe Gunther got some closure. ... Rachel did love Gunther [and] appreciated him as a friend, so Gunther was not friend-zoned anymore, and that was a good thing. ... Where do I think would Gunther be now? Hopefully Gunther would own Central Perk, and he would have a probably much smaller apartment somewhere in the East Village or West Village than Monica did — and [be] paying a whole lot more rent for it." In the end, though, Tyler believes Gunther would be satisfied: "He'd be happy. Gunther would be very happy."