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The Best Running Gags On Friends

Other than "M.A.S.H.," "I Love Lucy," and maybe "Cheers," "Friends" might be the single most popular sitcom ever made. From 1994 to 2004, the show, which ran for 10 blockbuster seasons, was an inescapable cultural phenomenon, and its huge popularity helped it set a record for the highest advertising rate for a sitcom ever

Legions of fans devoured every episode while massive amounts of external media centered around the lives of Joey Tribbiani, Phoebe Buffay, Monica and Ross Geller, Chandler Bing, and Rachel Green. Early internet chatrooms were filled with discussions about the latest episodes, romantic entanglements between the characters, and theories about what might happen next. Fans debated endlessly about which character they and their friends were most like. The Rachel is still a popular haircut, 17 years after the show's blockbuster finale. Countless moments and catchphrases from the show have become part of our collective cultural lexicon.

Not only was the show was a big deal when it was on, but it also remains wildly popular to this day. Naturally, like every other sitcom worth your time, "Friends" had more than its fair share of classic, hilarious recurring gags. But as always, that means competition for the title of "best of" is stiff. So which regular bits are in the running for the championship? What's on top? We've taken the liberty of assembling a (non-exhaustive) list of the best running jokes on "Friends," although be warned, there are some definite spoilers ahead.

Gunther loves Rachel

When they're not in one of their improbably nice apartments, the friends can be found at Central Perk, easily one of the most recognizable sets in TV history. The little coffee shop is managed by Gunther, who spends an enormous amount of time with the six main characters and frequently attends their parties, but never manages to truly break into their inner circle. In one episode, Ross asks him for six glasses. Gunther excitedly says, "You want me to join you?" To which Ross replies, "Oh, I thought Joey was here. Five is good." Later on, Chandler announces Gunther as his best man, and Gunther replies, "What's my last name?" In response, Chandler awkwardly guesses, "Central Perk?"

To make matters worse, Gunther is infatuated with Rachel Green, although he doesn't announce this to her until the show's final episode when he realizes she's moving to Paris. She might be oblivious, but it's painfully obvious to the rest of us. In Season 3, Gunther tells Joey that the highlight of his day is waiting for Rachel to walk into the store. It's later revealed that Gunther even fantasizes about marrying her. This isn't totally surprising since he gives her such preferential treatment whenever she's around. Gunther even buys a cat from her that he doesn't want, just so she'll come to visit. It doesn't work out.

Phoebe's background

Much of Phoebe Buffay's bizarre behavior can likely be attributed to her strange and tragic upbringing. Phoebe and her twin, also played by Lisa Kudrow, were raised briefly by Frank and Lily Buffay after Phoebe Abbot, who'd given birth to the kids, abandoned them. However, after Frank got arrested and Lily took her own life, poor Phoebe was left alone on the streets. Her education ended in middle school, but she did become fluent in French as a result of meetings with other kids behind a dumpster. Phoebe even stayed alive by mugging people for a few years, and it's later revealed that one of her victims was Ross when they were 14-year-old strangers.

Phoebe might also embellish her history. She claims to have spent time in Prague, washed windows with an albino man at the New York Port Authority, and even ended up with hepatitis when a pimp supposedly spit in her mouth. Pheobe also claims that she was chased by a crazed mental patient on her 16th birthday, and may have even spent time in jail, as evidenced when she shouts, "I'm not going back to that hell hole!" to a police officer about to arrest her. Speaking of cops, she also mentions that she stabbed an officer once but defended herself by explaining that he tried to stab her first. She was also previously married to a guy named Duncan, who she was helping obtain a green card. We could go on, but you get the point, and we'd be here all day.

Ross the golden child

Ross and Monica Geller had a pretty weird childhood together. For Ross, that was a good thing, but for Monica, not so much. That's because Ross was essentially the Gellers' golden child. That is seen in the praise Mr. and Mrs. Geller heap on their son, and in the disregard they show for Monica's feelings. That said, the parents don't outright hate Monica, and they don't always adore Ross. They got Monica a Porsche, after all, and were mortified when they found out Ross smoked pot in college. They also seemed genuinely proud of Monica when she married Chandler towards the end of the show and seem to go hard on her because they want the best for their daughter. But there are many more scenes where they're unnecessarily harsh towards Monica and see past seemingly obvious flaws when it comes to Ross, rather than the other way around.

In one episode, for example, they plugged a water leak with some of Monica's stuff. At another point, Judy Geller told Rachel that she was the "daughter she never had." Ouch. Later, they spent Monica's wedding funds on a home gym. They also don't support Monica's career as a restaurant head chef but are mesmerized by Ross' success. In general, they rarely miss an opportunity to criticize Monica but often seem confused about why their son can't hold down a girlfriend.

Monica the neat freak

We're honestly not sure if Monica Geller hates messes or just loves to clean things. The reason it might be the latter is because Monica also loves cooking food and hosting her extremely messy friends for various parties, thus giving her a nearly infinite amount of cleaning to do. She's also always prepared for any tidying project at any given time. In one Season 6 episode, Monica reveals she has an entire bucket of car cleaning tools, which is weird since she lives in New York City and doesn't have a car. In another episode, she gleefully tells a maid about her cleaning habits but has to stop before revealing her secret formula. In yet another, she rejects Chandler's romantic advances because he threw some magazines off the table to make room for sex, thus creating a mess and turning her off.

Unsurprisingly, her obsession with spotlessness rubs some folks the wrong way. In one episode, Phoebe's apartment catches fire, and she's forced to stay with Monica. Monica drives her mad with her inability to tolerate any crumbs anywhere in the apartment. In another episode, Ross starts dating a girl who's perfect, save for her atrociously messy apartment. He ultimately dumps her, but Monica, who wasn't even in the relationship and never had to see the apartment, goes mad simply knowing such a disgusting place exists. It's all a little much, but pretty funny.

The Ugly Naked Guy

Reams have been written about how unrealistic it is for these young characters to be able to afford massive, gorgeous New York City apartments. Nobody is particularly unsuccessful on the show, and those who start with unimpressive jobs, like Rachel, tend to land great ones later on. But it's not uncommon for doctors to live in closets in the real New York City, so it always seemed silly that waitresses and subway buskers could occupy sprawling flats in the heart of one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the world.

But it's not all sunshine and huge floor plans for the friends. Monica's flat has a unique view of an apartment owned by the so-called Ugly Naked Guy. Conceived in the same vein as Maris from "Frasier" and Mr. Wilson from "Home Improvement," who both never reveal their face to the audience, Ugly Naked Guy is only shown on-screen a few times and only ever from behind. We never saw his face, but the friends saw a lot more than that. They were morbidly fascinated by his strange behavior, like when he got a Thighmaster and when he accidentally sat on his cat. In one episode, the friends discover that Ugly Naked Guy is moving out and subletting his apartment. Ross, who's competing with countless others for the unit, is forced to eat mini muffins naked with the guy in a desperate attempt to bond with him before it's too late. Naturally, all his buddies are watching this unfold from Monica's apartment.

Nobody knows what Chandler's job is

Ross is a paleontologist turned college professor. Monica is a chef. Joey acts and does whatever else he needs to in order to pay his bills, including working as a waiter, a Christmas tree salesman, and a museum tour guide. Rachel Green starts as a waitress before working her way past assistant, then buyer, and eventually becomes an executive at Ralph Lauren. Phoebe Buffay, like Joey, is an entertainer first — her passion is performing her original songs — and she pays the bills with everything from massages to being an extra on a TV show. Chandler Bing is — wait.

What does Chandler do, again?

Don't feel bad if you can't remember. His friends don't seem to know what he does, either. It's not like he never tells them, as he says multiple times that he works in "statistical analysis and data reconfiguration." But nobody knows what that means. When Rachel tries to guess his job in one episode, when she's competing in a game of questions against Chandler and Joey for Monica's apartment, she says, "Transponster." Yeah, she didn't win.

It's worth noting that Chandler openly hates his job and only keeps working at whatever it is because they kept promoting him and giving him more money. Luckily for him, Monica helps him land a cool gig as a junior copywriter in advertising towards the end of the show, which he seems to enjoy significantly more.

Janice's 'Oh. My. Gawd.'

Chandler Bing's on-again, off-again girlfriend, Janice Litman-Goralnik, might be the most obnoxious character on the entire show. Played by the hilarious Maggie Wheeler, Janice is loud, nasally, socially clueless. She is constantly butting into social situations in which she's not wanted and becomes a nuisance that the main characters can't seem to get rid of. By far, her most recognizable attribute, other than her wonky laugh and habit of announcing her always-unwanted arrival, is her tendency to shout "Oh. My. God!" like a nasally air-raid siren with a thick Brooklyn accent.

Somehow, every conceivable event is fair game for this trademark cry. She shouts it whenever she unexpectedly sees Chandler or one of his friends anywhere. She says it whenever she answers the phone. She says it whenever she has a mid-sentence realization about something. She says it when she doesn't like her food and demands access to the kitchen to give the chef, in one case, Monica, a piece of her mind. Merely mentioning Janice out loud seems to summon her. Whenever a character tempts fate by saying something like "Oh, hey, you know who used to have nails like these?" or "Nobody here even knows you!" you can expect Janice to make an appearance with her iconic catchphrase.

Joey's love of food

Joey Tribbiani is a man who knows no limits. We don't mean that in a cool sense, by the way. So maybe a better way to phrase it would be that Joey Tribbiani has no concept of portion control, particularly when it comes to sex and food. He's more than a bit of a womanizer, but his true passion in life is eating. He's absolutely over the moon for snacks of any kind — usually in the junk food category — to an almost religious degree. 

Joey once describes a Thanksgiving turkey as his "Everest." He eats food off the floor while on a date. He stuffs 15 Oreos into his mouth at once, just to beat his own personal record. When the fridge breaks, he delights in eating everything inside it before it goes bad. In one episode, when Ross tries to grab a bite off his plate, he screams, "Joey doesn't share food!" In another, he's so attracted to Phoebe that he puts his food down and says, "Wow, you look... stop eatin' hot. Which is like the highest level of hotness." High praise indeed.

So Joey likes food. How he looks as good as he does throughout the show, despite the outrageous quantities of snacks he stuffs in his face in almost every episode, we'll likely never know. But it's some pretty funny stuff.

Could I/they/it BE...?

Chandler Bing's defining trait is his sarcasm. The guy rarely ever holds anything back when mocking his friends, himself, or anyone else the group pals around with. Call it a defense mechanism if you want, or maybe the character's way to distract himself from his shortcomings. That's fine. But it's some funny stuff, as Chandler is far and away the most comedically talented member of the main cast, especially because much of the humor surrounding the other five friends is the result of their lack of self-awareness. Chandler's not immune from that, by the way, but the guy can whip out some killer one-liners when the situation demands.

One of the most common ways his sarcasm manifests isn't a catchphrase, necessarily, but rather the way he says certain things. Namely, by emphasizing the "be" in lines like "Could she BE any more out of my league?" or "Could we BE more white trash?" In typical sitcom running gag fashion, other characters on the show get to use this one in their own way from time to time. Phoebe takes Chandler down a peg in one funny scene by imitating him and asking, "Could that report BE any later?" To which Chandler replies, "Okay, I don't sound like that. That is so not true." Sorry, pal, but yeah, it is.

Phoebe's ridiculous songs

None of the main characters on "Friends" are normal, but the various idiosyncrasies of Monica, Joey, Chandler, Rachel, and Ross at least fall within the scope of recognizable human behavior. Phoebe Buffay, on the other hand, often acts like an alien who's trying and failing to understand our strange Earth culture. That's not to say she's stupid, unskilled, or incapable of functioning in society. She simply has no understanding of fundamental social interactions and doesn't seem to care how she's perceived. It would probably be annoying in real life if you had to spend more than a few hours with her, but actress Lisa Kudrow makes the character adorable and nearly impossible to dislike.

Phoebe is a multi-linguist and a talented singer-songwriter, but she doesn't cash in this ability to cover show tunes or sing love ballads. Instead, she pens songs that are every bit as bizarre as they are annoyingly catchy and performs them either while busking in the subway or in good old Central Perk. Who can forget "Suicide and a Snowman" from Season 1, "Double Jointed Boy," or "Crusty Old Man" from the show's sophomore season? There is also, of course, "Smelly Cat," which was sung multiple times throughout the show. That particular song was re-recorded by Kudrow a few times, and the actress even sang it in a duet with Lady Gaga during the "Friends" reunion special, making it arguably the show's second most famous song after the iconic theme.

'We were on a break!'

The line "We were on a break!" was first heard in the Season 3 episode appropriately titled "The One Where Ross and Rachel Take a Break." In a nutshell, Ross and Rachel were an item in some of the show's early seasons, and obviously ended up together later on, but he became jealous of her close friendship with a man named Mark Robinson. This causes a fight, and the titular break. While drunk at a bar afterward, Ross calls Rachel to reconcile, hears Mark in the background, who Rachel had been platonically confiding in. Ross mistakenly believes she's sleeping with the guy and then has a drunken one-night stand with a woman named Chloe as revenge.

He eventually realizes his mistake and gets back together with Rachel, but when she finds out about Chloe later on, it causes all sorts of problems. Whenever this old wound comes up, which is often, Ross angrily defends himself with, "We were on a break!"

So who's right? Was being on a break enough to absolve Ross of his behavior, or was he a jealous hypocrite who betrayed Rachel? Fans have been debating the ins and outs of who's wrong and who's right for years. We don't have much to add, other than to say this gag defines the show more than any other and has become one of the most recognizable lines of dialogue in pop culture history.