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Lisa Kudrow Has A Bonkers Theory About Why Phoebe Has A Twin On Friends

"Friends" is one of those shows whose characters need specific traits to tell them apart. They're all about the same age and all struggling with the same set of life goals. Every one of them wants the trifecta: a fantastic apartment, a successful relationship, and a fulfilling career. Among the men, we have Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) as the brainy romantic, Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry) as the damaged comic, and Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc) as the dim-witted actor. Our female characters include the neurotic and driven Monica Geller (Courteney Cox), her spoiled and flighty opposite Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston), and ditzy outlier Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow).

With all these bases covered, there's more than enough material for the cast to work with — and that's before considering the plots of each episode. But for some reason, producers gave Kudrow an extra job to do. She plays a second role on the show as Phoebe's twin sister, Ursula. Why? Kudrow has a theory all her own about how this character came to be.

Ursula was around long before Friends

It all started a few years before "Friends" ever hit the airwaves. In 1992, a show called "Mad About You" debuted starred Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt as a newly married couple living in New York City. Kudrow was cast as Ursula, an incompetent waitress they regularly encounter at their favorite fictional restaurant, Riff's. Her place on the show was solid, and she didn't want to lose it. But then she got the chance at another, bigger role. 

"I auditioned for 'Friends' because I was available. I was only a recurring role on 'Mad About You.' And I got it — both on NBC," Kudrow explained on Podcrush. That success could have spelled the end of her "Mad About You" waitressing gig, but instead, she was kept on in her Ursula role.

After "Friends" was picked up by the network, Kudrow was suddenly set to appear in two NBC shows scheduled to air one right after the other. Producers needed to explain to audiences what they were about to see. Otherwise, they were bound to be confused. In Kudrow's estimation, that's when they decided to make Phoebe an identical twin. "I don't know who spoke with who, because they were different studios, but it was decided that I still get to be a recurring character on 'Mad About You.' And then 'Friends' needs to address the fact that the exact same human being is on a half hour later sometimes. So I think that's how it happened," Kudrow said.

Kudrow never saw her as the evil twin

Ursula is an odd addition to "Friends" and little help to Phoebe throughout the show's 10- season run. But while she certainly isn't in the running for any sister of the year awards, she adds color and quirkiness that fit the "Friends" aesthetic. She helps round out Phoebe's background and drives Phoebe's storyline forward — not to mention her important role in giving Kudrow the opportunity to develop two distinct characters.

Kudrow continued as Ursula on "Mad About You" through the show's finale in 1999, appearing in a total of 24 episodes. Much of that time overlapped with her eight appearances as Ursula on "Friends," where she's eccentric and unusual like Phoebe, but with a darker side. In Season 1, Episodes 16 and 17, she upsets Phoebe by dating — and dumping — Joey. In later episodes, it's revealed that Ursula filmed porn using Phoebe's name (Season 6, Episode 14) and sold Phoebe's birth certificate to a Swedish runaway (Season 7, Episode 14). Ursula frequently surprises Phoebe with bits of information about their family that she ought to have shared years ago (like the truth about their mother's death), and she often seems to forget she even has a sister.

To audiences, Ursula is "the bad twin," but Kudrow has a different take. "I saw Ursula as this nice person. You know, really nice. She just didn't pay attention to anything," Kudrow told the Television Academy Foundation. Guessing it was the "Friends" writers who sought to make Ursula mean, she added, "Maybe they didn't like that they had to include her. I don't know."