David Schwimmer defends 'Friends' from criticism about diversity, tone-deaf jokes: 'That show was groundbreaking in its time'
David Schwimmer may not be up for a Friends reboot — “Why mess with what felt like the right way to end the series?” the 53-year-old actor asked in a new interview with the Guardian — but he remains loyal to the NBC sitcom that launched him into TV stardom more than 25 years ago.
During his Guardian interview, Schwimmer was quick to defend the show from modern-day criticisms that it lacked diversity and was tone-deaf on topics like body size and LGBTQ representation (read: weight jokes at Monica’s expense, Chandler’s transgender dad played by Kathleen Turner).
“I don’t care,” Schwimmer said of flack the show now gets from some viewers. “The truth is also that show was groundbreaking in its time for the way in which it handled so casually sex, protected sex, gay marriage and relationships. The pilot of the show was my character’s wife left him for a woman and there was a gay wedding, of my ex and her wife, that I attended.
“I feel that a lot of the problem today in so many areas is that so little is taken in context. You have to look at it from the point of view of what the show was trying to do at the time. I’m the first person to say that maybe something was inappropriate or insensitive, but I feel like my barometer was pretty good at that time. I was already really attuned to social issues and issues of equality.”
Schwimmer acknowledged that the show could have been more racially diverse, noting that he lobbied for his character, Ross, to date women of color, including Lauren Tom’s Julie, Aisha Tyler’s Charlie and Gabrielle Union’s Kristen.
“Maybe there should be an all-black Friends or an all-Asian Friends,” he mused. “But I was well aware of the lack of diversity and I campaigned for years to have Ross date women of color. One of the first girlfriends I had on the show was an Asian-American woman, and later I dated African-American women. That was a very conscious push on my part.”
The show’s religious representation — siblings Monica (Courteney Cox) and Ross are Jewish — also makes him proud.
“It’s interesting also how the show handled the Judaism of the characters,” he added. “I don’t think that was earth-shattering or groundbreaking at all, but I for one was glad that we had at least one episode where it wasn’t just about Christmas. It was also Hanukkah and, even though I played the Hanukkah armadillo, I was glad that we at least acknowledged the differences in religious observation.”
Schwimmer remains in contact with his former co-stars, sharing, “We all had a little reunion dinner at Courteney’s house recently. Everyone drifts and everyone has families and gets on with it so there are different relationships among the cast, but I’m probably closest to [Matt] LeBlanc on a regular basis. I’m the only one that lives in New York.”
While HBO Max is reportedly trying to get a televised reunion with the show’s stars off the ground, Schwimmer insisted that none of them want to revisit their old characters.
“I just don’t think it’s possible, given everyone’s different career trajectories,” he explained. “I think everyone feels the same: Why mess with what felt like the right way to end the series? I don’t want to do anything for the money. It would have to make sense creatively and nothing I’ve heard so far presented to us makes sense.”
Elsewhere, Schwimmer discussed his “heartbreaking” divorce from ex-wife Zoë Buckman, raising 8-year-old daughter Cleo and his work as an activist raising awareness about sexual harassment, noting, “I don’t know a woman in my life that has not been harassed in some way.”
Though Schwimmer, who sits on the board of directors for the Rape Foundation, said the #MeToo movement has been a long time coming, he’s conflicted about the “atmosphere of terror” he feels it’s created for men.
“Some people called it a ‘witch hunt,’” he said. “I disagree with that, but … there was a lot of over-reacting, I think. Some of the more complex situations were lumped in with the more egregious and criminal.”
But he has no sympathy for Harvey Weinstein, calling him an “aggressive individual used to getting what he wanted.” The star also takes a strong view against President Donald Trump, particularly in light of his ribald remarks caught on tape by Access Hollywood in 2005.
“I was shocked and really dismayed when it was revealed that he’s got so many women accusing him of sexual assault and that he boasts on tape of grabbing women by the genitals,” said Schwimmer, whom the newspaper noted “otherwise steers clear of party politics.”
“Most people decided that it didn’t matter. I would argue to those same people that if he had done that to their daughter or their wife or their sister, it probably would matter. I didn’t know how to explain to my daughter how the country elected someone who was boasting of committing sexual assault.”
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