Chandler is the smart-ass. Joey is the dummy. Monica is the neat-freak. Rachel is the bombshell. Ross is the nebbish. And Phoebe, she is the resident flake among this calculated mTlange of twentysomethings. As even the most TV-phobic among us know, the preceding personality parade represents the cast of NBC's smash sitcom, Friends. The function of guitar-strumming massage therapist Phoebe Buffay is to provide some light-headed frivolity, an occansional musical interlude, and a dash of New Age nuttiness to an otherwise conventionally nuerotic cast. But it turns out that Lisa Kudrow, the Vassar-educated actress who plays Phoebe, has little in common with her Friends counterpart. In fact, Kudrow is brainy, grounded, married -- and safely into her thirties.
Kudrow comes from intelligent stock. Her father, Lee Kudrow, is a doctor and one of America's foremost experts on headaches, and her older brother David (one of Kudrow's three siblings) is a neurologist. Mom, Nedra Kudrow, is a travel agent. Growing up in suburban Los Angeles, young Lisa seemed destined to follow in her father's footsteps. She was a bookworm in primary school, studied hard throughout high school, and then attended Vassar College in upstated New York to study biology. Kudrow, who shared a research credit on one of her father's studies, graduated in 1985, fully intending to become a medial researcher. That same year, however, comic Jon Lovitz, who is a good friend of David Kudrow, landed a role on Saturday Night Live. Lovitz's new job impressed Kudrow, and stirred acting impulses buried deep within her.
You see, way back in sixth grade, Kudrow was known to throw a shawl or two around her shoulders and lip-synch to --what else?-- the soundtrack of Fiddler on the Roof. So impressive was Kudrow's portrait of the butcher's wife that her teacher arranged for her to perform her act in front of several classrooms. That rather Phoebe-esque phase looked for a time to be both the beginning and end of Kudrow's dramatic ambitions. But when Lovitz joined S.N.L., she was inspired to try acting again. Lovitz recommended that Kudrow audition for the Groundlings, the Los Angeles imporvisational-comedy troupe that birthed his career as well as those of fellow yuksters Phil Hartman and Paul Reubens. After some acting lessons (Conan O'Brien was a classmate" and several auditions, Kudrow was welcomed into the Groundlings' notorious brood. Not surprisingly, among her Groundlings sketch characters was a geeky professor who lectured about incomprehensible medical theories.
By 1989, Kudrow had settled comfortably into the Los Angeles comedy scene, and so began auditioning for non-Groundlings gigs. After winning a role in a local production called The Ladies Room and parts in a few low-rent movies, she began making the rounds at the broadcast networks in hopes of earning a spot on a television show. Her first TV job of note was playing the girlfriend of Woody Harrelson's character on an episode of Cheers. Similar fleeting appearances on Coach, Newhart, and other series followed, and in 1993, Kudrow finally secured a recurring role as Mad About You's dippy waitress Ursula. History will cite Ursula as the actress's big break, because her skillful performance prompted NBC executives to encourage her to try out for a beefier position on another of the network's programs. Kudrow was passed over for the part of radio producer Roz on Frasier -- the part that fell to the suitably snappy Peri Gilpin, and Kudrow instead won a place on Friends, which premiered in 1994.
Because both Mad About You and Friends are NBC shows, Kudrow is able to portray both Ursula and Phoebe, whom the shows' producers decided to make twin sisters. Kudrow tapes Friends during the week in Burbank, and, when needed, she spends Friday afternoons in nearby Culver City to perform her part-time duties on Mad About You. It is, of course, the phenomenal success of Friends that made Kudrow a star and won her a 1995 Emmy nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series. Capitalizing on her new-found notoriety, Kudrow snapped up a slew of movie roles, among them a small part in the Albert Brooks comedy Mother (1996) and co-starring assignments in Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (1997), The Opposite Of Sex (1998), and Analyze This (1999). In her non-working hours, Kudrow plays tennis like a doctor's daughter and is happily married to advertising executive Michel Stern, with whom she has a son, Julian Murray.