Friends was a massive hit on TV, but a critical part of the show scared even the most prominent guest stars. During its ten-year run, Friends had some of Hollywood’s biggest stars as guest stars. But many of them were scared to be on the show. Friends ran for ten years and received 62 Emmy nominations during that time. It was also a cultural phenomenon and a trend-setter, giving us slip dresses, “Rachel” cuts, and phrases like “Friend Zone” in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Friends was a big hit right away because it came in between two popular shows where people loved to see New Yorkers act like New Yorkers. On September 22, 1994, Friends came on after NBC’s Mad About You and before Seinfeld. George Clooney, Noah Wyle, and Jennifer Grey were guests on Friends’ first season. From there, the Friends train only got faster, with mega-stars like Tom Selleck, Julia Roberts, Charlie Sheen, Isabella Rossellini, Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, and Charlton Heston appearing on the show before the turn of the century. During Friends’ last four years, guest stars have included Susan Sarandon, Bruce Willis, Denise Richards, Wynona Ryder, Brad Pitt, Freddie Prinze Jr., Selma Blair, Jeff Goldblum, and Greg Kinnear, Danny DeVito, and Dakota Fanning, to name a few.
Even though many of the guest stars are well-known movie stars, Friends actress Jennifer Aniston recently told Pam & Tommy’s Sebastian Stan (via Variety) that most of the series’ guests were “terrified” to be on the show. The actress says that the live audience for the sitcom scared the box-office actors, which Stan agreed would scare him. Even though people watching the show don’t notice how often people laugh and react.
It makes sense that actors who aren’t used to performing in front of a live audience would find it scary.
A live audience in the studio is in a world of its own. When filming with a live audience in the studio, the actors have to act for the camera and the crowd. Which is different from what they do on stage. In the same way, actors are used to working on a closed set where the camera is the only audience. Having a live audience means that the actors can immediately see how the audience reacts, whether good or bad.
The Friends guest stars were scared of the live audience, and so were many other people. Matthew Perry, who played Chandler on Friends, told the Independent that he was also scared. “I felt like I would die if they didn’t laugh”. I would sweat and start shaking if I didn’t get the laugh I was supposed to get. He would go crazy.”
In addition to what Perry said, it makes sense that it would be hard for movie actors to consider how the audience reacts naturally. Another problem could be staying in character no matter how the audience reacts. Given that there are a lot of unknowns when performing in front of a live audience. This makes all of the guest performances on Friends even more impressive.