How stupid was Phoebe supposed to be, really?

I’m far from an expert on the sitcom Friends, given that I stopped watching when Ross was supposed to marry the English woman, so I defer to the Dopers: How stupid was Phoebe supposed to be, really? She was a college friend of Monica’s, right? She was supposed to be someone who had suffered a lot, compared to the other characters – her mother committed suicide, she doesn’t know her father, she has no relationship with her twin sister, she was homeless for a while, she has no boyfriend, she works a lot, she is unsuccessful as a wannabe folksinger, etc.

I imagined she kept up this act as a hippie-dippie airhead as a defense mechanism, so that no one would ever expect too much of her. But then she’d let her real personality slip out now and again, as when Rachel asks her what she wants for Christmas and she says, “I want my mother back,” and Rachel says, “I was thinking more of something I could get at Bloomingdale’s,” and Phoebe says, “Oh! Bath salts would be nice.” But then I never watched the show enough to get a full picture. Whaddaya say, Dopers?

My take on her wasn’t that she was dumb, just living in her own little world.

I don’t think she was meant to be stupid, I think she was meant to be oblivious, detached, unaware of the world outside her head. I think she proved herself bright at many juncture’s but she had a childlike ability to discover new things because she just wasn’t swift. In fact, she reminds a lot of a friend of mine, very smart, just two minutes behind the rest of the world.


And she wasn’t a college friend – she and Monica had been roommates, but after they both had jobs. In fact, Phoebe had never even been to high school, having run away to live on the street after her mother died and her stepdad went to prison. I think that in the earlier, more realistically written seasons, her lack of education was supposed to explain some of her “dumbness”.

I remember one episode where she gets into an argument about evolution with Ross, and basically destroys him. After he leaves in frustration, she admits she doesn’t have any problems with the Theory of Evolution, she just enjoyed fucking with Ross because he was acting so superior.

She wasn’t the dumbest member of the group; I’d say Joey and possibly Rachel were less intelligent. I’ll second the ‘own world’ view, where things seem wrong to outsiders just because they’re a bit askew.

I think it was portrayed that Joey was the dumb one…remember when Penn came by to sell him encyclopedias, and Joey could only buy volume V? He tried to start a discussion on Vietnam, but then it got hijacked to Korea with everyone but Joey nodding in agreement at a comment Ross made.

I never watched the show so I have no qualified opinion on the character, but Lisa Kudrow was clearly the most talented, and likely the most intelligent cast member on the show.

I hypothesize that the ditzyness (of the character) was due to the fact that she was too busy solving problems in advanced number theory and cosmology while simultaneously replaying Grand Master chess games in her head, and therefore had little intellect, or indeed interest, in paying attention to the outside world.


I wasn’t a regular watcher, but one bit comes to mind. Ross has some big dinner to go to and the entire episode is about him trying to get the gang ready to leave on time. There were the predictable juvenile antics of Joey and Chandler and another pointless chapter in Ross/Rachel, but Phoebe had shown up on time in a nice outfit and seemed perfectly on the ball until someone spilled some food on her, leaving her with a large unsightly stain on her outfit. She retires briefly to one of the bedrooms with Rachel and/or Monica and comes out with a large, rather garish red-and-green ribbon decoration pinned to her blouse, covering the stain.

Ross: Uh… yeah… I guess that’ll work.
Phoebe: Thanks. I wasn’t sure if I should make a political statement.
Chandler: Political? What are you supporting?
Phoebe: Christmas. Duh.

I second the Rachel and Joey were dumber remark. Phoebe knew alot that the others had no clue about, but I liked her take on the world–she was my favorite character. I stopped watching shortly after Monica and Chandler got engaged–the Vegas show was the last one I saw (I think-they all tend to run together).
I also liked Ursula alot. Lisa Kudrow must have had tons of fun with that! And wasn’t it Ursula who was the waitress on Mad About You? Heh.

Irrelevant comment: IMO, Terri Garr and Lisa Kudrow could be mother and daughter in RL, no?

Phoebe belongs to a television archetype I call the Holy Fool. Probably the first one of prominence was Maynard G. Krebs on the Many Loves of Dobie Gillis show, unless you want to include Gracie Allen in the role.

The Holy Fool is unschooled and unschoolable, which is why they appear dumb to the mundane. They live lives askew to the rest of us, in their own world. And they have a remarkable innocence and purity about them. They always seem to have a special affinity for animals, and can usually understand what they’re saying. Peter Tork of the Monkees was a good example.

In some ways they’re too good for our world, aliens, changelings, faeries who have been left here by some cosmic quirk.

It’s a tough role to pull off, either for the writer or the actor. The older Phoebe got, the more she moved away from the archetype.

I don’t watch enough tv now to know who fits the role in today’s world, but the mathematician on Numb3rs is close to it, fitting it pretty well except that he’s too smart to be a normal part of our world. It would be tough, though, to have a true Holy Fool on any show that wasn’t a comedy.

I’m pretty sure the only Friends characters who went to college at all were Ross and Chandler.

I recall an alternate-universe Friends episode in which Pheobe was a hard-charging Wall Street trader (who has a stress-induced heart attack) and she seemed perfectly plausible. OTOH, in another ep she spent much of show with Chrissie Hynde and didn’t seem to recognize her at all, so … :smiley:

Although she certainly came off that way at times, I don’t think she was really stupid at all. I think she was really the wisest character on the show. “Holy fool” fits kinda well.

The ads are all for suicide help… :eek: :smiley:
I think Phoebe proves that uneducated /= stupid.

I think Monica went to college, no? And Rachel?

I liked Phoebe’s physicist boyfriend–that was classic.

Rachel also went to college, she was a sorority sister with Winona Ryder (coconuts knocking together…)

I really didn’t care for Phoebe in the early seasons, but in the later ones she got a lot more fun and had some great lines. None of which I can think of right now.

Definitely less stupid than Joey, I think Phoebe filled the “wacky neighbor” sitcom archetype more than anything else. She said and did the things that showed her own little take on the world, which occasionally (often?) had little relation to reality.

Yeah, I think in the Friends ep where Ursula was introduced, NBC had Helen Hunt come into Central Perk and mistake Phoebe for Ursula.

From what I understand, Kudrow was doing Ursula on Mad about You as quasi-regular (along the same lines as Gunther’s appearances on Friends) when she got cast as Phoebe. Since both were NBC shows set in New York, the writers set up Ursula and Phoebe as twins.

Speaking of which, the one where Ursula becomes a porn star under Phoebe’s name probably shows some smarts on Phoebe’s part. Since Phoebe couldn’t convince Ursula to stop doing it, she just corrected the mailing address the paychecks got sent to. And then there was the way she had fun with the “you recognize from PORN!” guy. :slight_smile:

I prefer Lrrr’s take on the whole Freinds thing…

<Lrrr>“This is Ancient Earth’s most foolish program, why doesn’t Ross, the largest freind, simply eat the other four?”
<Ndnda> "Perhaps they are saving that for “sweeps” "

I’m quite certain that Phoebe was the hardest character to write for, for what that’s worth.

Ross: “I believe the word you’re looking for is ‘Anyway…’.”

The archetype predates television. Consider Curley Howard.