TV URBAN LEGEND: The character of Chandler Bing on “Friends” was originally written as a gay character.
It’s fascinating to see how time can change our perception of a show’s politics so dramatically. When it was on the air, “Friends” was viewed as one of the most progressive shows on television, particularly when it came to LGBT issues. Gay-themed publications seemingly ran articles on “Friends” every other month. They had a lesbian couple as recurring characters on the show (Ross’ wife left him for another woman) and the lesbian couple even got married on the show, which was a very controversial episode at the time.
Now, though, when you look back at the series, it is striking to see how often “gay panic” is displayed on the series, with the three main male characters desperate to make sure that no one ever considers them to be gay (most notably, the season 1 episode where we learn that Chandler’s co-workers do believe that he is gay). Like when Chandler freaks out that Joey has a pink pillow on his couch after Rachel moves in with him. Chandler, meanwhile, is also actively cruel to his father, who is part of a drag queen burlesque show in Las Vegas. Chandler really comes off poorly in retrospect.
Again, though, “in retrospect” is key. The show was a product of its times and its creators surely did not intend the show to be anything but progressive, just progressive for its time.
In any event, the very close Joey/Chandler relationship was often played up for laughs on the show, especially in the early years.
In one notable episode, Joey moves out of the apartment that the two friends share after getting his big break as an actor and the show parodied itself, with Chandler and Joey re-enacting the same scenes that the show’s star-crossed lovers, Ross and Rachel, had gone through earlier in the show, showing them pining for each other.
This led to article at the time wondering whether Chandler was gay. This was ruled out by the show’s creators. Show co-creator (along with Marta Kauffman), David Crane, said of the pairing:
There’s a lot of feeling there. Is it sexual? No. It’s emotional. These two guys are emotionally crazy for each other, but sexually, not at all. Very often we played with Chandler’s relationship with Joey like an old married couple. So it doesn’t surprise me that people would think he’s gay but in our minds, he isn’t.
However, this has led to a separate legend that you see pop up all the time on the internet, that Chandler was originally going to be gay until Matthew Perry was cast as the character. This is all over the place on the ‘net, but to pick one, here’s one of those “facts you might not know” articles about the show, where it states, “Which of the six characters was originally going to be gay? Chandler Bing. The producers later changed their minds, but they did keep some of the traits they had planned for the gay character.”
This is a tricky one, but I think it leans more towards false than anything. Crane (who once joked that the fact that he was openly gay was mentioned so frequently in coverage of the show that he came to think that his full name was “The Openly Gay David Crane”), responded to the “is Chandler gay?” rumors back in 1996 to “The Advocate.
We didn’t go into this determined that Chandler would be straight. If we had cast a different actor – who was gay – there was the option that we would have taken the character in that direction.
Again, this is tricky, but it really reads more like Chandler’s sexuality just wasn’t a thing either way, as he was obviously a much less important character when the show started (he, like Phoebe, was more there for comic relief). So if you wanted to phrase it as “The producers considered making Chandler gay before casting Matthew Perry,” I could get behind that as being true. But “Chandler was originally gay before Matthew Perry was cast” doesn’t work.
The legend is…
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