Did Ellen Degeneres Really Turn Down an Iconic Role on ‘Friends’?

Friends made Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Matthew Perry, Matt Le Blanc, David Schwimmer, and Lisa Kudrow household names. The series, which ran from 1994 until 2004, became wildly popular pretty quickly and has remained one of the most-watched series of all time. It should come as no surprise that fans have discussed the casting decisions for years, and rumors about which actors were considered for the roles before they were given to the actors who inevitably stared in the series have swirled for years. One of the most enduring rumors is that Ellen DeGeneres was offered the role of Phoebe Buffay, but turned it down. Is the story true?

Who was Phoebe Buffay?

Phoebe was one of the most beloved Friends characters, and there was good reason for it. While she appeared bright, sunny, and a little bit flighty, Phoebe was, perhaps, the most complex character in the group. Unlike her pals, Phoebe didn’t have a comfortable upbringing. Instead, she lost her mother, never met her father, and dealt with her stepfather going to prison. Phoebe also spent some time homeless and lost several friends before she was even a legal adult.

Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe Buffas in 'Friends'
Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe Buffay | David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images

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Because Phoebe had such a difficult upbringing, she was quick to empathize with her pals in a way that made most of them uncomfortable. Phoebe’s dark past and complex personality have led to a lot of fan theories about the character, and, subsequently, the casting that went into putting Kudrow in the role.

Ellen told Howard Stern she didn’t turn down the role

It’s hard to say where the rumor about DeGeneres auditioning for the role of Phoebe started, but it’s safe to say the timing of Friends premier makes it nearly impossible. DeGeneres was cast in her own show around the same time NBC was casting for friends. Ellen aired its first episode in March 1994, and Friends premiered in September 1994.  The final word on the subject of DeGeneres’ potential role on Friends came from DeGeneres, herself. The famed talk show host set the record straight on The Howard Stern Show back in 2015, according to CBR. She told the radio legend that she was never up for the part, and she most certainly didn’t turn down the role.  

Ellen DeGeneres poses at the 2016 People's Choice Awards
Ellen DeGeneres | Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

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It’s unclear where the rumor started, but fans could see how the comedian would have been compelling in the role. DeGeneres and Kudrow share similar facial features, and both are blondes. DeGeneres, like Kudrow, is known for her breezy comedic timing and seemingly sunny disposition.

A couple of other actresses were rumored to have auditioned for the role, too  

DeGeneres isn’t the only actor who was rumored to have auditioned for the role of Phoebe. For years, rumors that Jane Lynch and Kathy Griffin both tested for the part have run rampant. Some of those rumors have been shot down, too. Lynch, for example,  has specifically stated that she was never up for the part of Phoebe.

Jane Lynch visits 'The IMDb Show' on November 5, 2018 in Studio City, California
Jane Lynch| Rich Polk/Getty Images for IMDb

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Lynch, who is best known for her work in Glee, sat down with The Huffington Post and revealed that she was never called in to audition for the series. She said that while she would have loved to have a shot at the famed series, the rumor is just an urban legend. Lynch did, however, reveal that she’s a huge fan of Friends.  Unsubstantiated reports have also suggested Griffin was originally considered for the role, but Kudrow ultimately won out. One would think if Griffin had been up for the iconic role, the story would have made it into one of her stand-up sets; so far, it hasn’t.