Phoebe Buffay-Hannigan (formerly Princess Consuela Bananahammock) is a fictional character on the U.S. television sitcom Friends (1994–2004), portrayed by Lisa Kudrow. Kudrow received an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe nomination for her performances.
Phoebe Buffay is the younger twin daughter born to Phoebe Abbott and Frank Buffay, 1967; her twin sister, Ursula, was born one minute earlier. Frank was married to Phoebe Abbott’s best friend, Lily, at the time; Lily adopted Phoebe and her twin sister, Ursula. The sisters were unaware until adulthood that Lily was not their biological mother. Phoebe does not talk much about her early years except to note that she was from upstate New York, that her father abandoned the family when she was very young, and that Lily killed herself. She occasionally mentions Lily’s strange behavior and methods of raising her children.
Phoebe’s life changed dramatically when she was fourteen and Lily committed suicide just before Christmas by sticking her head in the oven. Phoebe’s stepfather was in prison at the time. By age fourteen, Phoebe was living on the streets of New York. She never mentions what happened to Ursula after their mother’s death, but they did not stay together. Phoebe lived in many locations such as a burnt-out Buick Lesabre automobile. She did not attend high school or college, but claimed that she met behind a dumpster with a small group to learn French, in which she is fluent. She also speaks some Italian.
Phoebe occasionally resorted to mugging to survive. At one point, when she was fourteen, she mugged a teenage Ross near a comic shop, stealing the only copy of Ross’s comic Science Boy. Phoebe claims the book “taught me well”. Phoebe also mentioned that she once lived in Prague, Czechoslovakia but she refuses to tell her friends about her time there. She also lived with an albino man, who washed windows outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal, as well as a “guy named Sidney who talked to his hand.” Phoebe claims that she contracted hepatitis when a pimp spat in her mouth. She also claims to have been stabbed by a police officer, whom she stabbed in return. Phoebe learned to box at a YMCA. Phoebe also claims to have been tortured, and at one point made sombreros (and got called ‘bad little white girl’ by her employer for not making them big enough). The references to her past demonstrate that her life is far from average, and very different from those of her friends.
After her grandmother’s death, Phoebe inherited her yellow taxi and apartment at 5 Morton Street, New York City. She moved in with Monica as a result of answering a roommate ad, which began their friendship. While living with Monica, she married Duncan, a gay Canadian ice dancer, in order to help him obtain a green card. He later revealed that he is straight, and was just being gay “to fit in”, resulting in a divorce, although Phoebe still has feelings for him.
Having not experienced a normal childhood, Phoebe is naïve and innocent. She is still a child at heart at times but also demonstrates wisdom. She did not learn how to ride a bike until Ross bought her one and taught her how with training wheels. She believes Santa Claus exists, until Joey says otherwise. Phoebe’s straightforwardness is a running gag throughout the series. Phoebe is also known in the group for having the best street-smarts. Having grown up on the streets, she knows how to get by. At one point, she and Ross are almost mugged, and she ends up having a happy reunion with an old friend from her mugging days. She also keeps a knife in her boot in one episode.
Phoebe is the most promiscuous of the three women and is the one most often referred to as having casual sex. During the episode “The One with Rachel’s Phone Number”, Rachel attempts to convince Phoebe’s boyfriend Mike to do her a favor by promising Phoebe will do anything he wants: “Seriously, I’m talking dirty stuff.” Mike is surprised that it could “get any dirtier”. In the second to last episode, while packing, Phoebe denies ownership of the fur-lined handcuffs found in Monica’s spare room, saying they are much too flimsy for her uses, claiming that Mike is at that very time handcuffed to a pipe. It has also been suggested that Phoebe has had a threesome. In one episode, Rachel and Phoebe fight over a man, and Phoebe says that she has not been on a date in a very long time. Rachel claims Phoebe had a date three days ago to which Phoebe replies, “That wasn’t a date! That was, that was just friends getting together…having sex.” When Phoebe and Mike celebrate an anniversary, Rachel asks her, “So which anniversary? First date? First kiss? First time sleeping together?” to which Phoebe replies, “Yeah”. Phoebe also kisses Rachel in one episode to experience Rachel’s claim to be a fantastic kisser. In “The One Where Rosita Dies”, Phoebe states that if she works as a telemarketer, she probably will not have to say “spank” as much as she did in her last phone job, suggesting that she worked as a phone sex operator.
Phoebe often uses her chaotic childhood and traumatic past as sympathy ploys with her friends. References to her mother’s death are usually used to get her own way. Phoebe does not seem to mind that the friends know it is a ploy. In one episode, Rachel says, “Now, wait a minute, you can’t use that to get the cute guy’s phone and the last blueberry muffin!” to which Phoebe replies, “Did I use that already today? I’m sorry.” As the series progressed, the other friends indulge her less frequently.
Phoebe believes in reincarnation and refers to multiple gods; however, not all of Phoebe’s beliefs seem internally connected. She is very open to the existence of paranormal phenomena and willing to consider the most bizarre scientific theories, much to Ross’s confusion and despair. She does not believe in the theory of evolution or gravity, claiming she feels more pushed down than pulled; however, her disbelief at evolution was later used in a game against Ross. After making him question his belief, she states, “That was fun!”. At one point, Phoebe is possessed by the spirit of an 82-year-old woman, who had unfinished business. Phoebe also claims to hear voices in her head, and at one point, even hears what Joey is singing in his head. In “The One With All The Thanksgivings”, Phoebe reveals her belief that she possessed the same look in at least two previous lives — during the American Civil War and World War I, during both of which she was a battlefield nurse who lost an arm on Thanksgiving. She says that Joey does not have any previous life memories because “he’s brand new”.
Phoebe agreed to be a surrogate mother for her brother Frank Jr. and his wife Alice Knight. In the Season 5 episode “The One Hundredth” (“The One with the Triplets”), she gave birth to their triplets: Chandler (originally intended to be named after Chandler Bing, as they were expecting a boy); Frank Jr. Jr.; and Leslie. While pregnant, she enjoyed seeing people’s reactions after telling them, “I’m having my brother’s children”.
Her opposition to large corporations is part of several episodes. Phoebe hates chain stores and the idea of corporate greed, such as Pottery Barn (although she ends up liking it). In season 9’s “The One with the Fertility Test,” she tries to convince Rachel not to redeem a gift-certificate to a massage spa because it puts independent massage therapists such as herself out of business. However, when Rachel clandestinely visits the spa to redeem her gift certificate, it is revealed that Phoebe is employed at the spa as a massage therapist because of the good money, benefits, and 401(k) plan. Even when Rachel says she should quit if she hates it so much, she apparently remains at the job.
Phoebe is occasionally referred to as a heavy drinker, although she never demonstrates any dependence that would make her an alcoholic. In a season 7 episode, when describing her feelings for a man she is dating, Phoebe tells Monica, “I feel like I’ve had ten drinks today…and I only had six.” She also had over twenty drinks at a charity event, stating, “The more I drink, the less there is for kids to drink.” At Monica’s 30th birthday party, when Monica gets very drunk, Phoebe decides to “get twice as drunk so no one will notice Monica”. Chandler is uncomfortable with this suggestion, stating that drunk Phoebe is “mean”. The morning after Ross and Rachel get married in Las Vegas, Phoebe and the rest of the friends eat at a breakfast buffet, where Phoebe drinks with the meal.
Phoebe is also the only member of the group who is left-handed, but she does a large amount of work with her right hand. She is also shown to be different from the rest of the group. In “The One with the Mugging”, she mentions that the other members have connections that go “way back”. Ross and Monica are siblings, Rachel is Monica’s old friend, and Chandler was Ross’s college roommate. She is also geographically isolated from the group, as she is the only one living far out in the later series. When talking about who would be “phased out” of the group after Ross and Rachel’s break-up, Rachel mentions, “I always thought Phoebe would be the one to go first, you live far out and you’re not related.” In season 6 it was revealed that Phoebe’s sister is a porn star using her name.
Phoebe’s somewhat dubious musical skills are a popular source of entertainment. Her array of rhyming songs includes “The Double-Double-Double-Jointed Boy”, “Bisexuals”, “Sue, Sue, Suicide”, “Sticky Shoes”, “Holiday Song”, “Ode to a Pubic Hair (Little Black Curly Hair)”, and most notably “Smelly Cat”. In the series, “Smelly Cat” becomes both a jingle for a kitty litter commercial (performed by another singer) and a serious commercial release (also not sung by her). Other popular tunes include “The Grandma Song” (a song about grandparent’s death) and “The Cow in the Meadow goes Moo” (a song about meat production and packaging). She sang the latter to the children in the public library program, earning her the name “The Lady Who Sings About the Truth”. In “The One With Rachel’s Dream” in season 9, Phoebe plays outside Monica’s restaurant, much to Monica’s dismay because Phoebe’s songs clash with Monica’s upscale restaurant. Patrons outside yell, “You Suck!” and “Shut Up and Go Home!” Phoebe misinterprets these as requests for two of her songs. She also sings a song called “Happy Birthday Emma” in Season 10, on the occasion of the birthday of Rachel and Ross’s daughter Emma.
Phoebe’s musical influences and favorite bands are heterogeneous. She seems to know some tunes from Lionel Richie by heart, yet a taste for rock, heavy metal and hard rock can be clearly noticed. To name a few examples:
- In season 4, Phoebe and her mother both say that they like The Beatles. At her wedding with Mike in season 10, “Here, There and Everywhere” by The Beatles is played on steeldrums as she walks up the aisle.
- In season 7, she expresses her love for the grindcore band Carcass.
- In season 8, she attempts to meet Sting while pretending to be Susan (the wife of Ross’ ex-wife, Carol), as Ben goes to school with Sting’s son. She ends up with a restraining order.
- In season 9, she says she is “working on a couple Iron Maiden covers”.
- In season 9, she sings Queen’s “We Are the Champions” at a piano bar.
She has mentioned that she thinks the most romantic love song is the one that goes “Hold me close, young Tony Danza” (misunderstanding Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”). She describes her musical style as “acoustic folksy stuff”. In the early seasons, she plays in open tuning, which requires only one finger to play major chords. In later seasons, she plays in standard tuning. While attempting to teach Joey guitar, she professes to be “self-taught” and not know the real names of chords. She refers to G-sharp as “Ice Berg” and A as “Bear Claw” because of her finger formations while playing them.
“Smelly Cat” first appears in the second season episode “The One with the Baby on the Bus”, where it is revealed to be Phoebe’s least popular song, but Rachel’s personal favorite. At the end of the episode, Phoebe teaches a character played by guest star Chrissie Hynde to play the song. She also performs “Smelly Cat” with guest star Chris Isaak at the end of “The One After the Superbowl”, mocking his character’s improvisation over the song. In “The One Where Eddie Moves In” Phoebe makes a professional recording of the song for possible commercial release, though her voice is replaced by E.G. Daily’s voice. A short video for the song also appeared in this episode and is included in full as a bonus feature on the second season DVD set. In “The One with Phoebe’s Ex-Partner”, Leslie, played by guest star Elizabeth Daily, uses the song as a jingle for a cat litter commercial. In the fifth season episode “The One with Joey’s Bag”, Phoebe meets her estranged father, who reveals he sang a lullaby to her when she was a baby, called “Sleepy Girl”, which has the same melody as “Smelly Cat”. The “Smelly Cat Medley” track on the Friends Again soundtrack, credited to Phoebe Buffay & The Hairballs (featuring the Pretenders), features a recording of the scene, and then a new, more artistic recording of the duet between Hynde and Phoebe. Hynde then launches into a hard-rock version with new lyrics. The song became so famous that a group of Portuguese comedians chose Gato Fedorento (“Smelly Cat” in Portuguese) for their show’s name, claiming they were fans of Friends. When meeting Mike’s parents in “The One with Ross’s Inappropriate Song”, she sings it to them during dinner because nobody had spoken in seventeen minutes.
Phoebe has many principles, though she sometimes fails to stick to them. She is a vegetarian and does not eat “food with a face”. She succumbs to her cravings for meat during her pregnancy, though only after Joey agrees to abstain from meat so that no extra animals would be killed. In season 1, Monica tells her that the vegetarian pâté she made for her actually had goose meat in it. It is also revealed in season two that after Phoebe’s husband left her, she was so upset that she ate a cheeseburger. In the episode “The One in Vegas, Part One”, she points out to Monica an advertisement for a 99-cent steak and lobster dinner, declaring that Las Vegas is better than London. When Monica reminds her that she doesn’t eat animals, Phoebe replies, “For 99 cents I’d eat you”. She once ate veal because of peer pressure when visiting Mike’s parents, and she is sick afterwards in their coat closet as a result. In “The One With All The Lasagnas”, she eats a meat lasagna with Monica. She frequently uses her vegetarianism to apologize for some behaviors, especially the ones which makes animals suffer; for example, when she punches Joey and makes him bleed, she is surprised and says, “Wow, and I’m a vegetarian.”
She is against the wearing of fur coats, though decides she looks good in one that she inherits. She later stops wearing it because she believes a squirrel is judging her. She once became upset upon witnessing trees being cut down and sold as Christmas trees. She also becomes upset at old trees being put in a Chipper when Joey becomes a salesman for Christmas trees. She makes a woman apologize to a tree after putting out a cigarette on it. She also cries when flowers die (and even arranges funerals for them), and feels sorry about sitting on a line of ants and accidentally killing them. Phoebe names the rat and mouse in her apartment (Bob and Susie, respectively) and even leaves crackers out for Bob. When Bob has babies and is killed, she tries to raise the babies with Mike. She gives up when Mike tells her that, despite all the rat babies being siblings, they would mate with each other and the rat population would increase exponentially if they tried to keep them. Phoebe said the rats had to go to “good families, with children.”
Phoebe frequently uses the alter ego Regina Phalange. The first reference to Regina Phalange is during season 4 when Phoebe is trying to contact Mrs. Waltham in England after Ross and Emily’s wedding. She pretends to be Dr. Regina Phalange, who is Ross’s brain doctor. Because Ross said Rachel’s name at the wedding, she tries to justify the mistake by telling Mrs. Waltham that he has not been taking his medication and thus names are interchangeable in his mind. When the friends go to Vegas, Phoebe introduces herself to the blackjack dealer as Regina Phalange. When Phoebe, Rachel, and Melissa go out to lunch (The One With Rachel’s Big Kiss), she says that somebody called Regina Phalange died of alcohol poisoning. She also used her fake name to show Chandler and Monica that people sometimes lie about their names. She introduces herself to them as Regina Phalange. Phoebe uses the name when helping Chandler with his interviewing skills in season 8. In the season 10 episode “The One Where Joey Speaks French”, Phoebe attempts to spare Joey from humiliation by introducing herself as “Régine Filange” and stating that Joey is indeed speaking an obscure regional dialect of French from their “hometown” of “Estée Lauder”. Her attempts to convince the casting director fail and she resorts to “admitting the truth” that Joey is, in fact, her younger brother who is “un peu retardé” (a little retarded), and subsequently requesting that the casting director humor Joey’s French speaking abilities. The last reference is in the series finale when Phoebe successfully stalls Rachel’s plane to Paris by saying there is a problem with the “left phalange”.
In Season 9, Joey introduces Phoebe to Mike Hannigan. Phoebe and Mike begin a long relationship, which temporarily ends after Phoebe learns that Mike, having already been through one failed marriage, never wants to remarry. Mike then learns that Phoebe’s first boyfriend, David, is planning to propose to her; he changes his mind about marriage and proposes to Phoebe before David can. Phoebe rejects the proposal because she only wanted to know that marriage was a possibility; she and Mike become a couple again. They become officially engaged in “The One Where Rachel’s Sister Baby-Sits”. In “The One with Phoebe’s Wedding” during the final season, they are married in the street outside Central Perk, with Monica as maid of honor, Rachel as a bridesmaid, Joey officiating, Chandler giving Phoebe away, and Ross holding Mike’s childhood dog as a groomsman.
When she changes her name after the wedding, Phoebe learns she can change it to anything. She briefly becomes “Princess Consuela Bananahammock” but requests that the friends call her “Valerie”. To show her how ridiculous it sounds, Mike suggests changing his name to “Crap Bag”. Phoebe relents but wants to keep the name “Bananahammock” until learning that it is slang for a Speedo. She changes her name to Phoebe Buffay-Hannigan.
Phoebe has been married at least once before. Her previous husband, Duncan, was an apparently gay ice dancer, an old friend, and someone Phoebe was in love with. They married so that he could get a green card; he later confesses that he is straight but divorces Phoebe anyway. It is also possible that Phoebe was previously married in Las Vegas at some point in the past. She indicates her belief that people married in Las Vegas are only married within the city limits, and is surprised when Monica informs her such a union is legal all over the world. After a moment of mild distress, she shrugs off the revelation.
Phoebe is also briefly engaged to Joey. In “The One With The Red Sweater”, Joey believes that Phoebe is pregnant and proposes to her. Phoebe agrees and accepts his ring, but Joey takes the ring back and proposes to Rachel when he learns that she is actually the pregnant friend.