The Hidden Office Comedy in ‘Friends’
In one of the more well-known episodes of the series about friendship and having great apartments in New York, Monica and Rachel challenge Chandler and Joey to see who knows who best. It’s the famous sitcom trivia sequence where the girls end up losing their apartment because no one knows what Chandler’s actual job is — even though “transponster” sounds a heck of a lot cooler than a job in “statistical analysis and data reconfiguration.”
Chandler’s best friends couldn’t even remember his job, but to be fair, who could blame them? Throughout the series, we got to see Monica working in multiple restaurant kitchens (literally every other episode); Joey appearing in myriad commercials, bad plays and Days of Our Lives episodes; Rachel maneuvering her way up the fashion corporate ladder; and even Phoebe gigging at the gang’s favorite coffee shop more often than Joey pays his rent. We hardly got to see Chandler slaving away at his office job because the show continuously reminded us just how boring his job was — typically in the form of those terrible work clothes.
And yet, upon closer look, there’s a definite office comedy to be found in the show that’s very much about friends boning each other. We first get to see serial tie-wearer Chandler at work in the first season’s third episode. It’s a short scene that shows Chandler, who in this particular episode took up smoking again, sitting at his desk in his very depressing work cubicle, trying to look inconspicuous while taking a drag of a cigarette every five seconds.
Beyond his addiction and semi-rebellious nature in that scene, we learn nothing more about what he actually does. It’s only later (in episode eight) that we finally find out Chandler sometimes sits in the common room at work having lunch while some co-worker proposes hooking him up with another guy.
So far, so nothing about his actual job. Then episode 15 happened, and the office shenanigans started popping. Chandler’s boss, Big Al, tells him that he’s been promoted to processing supervisor at the data-processing company, whatever the heck that means. Chandler realizes that he absolutely hates his soul-crushing job and responds by quitting because even though he’s worked at the company for five years, he sees it as a temp job.
This, of course, may remind you of Jim Halpert’s predicament in that show where a paper-selling company throws more office parties than tech bros. Chandler’s boss immediately offers him more money, and the sad sack with the terrible ties ends up taking the promotion where he gets to yell at people about things like the “wenus” and the “anus” because this show had a lot of lame sex jokes.
Chandler now has his own office with a view of the city’s densely packed skyscrapers, and our office-employee-turned-office-boss has people working under him for the first time. Like any corporate jackass, he immediately tortures his secretary by buzzing her into his office for no reason, and in episode 16 (still in Season One), he has to deal with his first round of firings. Naturally, this goes badly, as he can’t get himself to fire the beautiful Nina and instead tells his boss that she’s “mentally unstable” and that her therapist warned against firing her — a cringy plot twist that could’ve worked better if the show leaned into said cringe like The Office did.
It should be pointed out that the reason we never got to see much of Chandler at his job was due to the fact that the show was, well, about friends. This meant that most plots and scenes had to at least feature two or more of the main characters. This is why, in episode 22 of Season One, Chandler gives Phoebe a job as his temp secretary. It’s the episode where Chandler learns that his co-workers now only see him as the boss and that he’s not “one of them” anymore. They don’t invite him to parties (something Michael Scott can relate to), and Phoebe lets slip that they do impressions of him behind his back because a Chandler Bing couldn’t be any easier to do. He does not handle this new title of “Boss Man Bing” well and ends up making the watercooler gossip gang work over weekends.
There are multiple subplots where the show inserted some office comedy through Chandler’s dumb corporate job. There’s the one where Joey joins the company as a junior processor, only to pretend to be an entirely different person named “Joseph the Processing Guy,” who’s out to make Chandler’s life difficult.
There’s the one where Chandler’s new boss, Doug (played by Sam McMurray), employs a strange team-building strategy by slapping every guy’s butt as if it were the equivalent of a high five. There’s the one where Chandler exploits his co-workers by dangling a date with Rachel for all kinds of perks and favors, and there’s even an office crossover of sorts when Chandler starts dating Rachel’s boss at her Ralph Lauren office. It’s around this time that the “office politics” of Friends switches mainly to Rachel, and by the time Chandler and Monica begin dating in Season Five, the focus shifts significantly to their budding relationship instead of Chandler's professional journey of turning into another corporate jerk.
Looking back at it now, Chandler’s office job could’ve been an entire office comedy on its own. There were recurring co-workers who could easily have had their own wacky backstories. There’s Phil (Steve Park), who’s the only Asian character in a sea full of white men at the company where everyone wants to make it to the 15th floor. There’s Stevens (Joe O’Conner), who looks like the office schmuck but is definitely into some weird hobbies (he really liked to get his butt smacked). Chris Parnell even made an appearance in Season Eight as a disgruntled employee, Bob, who keeps calling Chandler “Toby,” and the show could’ve had a string of celebrity cameos turning up at Chandler’s work to give him grief.
In the show’s penultimate season, Chandler finally quits his job and pursues a career in advertising (amazing, considering he hadn’t even watched Mad Men yet), but not before the hilarious plot with him falling asleep during a meeting where it’s determined that he’ll move and go work for the company’s office in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In an episode that predicts The Office plotline of an intern trying to seduce Jim Halpert in Florida, Chandler spends Thanksgiving Day at the Tulsa office, where a young co-worker (Selma Blair) tries to get into his pants.
It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, put an end to Chandler’s dull office job and saw him switch careers and rise up in the world of advertising, where he had a more meaningful existence selling terrible sneakers that, for some inexplicable reason, were also roller skates.
Like I said, all the makings of an office comedy were right there in front of us the whole time.
Zanandi is, miraculously, still on Twitter.