As Lisa Kudrow scrolls through her birthday texts today, there's one chain that's likely to get extra attention: her group chat with Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox.
Though it's a collection of witticisms we—and probably some 52 million other loyal Friends viewers—would love to get in on, the 57-year-old says it can get overwhelming. "It's a lot," she admitted to Us Weekly in 2018.
Cox's verdict: "It's too much pressure," she says. "I'm not into the group text chain. I really don't like it!" Even when she comes up with something clever to send off, she worries her dearest friends somehow won't understand her humor. "You have something funny to say and you say it," notes Cox, "but then you send the text and they don't get it."
Yes, more than 16 years after the actresses took their final bows on the venerable sitcom, they're still going for laughs. And despite Cox's protestations, if their collection of nights out, joint talk show appearances and willingness to, um, be there for each other on the most momentous of occasions are any indication, they have a plethora of inside jokes to lean on when they're feeling uninspired.
At the very least, they could use the exchange to discuss plans for the now-postponed HBO Max special.
"I think it's gonna be really fun also if we ever get out of quarantine [and] get to do our reunion show," Aniston shared during a joint appearance with Kudrow on Variety Studio: Actors on Actors in June. The pair had little to share beyond the fact that they won't be reprising their fame-making roles or doing any scripted work, "Yeah, we don't know everything about it, we need to say," Kudrow added. "I think we're meant to be surprised by some things as well."
But no matter what's headed their way, they're ready. Said Kudrow, "I can't wait to do that. I really can't wait to do that."
If nothing else, it will give them a chance to reprise the one where they all got together and gave Jen prime Instagram fodder. While the female half of the cast seems to hang out on the regular, they're continuously striving to have the rest of the sextet—Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer—join in. Noting their disparate lives and shooting schedules, Kudrow joked during a 2015 appearance at Vulture Festival that they're "constantly" throwing out potential dates. "It's crazy," she says of the six-person coordination, "but it's sweet that we're trying, isn't it?"
Their hang last fall was the culmination of years of effort—and it was totally worth it. "We spent 10 years together, almost every day," she reminisced in a 2015 interview with The Guardian. "We all went through something significant together, and that's a strong bond. As you get older, you realize, oh, you don't have that with just about everybody."
Almost from the jump, the cast was an insular group. Shooting from freshman comedy to literal must-see-TV as the anchor of NBC's weighty Thursday night lineup was a heady experience for a collection of young, more-or-less previously-unknown stars. And in a pre-Instagram world it was hard to predict the glare that would be directed on their personal lives.
"It's scary, it's jarring, it's not what you thought it would be," Kudrow admitted at Vulture's event. "And then, thank god, there were six of us together at the same time going through it."
Even in those early weeks, some 20 million viewers were tuning in to watch the collection of twentysomethings fumble their way through life in New York City, making it the second-rated new comedy. "It's pretty amazing, I mean I think we're all really sort of taken aback by it because to us, down here, it just seems we're all just sort of a theater group," LeBlanc told Katie Couric during a 1994 Today interview. "We're a really tight ensemble, we get along really well. It's just a real productive environment and a great time."
Perhaps it was prescient knowledge of what was to come. Or, more likely, a director's desire to have the cast of a show based on friendship truly jell, but the costars felt obligated to live up to their sitcom's premise.
"I think it was unspoken but we instinctively felt like we need to be friends, we need to get along, we need to connect," Kudrow recalled on NBC's Must See TV: An All-Star Tribute to James Burrows in 2016. So the famed director nudged them in the right direction: "We started playing poker and Jimmy gave us his room so we could have a bigger hangout room for us."
Soon, the girls were getting together for lunch "every single day," Cox recalled on the special, "and we ate the same food—a Jennifer salad." (For inquiring minds, that would be a Cobb, but with turkey bacon and garbanzo beans.) Noted Aniston, "We fell in love with each other and wanted to hang out."
Which made breaking up extremely hard to do. While Kudrow has copped to feeling a pang of wistfulness when she's had to say goodbye to other roles, "With Friends, I actually cried," she said. And it wasn't just the absence of that $1 million-per-episode paycheck. Even before the last season she was fretting about its potential demise. "When I really thought we might not come back, I remember driving home and I burst into tears thinking, 'Oh, I'm going to miss Phoebe, and Monica and Rachel and Joey and Chandler,'" she shared at the Vulture event. "I miss those people. I really do. They were fun."
Both she and Perry have gone on-record saying that just maaaaaybe they should have eked out a few more seasons. "I find myself sort of reminiscing about about how much fun the show was, and the hours that we worked. You know, you can see how much we laughed and everything," Perry revealed during a joint appearance with Kudrow on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight, adding that when asked to reminisce by The Hollywood Reporter, "I found myself saying, 'If I had a time machine, I would like to go back to 2004 and not have stopped."
Kudrow may have signed up for that particular ride. "If it were up to us, like, individually, oh, I would keep going," she said. "There would have come a time anyway when someone would have said, 'We've had enough.' But why not have fun until they do?"
Which is a large driver in deciding to sign on for more good times. It's something fans have been clamoring for pretty much since the day the finale aired in 2004—a request that only grew more fervent now that Hollywood has turned reviving old hits into its favorite pastime.
Apparently it was a topic of conversation at their early October gathering. "We all happened to have a window of time so we all got together," Aniston revealed during an interview on The Howard Stern Show. "We laughed so hard." And amid the telling of inside jokes and catching up on each other's lives, they reminisced a bit about the way things were: "We all miss it every day."
They've already done a few one-off trips down memory lane. There was the time Cox and Kudrow crushed a round of Friends trivia on a 2016 episode of CBS' Celebrity Name Game. The time Kudrow and Aniston competed to deliver the most inventive curse words during a 2014 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! And of course the one where they all indulged Kimmel in a little fan fiction.
And it's not as if they all haven't tried to work out a way to get the gang back together on camera...and not just as actors playing pals turned IRL besties.
During a 2014 AMA session, Kudrow told fans, getting "to spend that much time with those people again would be heaven!" And Aniston offered up her services in coming up with a new angle. "Courteney and Lisa and I talk about it. I fantasize about it," she has told InStyle. "It really was the greatest job I ever had. I don't know what it would look like today, but you never know. So many shows are being successfully rebooted."
Should the guys prove to be a stumbling block, she had a suggestion: "We just give it some time and then Lisa, Courteney and I could reboot The Golden Girls and spend our last years together on wicker furniture."
They've got some time to workshop it at the get-togethers Aniston's Instagram presence affords us a glimpse at, the birthday parties and dinners at West Hollywood mainstays such as Sunset Tower and Craig's.
"They grew up together and went through this formidable life experience that was Friends," a source tells E! News. So, much like you might meet up with coworkers from your first job, they make it a point to get happy hours on their calendar. "Geographically its not hard to be at Courteney's Sunday dinners or at a pool party at Jen's house," notes the source. "They all feel incredibly close and always will be."
Other parts of the group manage to catch up as well, with Monica and Chandler (er, Cox and Perry) meeting up for a November lunch date that had the actress crowing, "Could I BE any happier?"
And when Perry and LeBlanc were both filming on the CBS lot in 2016 they'd often meet in the middle of their two sets, though, noted LeBlanc, "I could not see him for five years, and then put me in a room with him, and it will be like I saw him yesterday. We still have this shorthand with one another. It's amazing, really."
Kudrow agrees, calling time spent with her costars as "heaven," their outings filled with competing jokes and nonstop laughter.
When they're not guesting on each other's shows (both Kudrow and Aniston made appearances on Cox's comedy Cougar Town while Cox took a turn on the Kudrow-produced Who Do You Think You Are?), they're turning up simply to celebrate each other.
Feting Cox on her birthday a few years back, Aniston and Kudrow (along with Jennifer Meyer, Sara Foster, Molly McNearney and Jason Bateman) held court at an outdoor table well past 1 a.m. "Everyone was in high spirits, laughing and telling stories," said one onlooker. "They were having such a great time."
Which is pretty standard with this crew.
Because, as Aniston noted at the Burrows tribute, they've been through something that's hard to explain to those on the outside looking in. "We experienced friendship, family, heartbreak, babies, everything, together," she said. "And we also had a wonderful experience with the world loving us as well."
Almost as much as they love each other.
(Originally published July 30, 2018, at 3 a.m. PT)