Jennifer Aniston attends the Los Angeles premiere of Netflix's "Murder...

 Jennifer Aniston attends the Los Angeles premiere of Netflix's "Murder Mystery 2" on March 28, 2023 in Los Angeles.

Credit: Getty Images/Frazer Harrison

"Friends" Emmy Award-winner Jennifer Aniston acknowledges that some of the humor in that era-defining sitcom would offend some viewers today.

"Comedy has evolved, movies have evolved," Aniston, 54, told the European news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) while in Paris promoting her and Adam Sandler's new Netflix movie, "Murder Mystery 2," which starts streaming Friday. "Now it's a little tricky because you have to be very careful, which makes it really hard for comedians, because the beauty of comedy is that we make fun of ourselves, make fun of life."

The Manhattan-set ensemble comedy "Friends," which ran on NBC from 1994 to 2004 and ubiquitously in reruns, has long been criticized for its all-white cast, something co-creator Marta Kauffman and other producers have since said they regret. The show more recently has taken fire for jokes considered sexist, fat-shaming or homophobic, as well as insensitive toward trans persons. Many episodes contain "gay panic" jokes when, for example, two male characters hug or one is found knitting.

"There's a whole generation of people, kids, who are now going back to episodes of 'Friends' and find them offensive," Aniston said. "There were things that were never intentional and others … well, we should have thought it through — but I don't think there was a sensitivity like there is now."

The show, conversely, was progressive in some areas, with interracial romance, surrogacy, public breastfeeding, two gay major recurring characters raising a child together, and episodes guest-starring Kathleen Turner as a confident and sharp-witted trans woman.

Nevertheless that character was consistently referred to by the wrong gender. As well, Monica Geller (Courteney Cox) was made fun of for her teenage obesity. Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc) objectified women as one of his major character traits. And while Long Islander Rachel Green (Aniston) was never explicitly identified as Jewish on the show, the venerable Jewish newspaper The Forward says she embodied "the stereotype of a Jewish American Princess."

Comedy, Aniston said, may be more difficult now since in the past "you could joke about a bigot and have a laugh — that was hysterical. And it was about educating people on how ridiculous people were," as in such classic comedies as "All in the Family." "And now," she said, "we're not allowed to do that."

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