David Schwimmer defends 'Friends' from criticism over lack of diversity

The actor, who played Ross Geller, argued that the sitcom was "groundbreaking for its time."
/ Source: TODAY

David Schwimmer is defending "Friends" from criticism over the show's lack of diversity.

During an interview with The Guardian, the 53-year-old actor, who played paleontologist Ross Geller, shrugged off criticism about the NBC sitcom's all-white cast and dated jokes.

Schwimmer, seated, defended "Friends" from criticism over its lack of diversity. "The truth is also that show was groundbreaking in its time," said the actor.NBC

“I don't care," said Schwimmer. "The truth is also that show was groundbreaking in its time for the way in which it handled so casually sex, protected sex, gay marriage and relationships. The pilot of the show was my character’s wife left him for a woman and there was a gay wedding, of my ex and her wife, that I attended."

Though the sitcom, which aired for 10 seasons between 1994 and 2004, did depict gay characters — several years before "Will & Grace" debuted — it often featured quips that sound homophobic to today's ears.

But, Schwimmer says, it's unfair to expect "Friends" to meet the cultural standards of 2020. "I feel that a lot of the problem today in so many areas is that so little is taken in context. You have to look at it from the point of view of what the show was trying to do at the time," he said.

Ross dated several women of color on "Friends," including an Asian-American paleontologist named Julie, played by actress Lauren Tom.NBC

"I'm the first person to say that maybe something was inappropriate or insensitive, but I feel like my barometer was pretty good at that time. I was already really attuned to social issues and issues of equality," he added.

Aisha Tyler played Dr. Charlie Wheeler, another of Ross's girlfriends on the show. "I campaigned for years to have Ross date women of color," Schwimmer said.NBC

Though Ross dated women of color, the show's depictions of diversity were limited.

“Maybe there should be an all-black 'Friends' or an all-Asian 'Friends,'" he said. "But I was well aware of the lack of diversity and I campaigned for years to have Ross date women of color," he added. "One of the first girlfriends I had on the show was an Asian-American woman, and later I dated African-American women. That was a very conscious push on my part."

Schwimmer also pointed out that several characters, including Ross and his sister, Monica (Courteney Cox), were Jewish.

“I don’t think that was earth-shattering or groundbreaking at all, but I for one was glad that we had at least one episode where it wasn’t just about Christmas. It was also Hanukkah and, even though I played the Hanukkah armadillo, I was glad that we at least acknowledged the differences in religious observation," he said.