American Sit-coms (like "Friends")

The American Sit-Com

One popular type of American television show is the situation comedy, or “sit-com” for short.  These are typically 30-minute weekly shows with regular characters living their normal, funny lives.  Viewers who follow a sit-com get to know (and love!) the characters on the show and want to see how they are doing every week.


One very popular American sit-com was Friends.  It was broadcast weekly from 1994-2004 and is now viewable in reruns.  The show is about six friends who live in the same apartment building: three women (Phoebe, Rachel, Monica) and three men (Joey, Chandler, Ross).  The program is about the lives, jobs, romances, and worries of six 20-something adults in New York City.

Courtney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer

Courtney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer

Learning about American humor involves understanding American cultural rules of friendship, work, dating, and many other human interactions.  Understanding the culture involves knowing American English, its slang, and its double meanings.  When you begin to understand all these things, you begin to understand why Americans laugh at sit-coms like Friends.

To increase your listening skills, we recommend you watch shows like Friends, preferably with your good American friends who can explain what’s happening on the screen.  To get you started, we have excerpted a short conversation from a Friends episode on our website under the What’s So Funny? section.  Along with the text for the conversation, we provide explanations of the jokes.  Let us know how you like this short clip, and tell us your favorite American TV show as well.

In the mean time, happy viewing, and happy laughing!


View this 45-second excerpt of Friends here: (1:20-2:05)

Note: The Friends show typically happens inside the apartment of some of the six friends and sometimes at a coffee shop where Rachel works, serving coffee.  The coffee shop is called Central Perk.  (This is a play on words.  The name sounds like New York City’s famous Central Park.  The word “perk” is a verb for brewing coffee.)

Joey comes to Central Perk to tell his friends about a possible acting job.

Joey comes to Central Perk to tell his friends about a possible acting job.

[Joey comes into Central Perk wearing face make-up. Chandler, Phoebe, Monica are seated.]

J: Hey-hey!

C,P,M: Hey, hey, hey!

C: And this from the Cry For Help Department:(1) Are you wearing make-up?

J: Yes, I am.  As of today, I am officially Joey Tribbiani, actor-slash-model.(2)

[Rachel joins group.]

C: That’s so funny because I was thinking you looked more like Joey Tribbiani, man-slash-woman.(3)

P: What were you modeling for?

J: You know those posters for the City Free Clinic?(4)

M: Oh, so you’re going to be one of those healthy-healthy-healthy guys?(5)

P: You know, the asthma guy(6) is really cute.

M: You know which one you’re going to be?

J: No, but I hear Lyme Disease is open,(7) so…[crosses fingers](8).

C: Good luck, man.  I hope you get it.(9)

J: Thanks.(10)


1 – “Cry for help” is a psychological expression that means a person is troubled and doing something drastic to get attention.  Chandler is making fun of Joey.

2 – The word “slash” is a spoken form for the punctuation mark (/).  It means “and/or.”

3 – In American culture, predominantly only women wear face make-up in public.  Chandler is making fun of Joey.

4 – Patients who go to the free urban medical clinic are poor and can’t afford traditional clinics.  The CFC is creating an advertising campaign with posters.

5 – There will be two kinds of patients in the ads: healthy looking people and sick looking people.

6 – Phoebe thinks the model who portrays an asthma patient is good looking.

7 – Joey thinks no one has been assigned the role of the patient with Lyme Disease.

8 – Americans cross their fingers for good luck.  It is a superstition.

9 – The first possible meaning is “I hope you get the part.”  A second meaning is “I hope you get Lyme Disease.”  The audience laughs at this second possibility.

10 – Joey doesn’t understand the second meaning of Chandler’s comment, and the audience laughs at Joey who thinks Chandler wished him good luck in getting the job.

Alan Headbloom

Alan advises Americans how to be global citizens and expats how to fit in to Michigan culture without annoying their native coworkers and clients. He also tweets and blogs at the intersection of language and culture. Over decades, he's traveled, studied, or lived on six continents, putting strange foods into his mouth and emitting strange sounds from it. His use of English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Swedish, Hausa, and Japanese all improve with alcohol use. He gives invited public presentations on culture and unsolicited private advice on English grammar and usage; the latter isn't always appreciated. Visit his website for information on consulting, coaching, or speaking engagements.