And now, the game where we invite on big names and ask them little questions. Our guest is best known for playing the character of Phoebe on the great sitcom "Friends." That's the show that inspired thousands of people to move to New York City because as it turns out, enormous apartments there are ubiquitous and cheap.


SAGAL: Since then, she's done a lot of great TV shows and movies. She is also the executive producer of "Who Do You Think You Are." Season one is now out on DVD. Lisa Kudrow, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!



SAGAL: How are you?

KUDROW: Great. I'm excited. I like games.

SAGAL: We're excited to have you. We like talking to people like you. But we want to talk about the stuff you've been doing in a minute, but we got to start with "Friends," which you were on for many years and found great success.


SAGAL: And she, Phoebe, was kind of the spacey character. Would that be fair?


SAGAL: Sure. And does that affect how people deal with you since? I mean we always hear about typecasting. Is that like the case, like people expect you to be like Phoebe?

KUDROW: They did. I mean, they especially expected me to be really nice.

SAGAL: Really?


SAGAL: And you showed them how useless that was. Were you intentionally cruel to them just to see their looks of surprise and horror?

KUDROW: No, no, but I just always felt like, oh, you're going to be so disappointed.


SAGAL: If I'm not mistaken, the first thing you did after friends, and correct me if I'm wrong, was this great show on HBO called "The Comeback."

KUDROW: Right.

SAGAL: In which you played an actress who had been on an extremely successful sitcom.

KUDROW: On a somewhat successful sitcom.

SAGAL: Oh, excuse me. And your character had been on this sitcom and was now trying to make a comeback.

KUDROW: Right. And the only way to do that was to be on a reality show that would follow her around, and it was called "The Comeback," which, you know, we thought was really humiliating.


SAGAL: What's amazing about this show, and also some other things that you've done, is how far you are willing to go to look bad to get a laugh, which I admire tremendously about you.

ROY BLOUNT: That was a good show. It was a painful show, but it was really good.

SAGAL: Yes, because your character is constantly humiliated.

KUDROW: Yeah. Well, you know, also at the time, I realized recently that that was only season two of "Amazing Race," and there were no "Housewives" desperate to be on a reality show.

SAGAL: I see.

KUDROW: At the time. So I think now people see it a little differently, it's a lot easier to take.

SAGAL: Yeah. So tell us about the show you're executive producing. It's called "Who Do You Think You Are."

KUDROW: Right.

SAGAL: This is very different for you because it's actually a documentary. It's not a fake documentary; it's a real one.

KUDROW: It's a real - yeah, it's a documentary series.

SAGAL: And the theme of it is the ancestry of well-known people.

KUDROW: Right. And sometimes it's more a personal story. Kim Cattrall's episode just aired. And her grandfather had abandoned his wife and Kim's mother and aunts. So she just wanted to see if she can find out what happened to him.

SAGAL: You know, if you did Charlie Sheen, you could trace his ancestry back to Mars.


SAGAL: See if he's really descended from Adonis.

ROXANNE ROBERTS: May I ask a question? How did you get interested in this topic?

KASELL: Well, this show has been on the BBC. They're in their ninth season now. So I was over there and I happened to see an episode and thought it was the most riveting thing I'd ever seen and could not understand why we hadn't had it in the U.S. And found out that for the most part, I think, because most networks thought American audiences wouldn't be interested and that it was too informative.



SAGAL: Then you're doing this other show, which is currently on the internet, called "Web Therapy."

KUDROW: Right.

SAGAL: In which you play the world's worst therapist.

KUDROW: Yeah, ever. Ever.

SAGAL: Every.

KUDROW: She's bored with 50 minute sessions because she thinks that the people just go on and on about thoughts and feelings and dreams.


KUDROW: So she cuts to the chase. You know, usually there's about three minutes of useful work being done. So she does three minute sessions online only.

SAGAL: Right.


KUDROW: Because she doesn't want to, like, be in their company either. And she really just tries to see how much she can get out of it.

SAGAL: Right. Because who is this for anyway?

KUDROW: Right.

SAGAL: It's her five minutes. You are really terrifyingly good at playing this really bad therapist.

KUDROW: I know.


SAGAL: And how does that make you feel, playing a terrible therapist.


SAGAL: I'm assuming you either must have some experience with therapy or you're really mad at them.

KUDROW: No. No, I think therapy is really useful. I was just - you know, people kept - not people, agents kept saying...


SAGAL: I'm sorry. Yes, an important distinction.


KUDROW: Oh, it just came out like that.

SAGAL: No, no, no, no, that's important. It's, like, I think they're a different phyla. Go on.


SAGAL: Not people, agents. What were agents saying to you?


KUDROW: You know, you should think doing a web series. And I thought, well, at the time mostly they were sort of chopped up sitcoms, you know.

SAGAL: Yeah.

KUDROW: That you do five minutes at a time of them. And I thought, no, I don't want to do that. But I just, my brain kept working on it and I thought, wow, you know what would be the worst idea in the world would be therapy for three minutes at a time. And then what kind of horrifying person would try to do that?



SAGAL: I got to ask you one thing. We read that you started off studying biology, right; you were trying to follow in your father's footsteps?

KASELL: Yes, that's right.

SAGAL: And according to Wikipedia which, of course, knows all things.


SAGAL: As a biologist, you had a special talent for castrating rats. True or false?


SAGAL: Really?


SAGAL: I thought you were about to berate me for relying on Wikipedia for gossip. You were good at castrating rats?

KUDROW: Yeah, I got really good. It was one of my like junior or senior year projects.

SAGAL: Yeah.

KUDROW: I won't go into what the study was, but it was a good one.


KUDROW: But I had to castrate young male rats and I got it down to I could do it in like four minutes.


SAGAL: I can't believe they didn't work this into an episode of "Friends."


SAGAL: Because I know a lot of actors and I know that your resume has your skills. It's like: juggling, speaks French. You should have had: castrates rats. It's a shame.

ROBERTS: Yeah, there are so many questions.

SAGAL: Really?


SAGAL: All right, since we did so well with that Wikipedia factoid, which frankly we did not believe. We're going to try Wikipedia factoid about Lisa Kudrow number two. You are a pool shark.

KUDROW: I was.

SAGAL: You were?

KUDROW: Well, sort of.

SAGAL: Were you out there making money? Were you standing there in pool halls going, "Oh, what's the name of this game?" Were you doing that kind of thing?

KUDROW: No. So I wasn't an official shark, but I was good at it. My father taught me some really good trick shots.

SAGAL: Wow. So if the acting thing hadn't work out, you would have been a rat- castrating pool shark.


KUDROW: A lot of money in that.

SAGAL: Oh you bet.


SAGAL: Well, Lisa Kudrow, we are delighted to have you with us. We've asked you here to play a game we're calling?


I so won't be there for you.


SAGAL: So you were on a show called "Friends." This we know, so we decided to ask you about, naturally, enemies. Answer two out of three questions correctly; you'll win our prize for one our listeners, Carl's voice on their home answering machine. Carl, who is Lisa Kudrow playing for?

KASELL: Lisa is playing for Laurie Handschu of Nashville, Tennessee.

SAGAL: All right.


SAGAL: So we're going to start with show business. 1930s movie stars Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine are sisters. They have had a legendary feud going back more than sixty years, which began when what happened? A: they both were nominated for the same Academy Award. B: they had an argument over who got out first of the same limo. Or C: a billboard with Joan's face went up on Sunset Drive, blocking one of Olivia's.

KUDROW: I'll say C.

SAGAL: You're going to go for C, the billboard went up on Sunset Boulevard, I should say, in front of Olivia's.


SAGAL: Those vanity boards.

KUDROW: I think that's it.

SAGAL: It actually, believe it or not, was the Oscars. They both were up for Best Actress. Joan won. Olivia refused to congratulate her and they've hardly spoken for sixty years.


SAGAL: And they're both still with us and as far as we know, they're both still mad.


SAGAL: All right, still two more chances here. Now going back further, we're now back to the days of the Byzantine Empire, the sixth century.

KUDROW: Oh good.

SAGAL: Oh yes.


SAGAL: Because when she wasn't castrating rats and playing pool, she was studying the Byzantine Empire. Here we go. It was nearly destroyed by a violent rivalry between two groups known as the Blues and the Greens. What was the original cause of their dispute? A: the style of their togas. B: they rooted for opposite sides in the chariot races. Or C: the Blues thought the world was round; the Greens insisted it was a cube?


KUDROW: That last one is funny.


KUDROW: What's the second one again?

SAGAL: They rooted for opposite sides in the chariot races. Big deal back there in Byzantine.

KUDROW: Yeah, I'll say that one.

SAGAL: You're right; it was the chariot race thing.



SAGAL: They rooted for different teams. They had big riots. In fact, they almost destroyed the capitol. Imagine like a huge riot between Bears fans and Packers fans. That's what you'd get. All right, this is exciting. You have one more here and if you get this right, you win.

KUDROW: That's it?

SAGAL: You want to keep playing?

KUDROW: Well I don't know.

SAGAL: You could stick around. We got more questions. But here, this is for this game. You got one more question. If you get this right, you win.


SAGAL: Now we're going to the comic books now. We're going to talk about Batman. He's had many enemies in the comics over the years, including the deadly Clayface. In the comic book, how did the original Clayface become a super villain, the original Clayface? Was it A: he was hit by a radioactive tub of clay and acquired the modeling powers of clay?


SAGAL: B: he was an insanely jealous actor who went mad with rage when one of his movies was remade without him. Or C: he ate a snail that had gone bad, giving him the super power of oozing?



SAGAL: It's B. You're right.




SAGAL: Now, did you know that because you're a big Batman aficionado and you know about this villain from the 1940s, or because you're like if they remade one of my movies without me, I'd go mad and start killing people?

KUDROW: No, I just thought yeah, I bet like whoever wrote that hated actors.

SAGAL: Yeah.


SAGAL: Anyway, yeah, he was an actor and his first crimes were killing the people who were in the movie. So yes, you did it. Carl, how did Lisa Kudrow do on our quiz?

KASELL: Very well, Peter. Lisa, you had two correct answers, so you win for Laurie Handschu.


SAGAL: Yay, there you go.


SAGAL: Lisa Kudrow is the Executive Producer of "Who Do You Think You Are." Season one DVD is out now. Lisa, thank you so much for being with us. What a delight to talk to you.

KUDROW: Thank you. This was fun, thank you.

SAGAL: It was fun to be with you.


SAGAL: Bye-bye.

KUDROW: Bye-bye.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from