James Michael Tyler: 11 of Gunther's funniest Friends moments

By Steven McIntosh
Entertainment reporter

Published
Image source, Alamy

There are some actors who hate being too heavily associated with a single role. James Michael Tyler, who has died at the age of 59, was not one of those actors.

While some Friends stars tried to shake off their former characters and move on with their careers after the series ended in 2004, Tyler always seemed relaxed about being known as Gunther.

The waiter and manager at coffee house Central Perk gradually became a fan favourite over the sitcom's 10-year run. And long after the show ended, Tyler kept close ties to the Friends brand.

He would speak to the press every time the Friends set went on tour around the world. He would pose for selfies and sign autographs when stopped by fans of the show. "Occasionally, I'll still get recognised as Gunther, which is OK with me," he said in 2018.

As an actor, Tyler didn't have a huge number of other film and TV credits to his name. But he did appear alongside Matt LeBlanc once again in the BBC comedy Episodes in 2012, as part of a storyline where the Joey actor attempted (and largely failed) to get the other stars of Friends back together.

After the six main stars, Gunther was the character with the most appearances in Friends, cropping up in 185 episodes - more than Janice, Carol, Susan, Phoebe's husband Mike, and Ross and Monica's parents Jack and Judy put together.

Having said that, he didn't necessarily speak in every episode he appeared in. Tyler often wasn't even credited because Gunther was simply seen in the background, behind the bar, particularly in the early years. He initially got the job on Friends because he knew how to work a coffee machine.

But he was gradually given more and more material over the years, delivering killer one-liners in his character's droll manner.

To remember the actor and the part he played, here are some of Gunther's best moments:

1. His debut on Friends

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Image caption,
Friends was a worldwide phenomenon, although Gunther didn't actually speak until the second season

Where else could we start?

Admittedly, Gunther's first appearance in the comedy series wasn't much to write home about. He was seen working in Central Perk in the second episode of the first season, The One With The Sonogram.

His first ever line of dialogue actually didn't come until the 33rd episode, and even then he only had one word to say. "Yeah."

"Before then, I had kind of an inkling that Gunther slept in the back of Central Perk - in the storage room. But I didn't create a full-formed backstory for him until much later in the series," Tyler recalled to Business Insider.

In his first speaking scene, Ross offered him the slinky he had initially bought for Rachel. "Hey Gunther, you got stairs in your place?" Ross asked. "Yeah," Gunther replied. "Go nuts," said Ross, handing him the springy toy.

2. Obsessing over Rachel

There are a million great scenes we could include in this section, because Gunther's primary personality trait was his utter adoration of Jennifer Aniston's character.

Sometimes his love for her slipped out in his speech. At other times, we heard his inner monologue as a voiceover. Either way, the poor barista could never seem to catch a break.

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Image caption,
Gunther's unrequited love for Rachel was a running theme
  • "What does Rachel see in this guy?" he thinks to himself in one episode as she sits politely listening to one of Ross's dinosaur stories. "I love Rachel, I wish she was my wife."
  • In another episode, we hear him mentally plucking up the courage to ask: "Say Rachel, I was wondering if you'd like to go to a movie with me sometime... as my lover." Before he decides against it, telling himself: "Nah, too out there."
  • On another occasion, he yells "You idiot!" at Joshua for declining Rachel's marriage proposal.
  • When Rachel is looking for someone to hug in her excitement at completing a crossword, Gunther dives towards her in a great piece of physical comedy, ultimately crashing to the floor.

Jokes aside, Gunther played a key role in breaking up Ross and Rachel in series three, when he told her Ross had been unfaithful.

3. Not driving a Porsche

When Joey found a set of Porsche keys in Central Perk, he initially asked Gunther if they were his.

"Yes, that's what I drive," Gunther fired back sarcastically. "I make four bucks an hour. I saved up for 350 years."

This interaction acted as a springboard for the rest of the episode's storyline, which saw Joey pretend the car was his in order to impress passing women.

4. His never-changing hairstyle

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Image caption,
Tyler appeared in 185 of the 236 episodes of Friends, although he didn't speak in many of them

Gunther's white-blonde hair was his trademark - but it was never intended to be that colour. One of Tyler's friends tried to dye it the night before his audition, and it didn't turn out as planned.

But it clearly didn't do the actor any harm. In fact, his eye-catching head of hair probably played a large part in helping the actor catch the attention of viewers in the early years when he was essentially an extra.

Unfortunately for him, the producers loved it too, which meant Tyler had to continue bleaching his hair every week for 10 years.

Not that Joey realised this in the show, of course. When Gunther told him in one episode that he was off to get his hair dyed, Joey replied: "Oh really? But I like your natural colour."

5. Telling Ross he's an "ezel"

When Ross attempted to learn Dutch to impress the landlord of an apartment, he practised some new phrases on Gunther, who was fluent.

But when Ross rudely cut the conversation short, Gunther ended up calling him an "ezel". Ross had to look this up to discover he'd just been called a donkey, or ass. Once he finally found the translation, he said: "Hey Gunther, you're an ezel."

Gunther was too smart for him though, replying: "Jij hebt seks met ezels (You have sex with donkeys)," leaving Ross stumped once again.

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Image caption,
Tyler often posed for selfies and autographs at promotional events

6. Storage room tantrums

It must have been painful for poor Gunther to witness Rachel being asked out on a date by another man in the third season, right under his nose.

So he headed to the coffee house's storage room, out of viewers' sight. The next thing we heard was the sound of an almighty crash, with Gunther obviously smashing large amounts of glass and crockery in a rage.

When he returned to the coffee house floor, he was greeted with stunned silence by the other customers. "I dropped a cup," he explained, unconvincingly.

7. Upholding standards of decency

Gunther helped Phoebe out of one particularly tricky situation involving a man she was dating in series three.

Her partner Robert wore very loose fitting shorts and, as a result, gave those around him an eyeful.

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Fortunately for him, Tyler didn't have to keep bleaching his hair after Friends came to an end

Robert's unintentional flashing left Chandler, Joey and Ross helpless with laughter, but neither them nor Phoebe wanted to broach the subject with him.

Fortunately, when Gunther walked by their table, he swiftly told Robert: "Hey buddy, this is a family place. Put the mouse back in the house."

In 2015, Tyler was interviewed on Central Perk's famous orange sofa by Good Morning Britain, where he revealed that was his all-time favourite line.

8. ...and upholding the "no smoking" rule. Mostly.

"Oh, no, no, there's none of that in here," Gunther told Chandler when he tried to smoke a cigarette in Central Perk.

Chandler replied: "Oh, come on, at least let me finish this last one."

Gunther thought before offering a compromise. "OK, but only if you give me a drag."

Inhaling Chandler's cigarette, he delivered one of his most memorable lines: "Oh oh, dark mother. Once again I suckle at your smoky teat."

9. He used to be a soap star

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Image caption,
Tyler initially got the job on Friends because he knew how to work a coffee machine

Joey needed a shoulder to cry on when he found himself unemployed in season two. Dropping into Central Perk for a coffee, he told Gunther the producers of the TV soap he starred in, Days of Our Lives, had killed off his character.

"That's too bad. How'd they do it?" asked a sympathetic Gunther. "I fell down an elevator shaft," explained Joey.

Gunther replied: "That sucks. I was buried in an avalanche." After confusion from Joey, he added: "I used to be Bryce on All My Children."

It was a fun indication of Gunther's past, and a reminder that in New York you're never far from an out-of-work actor.

10. Tyler's appearance at the reunion

When the Friends cast got back together for their much-heralded reunion in early 2021, several members of the supporting cast joined them to celebrate.

It's a testament to Tyler's importance to the show that he was the only star who was allowed to appear via Zoom, rather than in person.

Image source, HBO Max
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The six stars of Friends reunited for a reunion special earlier this year

We now know, of course, that Tyler was struggling with his mobility. The cancer had left him unable to walk and he used a wheelchair at home - although it wasn't visible during the reunion.

"It was the most memorable 10 years of my life, honestly," he told host James Corden. "I could not have imagined a better experience. All these guys were fantastic. It was a joy to work with them. I felt very, very special."

11. Saying goodbye to Rachel

As Friends inched towards its end, Gunther finally plucked up the courage to confess his feelings for Rachel before she was due to leave for Paris.

Gunther told her: "I know you're leaving tonight, but I just have to tell you. I love you. I... I don't know if that changes your plans at all? But I thought you should know."

Becoming emotional, Rachel replied: "Gunther. Oh, I love you too. Probably not in the same way, but I do. And when I'm in a café, having coffee, or I see a man with hair brighter than the sun, I'll think of you."

As we all will.

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