(Video copyright Bright/Kauffman/Crane Productions, Warner Bros. Television)
For my money, no one does yuppie urban angst for laughs better than David Schwimmer. And he does it particularly well in the the post-Thanksgiving episode of “Friends”, “The One With Ross’s Sandwich” (season 5, episode 9).
A recurring thread of this season was Ross’s rage problem, a cumulative result of the character’s ongoing romantic and professional frustrations. In this scene, the switch gets flipped, and out comes the anger. The (seemingly minor) catalyst? A colleague at the office has eaten Ross’s lunch, a sandwich (made from Thanksgiving leftovers) he had been looking forward to eating all morning.
I love how Schwimmer accents the word “my” throughout this scene, how his colleague’s seemingly innocuous mistake takes on the full weight of the personal. We’ve all been there, just trying to slog through the work day, the little thing we’re anticipating (be it a sandwich, a cookie, a cup of coffee) the one bright spot in a otherwise dull day, or the one moment of relief and indulgence in an otherwise stressful day. That sandwich represents a moment of individuality in a city where you’re one among millions, in a corporation where you’re one among hundreds. That 3 p.m. snack–a handful of M&Ms, perhaps–evokes the many afternoons, so many years ago, when school let out and that sweet taste signified that the rest of the day was blissfully yours. Discovering the vending machine is out of M&Ms, or that a coworker has emptied the candy jar, is akin to waking from a pleasant dream, one that promised to rejuvenate and fuel the coming day, and instead finding yourself jolted, frazzled, and grumpy.
Which is why Schwimmer’s outburst is so hilariously relatable. We’re all just trying to keep it together, day in and day out, and most of us never get to have our own individual meltdown. We have jobs to keep, bills to pay, responsibilities to uphold, and so we bottle up our reactions. But for a moment, Schwimmer lets us live vicariously through Ross, and goes for the primal yell. His release–and our corresponding belly laugh–may be as effective, and therapeutic, as if we were able to react so honestly. The performer evokes our own authentic reaction–however inappropriate and juvenile, however over-the-top–and we laugh as we recognize ourselves.
This post first appeared on the Good Taste and a Sense of Humor blog.