​Lisa Kudrow on the science of comedy

Once a Vassar biology student who turned to improv, the former "Friends" star has evolved into an actor-producer, including in the return of the HBO series "The Comeback".

CBS News

Lisa Kudrow had millions of fans on the long-running television series "Friends." What's she up to these days? Lee Cowan now with a round of Questions-and-Answers:

It's been 10 years since Lisa Kudrow and her five famous "Friends" bid their farewells.

Cowan asked her, "Were you glad that it ended when it ended?"

"No, no" she replied. She said she could have gone on longer with the show, adding, "And we were making a lot of money too, by the way. There's that!"

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Lisa Kudrow with Matt LeBlanc in "Friends."
NBC

For 10 years Kudrow's Phoebe Buffay -- and her five famous "Friends" -- blended as smoothly as the coffee at Central Perk. The final episode was the fourth most-watched TV series finale in history.

It left Lisa Kudrow wondering: Just how do you top a show that became a cultural phenomenon?

"I'm certainly not doing another sitcom," she said. "I just did 'Friends' -- I'm gonna try to tell the world, 'Hey, you liked 'Friends,' well, I've got something else'? No! That's not gonna happen. That's just an impossibility."

Unlike her co-stars -- many of whom went the romantic comedy route -- Kudrow chose roles a bit more off-beat.

Her first role, in "The Comeback," was Valerie Cherish, a fading sit-com star willing to endure the indignities of a reality show just to get back into the limelight.

It only lasted one season, but now -- nine years later -- HBO is giving "The Comeback" a comeback.

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Lisa Kudrow in "The Comeback."
HBO

"You have to hold the record -- I think for the longest amount of time between season one and season two, right?" asked Cowan.

"I think so! Something to be proud of!" she laughed.

Like the original, it's a humorous, often biting critique of reality TV and its high-wattage tendency to exploit those willing to do anything for fame.

"One of my fears back then was I don't know how people are going to survive it," Kudrow said. "I mean, I was with five other people who became famous and it was kind of harrowing."

"What you were starting to explore back then kind of came true."

"It absolutely came true," she said, "and worse! No privacy, and anything goes. Very intimate, personal things about a family and a marriage, that that's entertainment."

Her social commentary didn't stop there. Kudrow also takes aim at the Internet in "Web Therapy," now on Showtime. She plays the dubiously-credentialed Dr. Fiona Wallice, who figures -- in this age of social media -- three-minute web-chats can pass for psychotherapy.

"I have done the 50-minute sessions with people, but they end up going on and on about dreams and feelings and memories and past experiences that add up to a whole lot of nothing as far as I'm concerned."

She's got a documentary series, too, "Who Do You Think You Are?" -- where Kudrow and other celebrities trace their family roots.

For Kudrow, exploring her Jewish great-grandmother's execution at the hands of the Nazis during World War II was sobering. "It made me really angry, on so many levels," she said. "It's that depressing realization that, you know, human beings are cruel and stupid."

Kudrow grew up in Tarzana, Calif., the daughter of a doctor. By the time she reached Portola Middle School, she was as studious as they come -- and also pretty self-conscious.

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Lisa Kudrow in "The Comeback."
CBS News

Pointing out her photo in her school yearbook, Kudrow said, "That's a girl waiting for her nose job!"

"You knew that you always wanted to get it done?" asked Cowan.

"I knew I was going to get it done."

"Because why?"

"Are your eyes not working?" she laughed.

"That is not a bad nose!"

"What do you mean! That's not an optical illusion. That's a big nose."

The nose brought her taunts; her studious nature, not too many friends.

When asked what she remembers of the lunch experience at her school cafeteria, Kudrow replied, "Panic. Yeah, like, 'Do I know anyone that will let me sit with them?' It was bad sometimes, it was really bad."

So she stuck to the books -- and headed for Vassar College, where she studied evolutionary biology.\ She had plans to become a doctor, like her father, and even co-authored a research paper with him on headaches.

"But where was all that comedy hiding then, before?" asked Cowan.

"It was there, sort of," she said. "But I just thought, 'Well, that's just for fun -- this isn't a life goal!'"