Double Ditzing

updated 10/24/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/24/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

PLEASE DON'T TELL LISA KUDROW that biology is destiny. Kudrow, 31, actually studied that stuff at Vassar, but you wouldn't know it from watching her play two of TV's ditziest women on Thursday nights on NBC. First she's Ursula, the absentminded waitress on Mad About You, and then a half hour later she's Phoebe, the flakiest of the twenty-something Friends who hang out at a coffee bar. On both shows, says Kudrow, "people talk slower to me, like I was a 10-year-old." In fact, says Mad's coproducer-star Paul Reiser, "she's a very bright woman." So why isn't she peering through a microscope these days instead of poring over scripts? Kudrow says she didn't want to end up like some of her "pompous" profs, who, she says, "sit around and theorize in this pretend world. That didn't appeal to me at all."

Unlike, say, the pretend world of TV sitcoms, for which Kudrow seems a natural. Growing up in the Los Angeles suburb of Tarzana with sister Helene and brothers David and Derrick, Lisa may have lacked showbiz role models (her father, Lee, is an M.D. specializing in headache research; her mother, Nedra, a travel agent), but she showed her talent early on. In sixth grade, costumed as both the grandmother and the butcher's wife, she serenaded classmates with songs from Fiddler on the Roof.

"We all thought she was going to be an actor," says Helene, an artist. But Lisa, inspired by her father, decided at 15 to become a doctor. Her ambition cooled, though, after she took organic chemistry, a college pre-med course at Vassar that was simply "too hard." She switched her major to sociobiology (the study of the interaction between environment and biology in producing social behavior). Then after graduating in 1985 and moving back to L.A., Kudrow saw her brother David's childhood pal Jon Lovitz on Saturday Night Live. If he could do it, Kudrow figured, so could she. Following his path, she enrolled in the Groundlings, a local improv comedy school and performance troupe. That led to small guest shots on such TV sitcoms as Cheers and, in 1993, Mad About You, in which she impressed Reiser by deftly playing what he calls "a nice but not-too-swift" blind date. He remembered her when the recurring role of Ursula was being cast last fall. Last spring, when the producers of Friends offered Kudrow the meatier part of Phoebe, Reiser asked to keep her on his show too. The upshot: Kudrow, who maintains a two-bedroom apartment in L.A., 10 miles from Friends' Burbank set, spends most of her week there. On Fridays she takes a shorter drive to Culver City, where Mad About You tapes. "The only problem," she says, "is that I don't get much rehearsal time for Mad About You. Last week I only had 10 minutes."

Today, the man Kudrow is mad about is Michel Stern, an advertising executive whom she has been dating for about a year. Why an adman and not an actor? "When I was in school, I thought actors were weird," quips Kudrow. "Of course," she adds, "now that I'm in the business, I know that's true."

MICHAEL A. LIPTON
CRAIG TOMASHOFF in Los Angeles

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