Underneath all the blond ditz and the hippie attitude, Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow) is by far the most street-wise and hardened character on Friends. Phoebe's backstory includes everything from her mother taking her own life to her father abandoning her to contracting hepatitis in the most unusual of ways.
Unlike the rest of the crew, Phoebe did not have a stable childhood. She was living on the streets of New York City by the age of 14 and never even had the opportunity to attend high school. And because she doesn’t possess a filter, Phoebe will often casually blurt out disturbing details about her upbringing.
Though Phoebe eventually found a group of friends who became a makeshift family, these messed up details of the years beforehand paint a much darker picture.
When She Turned 16, An Escaped Psychiatric Patient Tried To Off Her
Phoebe and Mike decide to donate the money they would have spent on a big wedding to a local New York Children's Fund in the Season 10 episode "The One With The Home Study." However, when Phoebe tries on Monica's veil, she changes her mind and wants to have a big wedding celebration.
Phoebe and Mike return to the charity organization and request their money back. She tries to explain why she had the sudden change of heart, citing the hardships of her childhood.
Phoebe never had the opportunity to experience so many of the traditional rites of passage that most kids get to have. She spent most of her adult life thinking such things didn't matter to her. But after really allowing herself to imagine her wedding day, she realizes she does want the fairy-tale ending.
A person's wedding is important. And especially to me. Okay, I didn't have a graduation party. And I didn't go to prom. And I spent my sweet 16 being chased around a tire yard by an escaped mental patient who, in his own words, wanted to: '[Slay] me, or whatever.' So I deserve a real celebration. And I'm not gonna let some sweaty little man make me feel badly about it.
She Rarely Speaks To Her Twin Sister, An Adult Entertainer
Phoebe is almost totally estranged from her identical twin sister, Ursula Buffay. The ditzy, selfish, self-absorbed Ursula seems to forget she even has a twin sister sometimes.
In the Season 6 episode "The One Where Chandler Can't Cry," it's revealed that Ursula not only works in the adult entertainment industry - creating titles like "Buffay the Vampire Layer" and "Inspect Her Gadget" - but that she uses Phoebe's name as her official alias.
Phoebe gets back at her twin by cashing all of her checks, which are written out to "Phoebe Buffay." Though she's able to make a few bucks off Ursula, the twins' estrangement is painful to consider, as neither has any other family.
She Was On The Streets Starting At Age 14, And Even Lived In A Car
Phoebe is nervous the first time she meets Mike's parents. In the Season 9 episode "The One With Ross' Inappropriate Song," she overshares a bit and winds up revealing way too much information:
"Originally I'm from upstate, but uhm... then my mom [took her life] and my stepdad went to prison, so... I just moved to the city where uhm... I actually lived in a burned out Buick LeSabre for a while..."
The oversharing stems from Phoebe's lack of a traditional upbringing. Polite dinner conversation is not in her skill set. Her way to fill the awkward space is by diving into the unsettling depths of her own past... making everyone else in the room more uncomfortable as a result.
Before Phoebe Knew Ross, She Mugged Him
At the age of 14, Phoebe was already living alone on the streets of New York City. During the Season 9 episode "The One with the Mugging," we find out Phoebe mugged Ross (David Schwimmer) long before the pair became friends.
When Ross was a child, he claimed he was mugged by a large man outside of a comic book store. The mugger took his backpack, which contained an original comic book he was working on called "Science Boy."
Upon hearing Ross's story, Phoebe realizes she was the one who mugged him. He only said it was a huge guy because he was embarrassed to have gotten mugged by a girl. Phoebe comes clean to Ross, who is upset with her. However, she's able to make amends. Having saved a box of stuff from her homeless days, she's able to find - and return - "Science Boy" to its proper owner.