It’s not easy picking up where Jennifer Aniston left off, and Aisha Tyler is feeling the pressure. During her upcoming five-episode stint on ”Friends,” the former host of E!’s ”Talk Soup” becomes the latest woman to come between Ross and Joey: She plays Charlie, a paleontologist wooed by both men. Before ”Friends,” her resume listed just one sitcom gig (an episode of HBO’s ”Curb Your Enthusiasm”), which makes this job all the more daunting. ”To come in and try to be the seventh member of that club is very intimidating. When I wasn’t acting, the dominant thought was ‘No way! I’m on ‘Friends’!”’
Still, the 30-year-old actress conquered her nerves so well she’s in talks to return in the fall. ”I am the black, female Paul Rudd,” says Tyler, referring to the ”Clueless” hottie, who has a recurring role as Phoebe’s on-again, off-again beau. ”Teenage girls will soon be following my car and hanging up my head shot.” Here, Tyler offers a how-to guide for hanging with TV’s multimillionaire ensemble.
DON’T SWEAT YOUR HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE She’s just the second African American to have a major guest-starring role on the sitcom, which is perennially criticized for painting a lily-white picture of New York City. The last black actress, Gabrielle Union, showed up for only one episode and also got caught in a triangle with Ross and Joey. But Tyler would rather not see herself as a Must See pioneer: ”It’s just a great role, and I got to kiss Dave and Matt. That’s the burden I’m carrying. Poor me.”
HAVE CLEAR GOALS ”I definitely have my sights set on the Greg Kinnear plan,” she says of her Oscar-nominated ”Talk Soup” predecessor. What about Hal Sparks, another former ”Talk”er, who stars on Showtime’s ”Queer as Folk”? Says Tyler, laughing: ”Definitely Greg Kinnear.”
SET LIMITS Sure, she once endured a yearlong hosting gig on the syndicated dating romp ”The Fifth Wheel” (”I just fulfilled my obligation and left…. Everybody’s got their ‘Legend’ — that terrible movie about unicorns that Tom Cruise did early in his career”), but she vows not to fall back into reality TV after ”Friends”: ”No ‘Money-Grubbing Gold Diggers on Ice’ for me.”
HONOR YOUR VOW OF SILENCE So, Aisha, who does Charlie choose, Ross or Joey? ”That’s, like, rule number one. New girl shows up, gives [plotlines] away, and then the next episode she mysteriously falls down an elevator shaft and dies.”