''Phoebe is not dumb,'' Lisa Kudrow says quite firmly. ''She's a nitwit, but she's not dumb.'' Kudrow should know: The 31-year-old Vassar grad plays Phoebe Buffay on Friends, the season's breakout sitcom. ''I almost got into a fight with [NBC's] Matt Lauer, who kept calling Phoebe dumb, but Phoebe knows about a lot of things, and she thinks of herself as an artist.''
If Kudrow first dented our collective consciousness as the dingbat waitress Ursula on Mad About You, her Phoebe is a more complex free spirit, hooked on addled folk-song writing and aromatherapy. ''I saw on the Internet that there's a rock band somewhere that does nothing but covers of Phoebe's songs,'' Kudrow says delightedly. Indeed, cyberspace seems especially Friends-friendly these days. ''There are all these messages posted about us, especially the girls'' Kudrow plus Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox. ''Some of it's kinda weird; like, there's this whole section on the Net about a 'Jennifer-Courteney sandwich.'''
Kudrow is a member of the Groundlings (the L.A. improvisation group that yielded Phil Hartman and Paul Reubens), and she's known Conan O'Brien ''since the first day of my becoming an actress.'' (They took an acting class together.) Last month, she married Michel Stern, a U.S.-based French adman. ''Seven years ago, I was rooming with a French girl, and she went with him for about six months,'' says L.A. native Kudrow of her introduction to Stern. ''I thought he was so cute, so great; thirtysomething was on at the time, and I remember thinking, 'Oh, my god, he's a French Michael Steadman!' But I'm a very good girl, and I would never let him know that I was attracted to him while he was going with my roommate. So six years later we saw each other at a picnic and we just smiled, and that was it we've been together ever since.''
Does Kudrow have any thoughts about what her character's going to do next season? ''Well, I do have one idea. I want Phoebe's dead mother to come back and visit her in some way I think Phoebe would probably think that was fun and perfectly normal.'' Probably.