Phoebe and her twin sister were thus left alone. Phoebe left their hometown in upstate New York shortly thereafter and moved to New York City to earn a living. She didn't succeed and spent several years homeless on the street before moving in with Monica; she stayed there until 1993, when she moved in with Grandmother Frances (actually Lily's mother, played by Audra Lindley).
To hide Frank Buffay's real identity, Frances told her he was a tree surgeon in Burma where there are no phones. She showed Phoebe pictures of another man claiming that he was her father. He was actually a model whose picture was a sample used in picture frames Phoebe's grandmother bought. Also in Phoebe's grandmother's apartment there is a framed picture of Albert Einstein, whom Phoebe believes is her grandfather.
After she left the streets, Phoebe earned a massage therapist license and joined a practice. Frances dies during season five, and at the memorial service Phoebe finally meets her father Frank Buffay (Bob Balaban).
Following her grandmother's death, Phoebe continued to live in her apartment with her friend Denise (who Phoebe seems to have made up to use as an excuse not to let Rachel move in) and later joined by Rachel Green. In season six Rachel's hair straightener sets the apartment afire, prompting Phoebe to reside temporarily with Chandler and Monica. When her own apartment is rebuilt (with only one bedroom), she lived there alone until she married Mike in season ten.
Phoebe eventually meets her biological mother, Phoebe Abbott (Teri Garr).
Phoebe and Ursula were estranged, though precisely when or why this happened is never fully explained. As adults they remain distant, only speaking when necessary. Ursula is shown to be callous toward Phoebe. Ursula was revealed to be the waitress from Mad About You, which is the show that Lisa Kudrow was appearing on when Friends began. Lisa Kudrow played both Phoebe and Ursula at the same time using the split screen effect.
The sisters also have a half-brother, Frank Buffay Jr.(Giovanni Ribisi), named after their father; Phoebe discovered Frank during one of her attempts to find her father. After marrying his home economics teacher, Alice (Debra Jo Rupp), Frank Jr. asked Phoebe if she would act as a surrogate mother for them, as they were desperate to have children but weren't able to conceive. Phoebe agreed and duly produced triplets: a boy, Frank Jr. Jr.; and 2 girls, Leslie and Chandler. During Phoebe's pregnancy, Lisa Kudrow was actually pregnant. It is suggested that Phoebe had already met her half-brother before knowing who he was. In "The One with the Baby on the Bus", he makes a short appearance, asking Phoebe to give him back his condom which he dropped at her as she was playing her songs outside Central Perk.
None of Phoebe's family members attended her wedding to Mike.
Phoebe occasionally resorted to mugging to survive. At one point, when they were fourteen, she mugged Ross, back when these future Friends were still strangers (stealing the only copy ever existing of Ross' Cartoon - Science Boy. Phoebe claims this book "Taught me well"). Phoebe also mentions that she lived in Prague. She also stated that she lived with an albino man who washed windows outside Port Authority, as well as a "Guy named Sindey who talked to his hand." Phoebe also claimed that she got hepatitis, when a pimp spat in her mouth.
Her previous lifestyle and wild stories shocked her friends. When she tells the story of the time when she stabbed a cop, their obviously surprised looks caused her to retort, "Well he stabbed me first!" Phoebe picked up an impressive talent for boxing at a YMCA, where, according to her, the guys "weren't being Christian enough".
After her grandmother's death, Phoebe inherited her yellow taxi and apartment (which Phoebe says is Apartment 15, 5 Morton Street in the episode, 'The One with Joey's New Brain').
She moves in with Monica as a result of answering a roommate ad, which began their friendship.
While still living with Monica, she married a gay Canadian ice dancer (Steve Zahn) in order to help him obtain a green card. He later reveals that he is straight, and was just being gay "to fit in", resulting in a divorce.
Phoebe's somewhat dubious musical skills were a popular source of entertainment. Her stunning array of songs include "The Double-Double-Double-Jointed Boy", "Bisexuals", "Sue, Sue, Suicide", "Sticky Shoes", "Ode to a Pubic Hair (Little Black Curly Hair)", and most famously "Smelly Cat", which became both a jingle for a kitty litter commercial (not sung by her) and a serious commercial release (also not her singing). Other popular tunes include "The Grandma Song" (a song about grandparent death) and "The Cow in the Meadow goes Moo" (a song about meat production and packaging) which she sang to the children in the public library program, earning her the name "The Lady Who Sings About the Truth".
Phoebe's musical influences and favourite bands are heterogeneous: she seems to know some tunes from Lionel Richie by heart, yet a taste for rock, heavy metal and hard rock can be clearly noticed. To name a few examples:
She describes her musical style as "acoustic folksy stuff" (season 9, episode 03).
On the first seasons, she plays in open tuning, which requires only one finger to play major chords. In later seasons she plays in standard tuning. While attempting to teach Joey guitar, she professes to be "self-taught" and doesn't know the real names of chords. She refers to G-sharp as "Ice Berg" and A as "Bear Claw" because of her finger formations while playing them.
She is against the wearing of fur coats, though decides she looks good in one that she inherits although she later stops wearing it because she believes a squirrel is judging her. Once, she became very upset upon witnessing trees being cut down and sold as Christmas trees, and when witnessing a woman stubbing out a cigarette on a tree forced her to apologize to it. She also cries when flowers die (and even arranges funerals for them), and feels sorry about sitting on a line of ants and accidentally killing them. She even once named a rat living in her apartment - "Bob" and a mouse "Susie". When Bob had babies and was killed, she tried to raise the babies herself.
Although she is a vegetarian, in "The One In Vegas", after remarking about being handed a coupon for a 99-cent steak and lobster dinner, Monica says, "Phoebe, you don't eat animals", to which Phoebe responds, "For 99 cents, I'd eat you." Also in "The One with the Blackout" she sings that she "stay[s] away from dairy" which implies she is a vegan, or possibly lactose intolerant. On a separate occasion, in "The One with the Dozen Lasagnas", Phoebe is seen in the background finishing off the Lasagnas with Monica - despite the fact that they weren't vegetarian Lasagnas. In "The One with Phoebe's Husband", Monica remarks that when Phoebe's first husband left, she became so upset that she ate a cheeseburger. Also, in "The One With All The Thanksgivings", Phoebe apparently ate turkey. Also in "The One with George Stephanopoulos" the girls are sharing secrets and Monica says "remember the vegetarian paté you loved so much...well if goose is a vegetable."
Phoebe is the most promiscuous of the three girls, being the one most often referred to as having casual sex. Phoebe has mentioned skills of CPR. During the episode "The One with Rachel's Phone Number", Rachel attempts to convince Mike to do her a favor by promising that Phoebe will do anything he wants: "Seriously, I'm talking dirty stuff." Mike is surprised that it could "get any dirtier". In one episode, it has been suggested that Phoebe has had a threesome. In one episode where Rachel and Phoebe fight over a guy Phoebe says that she hasn't been on a date in very long. Rachel claims then that Phoebe had a date 3 days ago to which Phoebe replies, "That wasn’t a date! That was, that was just friends getting together…having sex." Another episode has Phoebe and Mike celebrating their anniversary, Rachel asks her "So which anniversary?, first date?, first kiss?, first time sleeping together?" to which Phoebe replies "Yeah". Also Phoebe kisses Rachel in one episode to experience Rachel's claim to be a fantastic kisser. Phoebe says that if she had to select Monica or Rachel to have a lesbian relationship with, she would select Rachel because she is "not as high-maintenance" as Monica.
An example of this occurs in the "The One with Ross and Monica's Cousin"; after Ross and Monica's gorgeous female cousin (played by Denise Richards) is shuffled from Monica's apartment to Ross', and finally to Phoebe's (because Chandler and Ross are uncontrollably attracted to her.) Phoebe experiences the same sexual desire for her that the men did. (In voiceover we hear Phoebe's thought: "Ask her out! She's not YOUR cousin!") Phoebe later claims that Monica "has the breasts of a Greek goddess".
Phoebe often uses her chaotic childhood and traumatic past as sympathy ploys to her friends. References to her mother's death were usually to get her own way. Phoebe does not seem to mind that the other friends know she is only referring to her mother's death to try and get her own way. In one episode Rachel says, "Now, wait a minute, you can't use that to get the cute guy's phone and the last blueberry muffin!" to which Phoebe replies, "Did I use that already today? I'm sorry." However, as the series progressed, the other friends indulge her less frequently.
Phoebe believes in reincarnation and refers to multiple gods; however, not all of Phoebe's beliefs seem internally connected. She is very open to the existence of paranormal phenomena and willing to consider the most bizarre scientific theories, much to Ross' confusion and despair. She, however, does not believe the theory of evolution or even that of gravity, claiming she feels more pushed down than pulled. At one point, Phoebe is even possessed by the spirit of an 82 year-old woman who had unfinished business. Phoebe also claims to hear voices in her head, and at one point, even heard what Joey was singing in his head. In "The One With All The Thanksgivings" Phoebe reveals that she believes she possessed the same look in at least two previous lives, and that Joey does not have any previous life memories because "he's brand new".
Phoebe frequently uses the alter ego Regina Phalange. Once when she is pretending to be French, she even adopts a French version called "Regine Phalange". The first reference to Regina Phalange is when she is trying to contact Ross in England, and pretends to be a Dr. Regina Phalange diagnosing a disease. The last reference is in the series finale when Phoebe successfully stalls Rachel's plane to Paris by saying there was a problem with the "Left Phalange."
Her resistance against large corporations is made manifest in several episodes in which she speaks out against chain stores and the ideal of corporate greed, such as in "The One With the Apothecary Table" (against Pottery Barn, which she later admits liking). In season 9, most notably in the episode "The One with the Fertility Test," she tries to convince Rachel not to redeem a gift-certificate to a massage spa because it puts independent massage therapists such as herself out of business. However, when Rachel clandestinely visits the spa to redeem her gift certificate, it is revealed that Phoebe is employed at the spa as a massage therapist because of the good money, benefits, and 401(k) plan (she even exclaims that she has to "pay taxes!").
Phoebe is occasionally referred to as a heavy drinker, although she never demonstrates any dependence that would make her an alcoholic. In a season 7 episode, when describing her feelings for a man she's dating, she tells Monica "I feel like I've had ten drinks today...and I only had 6." She also drank over twenty drinks at a charity event stating "I think I've helped the kids so much I might vomit." At Monica's 30th birthday party, when Monica gets very drunk, Phoebe decides to "get twice as drunk so no one will notice Monica". The morning after Ross and Rachel get married in Las Vegas, Phoebe and the rest of the friends have a breakfast buffet. During the breakfast, she explains a few times that she is drunk, after drinking while having breakfast.
Joey is in awe of Phoebe's knowledge of such things as reincarnation and openly wishes that he could remember his past lives, to which Phoebe replies that Joey has never had any past lives because he is "brand new". Phoebe tries to teach Joey how to speak French, at his request, because he claims fluency on his résumé. Much to Phoebe's annoyance though, Joey has no aptitude for foreign language and just reels off gibberish (both Kudrow, married to a French executive, and LeBlanc, who incidentally has a French surname, speak fluent French, as does Matthew Perry, who is Canadian). She also tries to teach him the guitar, but forbids him to touch one, and they have a brief falling out when he seeks out a qualified teacher.
Phoebe reportedly had a crush on Joey, and was jealous of his relationship with her twin sister, Ursula. As Phoebe and Joey's relationship never goes past a kiss (they've kissed five times during the course of the show), Joey cannot be considered as one of Phoebe's significant others. In "The One Where They All Turn Thirty", Phoebe is lamenting all the things she has failed to do before turning 31, including having "the perfect kiss",and meeting Portuguese people so Joey gives her a kiss and says "Oh, I'm 1/16 Portuguese." Phoebe quite frequently hits on Joey for no apparent reason.
Kudrow later revealed in an interview that she and LeBlanc had pitched an idea to the writers involving Joey and Phoebe having casual sex all along, but the pitch was rejected.
It is revealed that the mugger who attacked a teenage Ross outside St. Mark's Comics, stealing his backpack and the only existing copy of his cartoon "Science Boy", had been a teenage, homeless Phoebe. To show how sorry she was for mugging Ross, Phoebe returns "Science Boy", which she has stored in a box labeled "Crap from the Street" ever since. She claims that she had kept it only because it was too good to sell for food money, as she apparently learned a lot from Science Boy when she was growing up on the street. When Ross comes to know that Phoebe had never ever ridden a bike in her entire life and that as a kid, she saw her neighbor with a bike, he gifts her a bike exactly as described by Phoebe. Also, when Ross realizes that he is in love with Rachel, Phoebe pushes him to tell Rachel how he feels. Ross and Phoebe appear to turn to one another when they need advice (Ross turned to Phoebe for advice about telling Mona about Rachel moving in and Phoebe turned to Ross for advice about Mike). In a "flashback" scenario episode, it is revealed that after Ross and Carol's relationship broke up, in a moment of weakness, she and Ross almost had sex on the pool table inside the bar that would become Central Perk.
In the last episode of Friends, Phoebe drives Ross to the airport in her taxi, and delays Rachel's flight so that Ross can declare his love to Rachel.
During Monica and Chandler's engagement, Monica tells Rachel and Phoebe that she cannot decide who to pick to be her maid of honour at the wedding and so leaves the decision to them. Initially it is mutually decided by the two that Phoebe could be Monica's maid of honour as Phoebe says that she has never been maid of honour for anyone before. However when Rachel discovers that she has been a maid of honour, Joey tells them that he and Ross will hold a competition in which Rachel and Phoebe act out potential maid of honour scenarios. Phoebe ultimately wins, but later tells Rachel that she can be Monica's maid of honour since it means more to her.
The pair get closer as the show goes on with them moving in with each other in the sixth season but Rachel is forced to move out when a fire destroys their home, when it's completed Phoebe thinks Rachel would rather live with Joey than her and she buys Joey presents to try and lure her out of the apartment. Also in the fifth season when Ross' wife Emily asks him not to see Rachel anymore, Rachel comments that it was only going to be a matter of time before someone is pushed out of the group and says "I always thought Phoebe would be the one to go" because she lives far away and is not related. Despite this Rachel apolgizes to Phoebe and tells her that they should leave and make their own group because they're "the best ones" and Phoebe agrees and says "Alright, but let's try to get Joey". At the end of that episode when Monica and Chandler talk to Joey privately in Monica's bedroom Phoebe says "We're so stupid, they're trying to take Joey!" In the seventh season, Phoebe didn't believe Rachel when she said that she had kissed a girl and brings Phoebe to dinner with the girl (Winona Ryder) and denies it but at the end it turned out to be true when Rachel kisses the girl. When Rachel's friend has left Phoebe kissed Rachel "To know what all the fuss was about". Rachel, looking shocked asks "and?" Phoebe shrugs "I've had better" before walking away, followed by Rachel.
When she changes her name after the wedding, Phoebe learns she can change it to anything, and briefly becomes "Princess Consuela Bananahammock"(although requesting the friends call her "Valerie"). Her husband Mike retaliates by changing his name to "Crap Bag". Phoebe reconsiders after learning that banana hammock is slang for a Speedo, and changes her name again to Phoebe Buffay-Hannigan.
Phoebe has been married at least once before; in Season 2 ("The One With Phoebe's Husband"), Duncan (an apparently gay ice dancer, an old friend and someone Phoebe was in love with) comes to Monica's house, where he thinks Phoebe is living, and asks to see his wife. Her husband of six years, Duncan comes out as straight but divorces Phoebe anyway, and we learn that they only got married so Duncan could stay in the country. It is also possible that Phoebe was previously married in Las Vegas at some point in the past. She indicates her belief that people married in Vegas are only married within Vegas city limits, and is surprised when Monica informs her such a union is legal all over the world. After a moment of mild distress, she shrugs off the revelation.
Phoebe is also briefly engaged to Joey. In the episode entitled "The One With The Red Sweater", Joey believes that Phoebe is pregnant and proposes to her. Phoebe says yes and accepts his ring, but Monica tells Joey that it is Rachel who is pregnant, so Joey proposes to Rachel and must retrieve the ring from a reluctant Phoebe.