A little more than a year ago, I stumbled into what has since become the single most important investigative quest in my long career as an Internet content creator: finding the Ugly Naked Guy.
For those who don't know, Ugly Naked Guy was a bit character on "Friends" who Chandler, Joey, Monica, Phoebe, Rachel and Ross all referenced many times. But the truth is, Ugly Naked Guy actually only appeared on the show twice, and his face was never revealed.
His on-screen debut on the show occurred in the Season 3 episode "The One With The Giant Poking Device," when the friends stabbed him with a long pole they had fashioned out of chopsticks, but all that could be seen of Ugly Naked Guy was his protruding belly. His second and final appearance on "Friends" occurred in the Season 5 episode "The One Where Everybody Finds Out," when Ugly Naked Guy moves out of his apartment, and Ross gets the place after he strips and eats muffins with Ugly Naked Guy.
And then, he was gone. The show didn't credit the actor who played Ugly Naked Guy in either episode, and the actor (or actors) never came forward in the almost two decades since the 1999 episode. Believe me when I say I know far too well that any and all guesses since then have turned out to be wrong.
As a viral content creator, I decided it was my calling to solve this heroically inane mystery. Along the way, I felt like the 2016 Internet equivalent of Herman Melville's Captain Ahab, losing my mind as monomania overtook me bit by bit. But now, as Spring and new life is once again upon us all, my mind can rest with the knowledge that this quest didn't swallow me whole.
If you've ever wondered what Ugly Naked Guy (or UNG) looked like, or if he was actually even naked, may this story rest your soul as it has mine.
Our story starts with IMDb, Wikipedia, and the "Friends" Wikia, all of which have credited Michael Hagerty as UNG in the past.
It's unclear how the idea that Hagerty played Ugly Naked Guy first started, but it seems to have first popped up on Wikipedia in 2014, according to the Wayback Machine archive.
Wikipedia still credited Hagerty up until at least April 2016, but the name is now absent from the page. Still, almost every month, someone tweets that Hagerty played both Mr. Treeger and Ugly Naked Guy. Feel free, however, to reply to those ill-informed people with this story and an all-caps: "WRONG."
In April 2015, I reached out to Michael Hagerty, believing him to be UNG. But to my surprise, he swore it wasn't him.
I assumed Hagerty was Ugly Naked Guy because the Internet told me so. But as the Internet so often is, it was wrong.
"I never played the Ugly Naked Guy," said Hagerty, who did play superintendent Mr. Treeger on the show. "IMDb, the information is close, but a lot of times it's very, very, very wrong. And that said, I'd rather be known as Mr. Treeger than the Ugly Naked Guy anyways."
Although I was surprised to not be talking to the real Ugly Naked Guy, we still ended up talking about his role as Treeger. Hagerty claimed he almost "broke Joey" by spinning Matt LeBlanc incorrectly during a scene which sent the actor through a prop door. As an Internet content creator, I ravenously welcomed the "Friends" trivia, but felt frustrated that I couldn't figure out who actually played Ugly Naked Guy. My unrelenting obsession began.
Never one to pass on a mystery, I reached out to the casting director behind both UNG episodes. She pored through old boxes in her garage, but couldn't find a clue.
Leslie Litt seemed like a logical enough place to start, since she was the Emmy-nominated "Friends" casting director for both Ugly Naked Guy appearances. So, I found her on Facebook and sent her a message pleading for help. Luckily enough, she responded. "I bet UNG was an extra but I MIGHT have paperwork in my garage and I can see if it's there," she wrote.
Her message seemed promising. In an excited furor, I messaged my editor: "the only records for who played ugly naked guy may be sitting in a household garage right now lol / the person is searching."
But in another Facebook message a couple of days later, Litt gave me some bad news. "I can't find anything on Ugly Naked Guy, he must have been an extra," Litt wrote. She suggested reaching out to Central Casting as they probably oversaw the specific role.
Central Casting, another agency that booked extras for the show, had a heated debate about the casting choice, but eventually told me the UNG issue "might be a cold case."
From the start, Jennifer Bender of Central Casting was very cordial. Despite the ridiculousness of the ask, she told me she would look into the mystery.
But a few days after her initial email, I received a message from her. "Well this has become the hot topic of my office! Unfortunately I cannot get confirmation on who this guy is," she wrote. It is unclear exactly how the "hot topic" played out, but I'd like to imagine it was something like the animated image above, which was created by Vulture when they tried to recreate "Friends" in the video game "The Sims."
In any case, Bender apologized, explaining that Central Casting even spent time reaching out to their relevant contacts, but found no answer.
I became disheartened.
Throughout the year, HuffPost had various opportunities to interview people related to "Friends." During an interview with the show's creator, David Crane, one of my colleagues asked who played UNG. Crane said he had no idea.
Due to favorable placement in the Facebook algorithm that determines how much traffic a story can receive, Internet publications publish many, many stories about the show "Friends." As such, the writers here often interview people who were involved with the show.
My co-worker Sara Boboltz got Crane on the phone and spent some time pushing him on Ugly Naked Guy details. He was able to confirm that Hagerty definitely did not play Ugly Naked Guy. But when asked if he knew who did, he responded, "Oh no, I don't. I absolutely don't."
I also personally failed on two opportunities to ask David Schwimmer the all-important question.
1. At a screening of the movie "Spotlight" in December 2015, I sat right in front of Schwimmer -- the only actor to appear alongside Ugly Naked Guy in both of his scenes. Despite the movie focusing on a great journalistic feat, I wasn't emboldened enough to bother the actor.
2. While interviewing Schwimmer about his new AMC show, "Feed the Beast," I asked him a question about whether he thought Ross and Rachel were actually on a break. He wasn't too happy about that, so I dropped the subject.
Still, the mystery gnawed at me, and I started spending far too much time sifting through social media in a feeble attempt to find the UNG. All I discovered was that liars are abundant in this world.
Various people have tweeted over the years that they played Ugly Naked Guy like this is some kind of joke. One Twitter user claimed he had added the job of playing Ugly Naked Guy to his resume. The user above -- who tweeted "I played the ugly naked guy in F.R.I.E.N.D.S" -- even went so far as to incorporate Ugly Naked Guy into her handle, @AAAUglyNakedGuy! But after closely comparing her avatar to the character on the show, I determined she must be lying.
All over the Internet, curious folks were asking about the UNG. Who played him? But sadly, Reddit, Yahoo Answers, Angelfire and the YouTube comments section were no help.
Exchanges like the one above from Yahoo Answers permeate the Internet. Someone asks the great, important question, "Who played Ugly Naked Guy?" and someone else chimes in with some utter-nonsense. David Arquette -- who was married to "Friends" actress Courteney Cox and appears to have never been the size of Ugly Naked Guy in his life -- is definitely not the Ugly Naked Guy.
I continued to dive deeper and deeper into the annals of the Internet.
I found an old Angelfire page that asked, "Do you have any pictures of Ugly Naked Guy? If so, I would be eternally grateful to you if you mailed them to me or gave me a site address I can get them from. Thank you!!!"
I emailed to see if anybody had sent pictures over the years.
I began reaching out to every crew member listed on IMDb that seemed remotely relevant to the case. Most people ignored me.
Search "ugly naked guy" in Google Images and you get an unpleasant result. Do the same thing with my inbox, and you'll be similarly repulsed. Today, my email is littered with messages sent seeking the truth about Ugly Naked Guy, many of which never earned a response.
A few people did respond, including "Friends" costume designer Debra McGuire, who said, "I was there, of course, but would have to do some sleuthing." But in spite of a few, new gumshoe soldiers offering to join me, the answer was still nowhere to be found.
But there was one supervising producer that especially drew my attention. The producer, Todd Stevens, shared my first name, "Todd," and my brother's name, "Steven." I thought to myself, this is fate, and sure enough ...
As seen above, Stevens emailed me, "Please let me know when you want to discuss and a good number to teach [sic] you - I remember !"
The following week, I did. "Here’s what I remember," Stevens, who was the line producer for the show at the time, told me. "It was an extra and we wanted it to fly under the radar because we didn’t want somebody, like, being Ugly Naked Guy."
Explaining the casting process for the role, Stevens said, "We just had Central send a few people over. It was not somebody with a history on the show or anything." He added that the casting was "done very last minute, both times [they filmed] Ugly Naked Guy."
Alas, Stevens did not remember the actor's name. "I wish I did remember," Stevens said apologetically.
I pressed him for a facial description from his memory. "I’m sure if I was with a guy who [does] police drawings, I could come up with it. But he was a big dude. Slightly rounder nose, big cheeks and jowl. It was, you know, Ugly Naked Guy!"
With information from Stevens, I wanted to produce a police sketch of the character.
Perhaps I'd never know the true identity of Ugly Naked Guy, but at least I'd get to see what he looked like.
I reached out to four artists on the cheap task request-site Fiverr in the hopes they could give the world at least some slight insight. The specialities of artists on Fiverr ranges quite a bit, but I tried to find a mix of people who could create something accurate as well as be willing to draw someone naked. I felt as if a pinup artist and an illustrator whose main picture featured a naked woman coming out of an eye pupil could be especially perfect for the job.
Apparently, nobody wanted my $5 to draw UNG.
Not a single artist responded to my request to pay them for their listed job on the Fiverr service.
Maybe five dollars was simply not enough to go through the process of actualizing Ugly Naked Guy through art. It is also possible that because my Fiverr username is "Gossipgirllll," the artists didn't take me seriously.
If only they knew how serious I was about solving what Stevens reassuringly told me was a "great mystery."
I started to worry that maybe UNG never even existed. The building the character lived in constantly changed throughout the series. Perhaps he was just a figment of the friends' imagination.
Monica's apartment is a shape-shifting mystery in itself. Not only does the size and shape of her windows and balcony morph multiple times over the course of the show, but you can see that the apartment buildings outside her window go through their own changes.
Perhaps Monica spent quite a bit of money reconstructing her own apartment to her weekly whim, but that doesn't explain Ugly Naked Guy's building. A company must have destroyed that apartment and reconstructed a replacement over and over again. It is unlikely that Ugly Naked Guy could or would even want to repeatedly gain another apartment in the same location. Why wouldn't he just move to get away from all that chaos?
It was starting to make more and more sense to me that Ugly Naked Guy wasn't even a real person.
If the character wasn't real, maybe there never was an actor. Was UNG just an optical illusion?
During the course of this investigation, a colleague shared a picture with me that was the most convincing photo of a ghost I had ever seen. Family friends of the colleague sat in a Gettysburg restaurant as a light glare hovered above them. The light glare looked unmistakably like a Civil War soldier, with a sash, belt and hat that all appeared to be of the period.
In light of this new light-based evidence, I found it plausible that nobody who worked on "Friends" could figure out who played Ugly Naked Guy because the "actor" was a ghost all along. No records existed because ghosts don't need to get paid, instead finding the fear they instill in living humans to be compensation enough.
I came across an article titled "Favorite TV Characters That No One Ever Played." Ugly Naked Guy topped the list. For the first time during this investigation, I felt afraid I was digging too deep. But I pressed on.
Feeling as if I was at a dead end, I circled back to the initial contacts to see if they'd heard anything.
Exactly a year after casting director Leslie Litt first responded to me, I was back to messaging her on Facebook, admitting I had still not solved the mystery. She told me she hadn't heard anything on her end either. Decidedly unlit.
So I reached out to Central Casting again, and almost exactly a year after I began this quest, Central Casting sent me this email:
As the above email reads, "I have very good news for you."
Bender told me she'd met Ugly Naked Guy and would ask if he was up for talking with me.
This memory of this moment is a blur, and like the many people who were clearly too awed by Ugly Naked Guy to remember any details about him, I do not remember exactly how I reacted when I got this email. That said, I believe a huge smile appeared across my face.
Bender got back to me again later that day, telling me Ugly Naked Guy was willing to speak with me.
In a month where I got to interview personal heroes such as Brian Wilson and Neil Young, there was still no question that I was about to conduct the most important interview of my life.
Finally, one year after my journey began, I got on the phone with the man of mystery. His name: Jon Haugen. This is what he looked like at the time. This is the true identity of UNG.
"You want to let the world know who the real Ugly Naked Guy is, huh?" Haugen asked me on the phone. I responded with perhaps the most emphatic answer in the affirmative of my life.
"There’s only one Ugly Naked Guy, man, and that was me," Haugen told me on May 16, 2016, concluding the investigation that stretched over a year.
Haugen recalled actively applying for the role through Central Casting for the first appearance. Later, the show asked him to return for the character's scene with Ross. Multiple crew members from the show and Central Casting have corroborated Haugen's story, but as the reporting shows above, nobody remembers beyond a doubt.
Stevens said that he recognized Haugen, but had a recollection that a different actor may have played the part during the second appearance. That said, he also stressed how little he remembered given how much time had passed and how little effort the show put into casting the role. Stevens also admitted to having multiple, contradictory memories of how casting the second appearance came about and couldn't rule out Haugen's claim.
Central Casting did not hold on to the records for the role, but still believe Haugen was the the right actor.
So, I looked into this mystery for over a year and became an Ugly Naked Guy scholar of sorts. Still, I am only fairly sure that Haugen played the part.
With that caveat, I pressed on for his recollection of the events. I asked Haugen the question I had been wondering about for so long: Why had he kept his identity a secret? "The reason I never came forward," Haugen explained, "was because I was just keeping it mellow because Warner Brothers was keeping it mellow. They wanted everybody to have a guess who I was."
Bender from Central Casting had explained my long, long winding road in pursuit of the truth to Haugen, and so he decided to finally open up about his time as Ugly Naked Guy to me. Thank God.
Haugen, for the record, says he is glad he got to play the character and would like to do a reunion.
"I wasn't really expecting them to call me back for me to do it again," said Haugen, but he loved the character so much that he was hoping they would. "It was the best time in my life," he said, adding, "I was the man."
Haugen recalled that shooting his first appearance was difficult because he had to play dead while the friends poked him with a giant pole made of chopsticks. "It wasn’t painful. The hard part was holding my breath," Haugen said. "It was, like, almost two o'clock in the morning when we were filming that part and I was real tired because we had rehearsed all day. It was the last scene and I had to make sure I was perfect to get everybody out of there to go home."
Even after all this time, he wanted to play the character again. "I was hoping they would bring me back and we’d do some more. Maybe we can create a buzz and get everybody back together."
(If you are a cast member from the show "Friends" and would be interested in doing a reunion, please email me at email@example.com. I would love to set this up.)
For what it's worth, Schwimmer and Haugen didn't even get naked. And in a way, UNG was an optical illusion all along.
"I was in boxer shorts," admitted Haugen. "At first I was feeling a little shy because I had about 500 people watching me in the audience besides the crew and everything. But after about two minutes went by, I was real comfortable and David Schwimmer was real comfortable. We were just in boxer shorts and they made it look like we were naked."
Haugen also said that he bonded with Schwimmer on the set. "He made me feel like I was his brother," he said. "I've been on a lot of TV sitcoms and 'Friends' was my favorite. Everybody was fantastic. They treated me like I was family."
On May 23, 2016, fellow HuffPost writer Bill Bradley tried to get Schwimmer's recollection of the scene while doing another interview tied to his new series, "Feed the Beast." Bradley even brought the picture of Haugen to show the actor, but Schwimmer's publicist forbade Bradley from asking the question. "So lame," Bradley texted me.
I had now failed to get Schwimmer's account three times. As I learned the hard way from a particularly terrible and short-lived youth baseball career, "Three strikes and you're out." It was time to put Ugly Naked Guy to rest.
With the mystery solved, I triumphantly told my editor over Gchat what I had done. His response: "Cool."
I had completed this mission as best as I ever would. Throughout it all, I had a sense I was doing something right, that I was winning some great content game. Now I was afraid I had created a hate-read.
I stared out past the tchotchkes on my desk -- a wire sculpture of Kim Kardashian breaking the Internet with a sad Kanye West sitting at the base -- and focused on nothing in particular amid the other desks in the office's open floor plan.
I got up, went to the free things area and had a banana along with a bottled, unsweetened tea. Both free things had fueled this quest of madness. Why stop now?
Through the windows to the South, I could see only the buildings that blocked a view of the Statue of Liberty, the marker next to where my Irish ancestors once passed through to make a better life for themselves and subsequent generations of our family in this country.
If I had had a better view, I imagine I could have seen the high-watermark of a wave before it broke and rolled back toward the ocean.
I looked above me, not to the heavens, but to Facebook's New York City headquarters just a few stories away.
"All in a year's work ..." I thought to myself (or potentially millions depending on how many people click on and share this post). "I hope I made you proud."