Judy Reyes Didn't Always Love Playing The Serious One On Scrubs

Pretty much ever scene in a comedy movie or at TV show requires the straight man, the normal person who reacts to all the wild stuff going on around them. It's not a role that tends to get the actor a lot of praise thrown their way, but it is an important one. On some shows like "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," the role gets flipped around a lot from moment to moment. Depending on the episode, any member of the gang could be the normal person who helps put the rest of the gang's wackiness into perspective. As the show went on, the straight man role became more commonly given to an outsider of the group, like the poor waiter at Guigino's.

For "Scrubs," however, the role was most often given to Carla (Judy Reyes), who would point out how weird or immature JD (Zach Braff) and Turk (Donald Faison) were being. "Shows like this only work if you have someone that can ground it and make it seem real," showrunner Bill Lawrence explained to Vulture in a 2018 cast reunion, "and Judy could kind of help us switch gears to the pathos and the drama and the emotional stuff in the show."

Despite that, Reyes couldn't help occasionally feeling frustrated that she rarely got to be comedic like the rest of the cast. In the same interview, she talked about how she'd ask Lawrence about it "at least yearly." "I can act funny!" she said. "I just need jokes, I need fantasies."

Addressing this in season 6

Perhaps this was the inspiration for "My Fishbowl," the episode where Carla attempts to make jokes but nobody around her ever laughs. When she makes a joke about her coffee tasting like crack, Dr. Cox tells her, "You would hear crickets chirping, but they were too uncomfortable about just how unfunny that actually was."

Cox then goes on a long rant about why each and every character on the show is funny, telling Carla she too can be funny as long as she sticks to what she's good at. "I think you are very funny when you're being sarcastic or you're up on your high horse. You know, as long as you stay right in your wheelhouse," he says. He ends the rant by asking her to "please, don't tell any more jokes." 

But Carla refuses to confine herself to her limited range of humor, and she spends the rest of the episode doing one lame bit after another. At one point Turk asks her if they can "renew our relations" that night for the first time since Izzy was born, and she says, "Well, I guess the only thing you're gonna renew tonight is your driver's license!" Even JD is stunned and embarrassed for her. 

The episode ends well for Carla, though: She defiantly tells Cox, "I don't care what you say, I'm as funny as anyone else in this place." She then slams the table, which accidentally sends a cup of hot coffee flying in Ted's face. "That actually was pretty funny," Dr. Cox says, and he and Carla share a laugh. It may seem like a mean-spirited note to end the storyline on, but that's only because it is in fact a mean-spirited note to end the storyline on. 

Letting Carla out of her wheelhouse

This wasn't the end of the writers letting Judy Reyes be funny in different ways, however. As the series went on, "Scrubs" seemed to get more comfortable letting Carla make jokes. Season 8's two-parter "My Soul on Fire" had Turk as the straight man reacting to Carla's inability to stop fretting over their baby while they're on vacation. She also got a B-story in "My Comedy Show," where she embarrasses herself in front of the Janitor and spends the rest of the episode gaslighting him into believing the incident never happened. See, Carla isn't just funny when she's sarcastic and up on her high horse; she's also funny when she's being sneaky.

Even throughout the later seasons, however, Reyes was always playing the most serious character on the show. She might not have gotten to show off her comedy chops as much as the other actors, but she was still an invaluable part of the series. Some of the most moving moments of the show, like her saying goodbye to Laverne in season 6 or arguing with JD at the bus station in season 1, worked precisely because of how much Reyes was able to nail the dramatic moments. "She's such a good actress," Bill Lawrence said while reminiscing about Carla's goodbye to Laverne. "It was one of the main things that made the show work."