Credit: NBC

More Than a Friend: The Character of Matthew Perry

By Clare Louise Roberts

A tribute to the late Matthew Perry

On 28th October, we all lost a Friend with news of the death of actor Matthew Perry, best known (and loved) for his role as Chandler Bing on Friends.

Friends started as a prime-time American comedy show for Gen-X on NBC. It ran from 1994﹘2004 and has been broadcast in over a hundred countries. The show’s success made the ensemble cast into household names: Jennifer Aniston (who turned down a regular spot on Saturday Night Live for the part of Rachel Green), David Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Courtney Cox and the late Matthew Perry. It’s hard to believe now, but a sitcom about a group of young people, 6 friends, living together in a city, set in their homes and a coffee house, was a fairly fresh concept in the 90s.

Matthew Perry, created the persona of Chandler Bing; a sweet, self-deprecating, sarcastic and hopeless-at-love character. Known as the practical joker both on and off-screen, he often improvised quips with his signature sarcasm, making his co-stars break character with laughter. For the entire ten seasons, none of his friends understand what it is he does for a living, a running joke. Even his bloopers on set were often kept in the scene. One well-known instance of this is in ‘The One with the Cuffs’, where Chandler, handcuffed half-naked to the filing cabinet of Rachel’s boss’ office, pulls his arm forward and accidentally slaps the back of his head with a drawer. Perry remains in character and it’s hilarious. Chandler once said “What’s wrong with me?” then after a classic Perry pause and facial expression adds: “Ooh, don’t open that door!”. Perry created a highly relatable and likeable character who was complex enough to be believable: Chandler was awkward and zany, he was there to comfort you or make fun of you – depending on which one you needed. Chandler overcame commitment issues, stood up for people and relieved the tension. 

Off-screen, however, Perry suffered from depression, alcoholism, and an addiction to drugs. He spoke about his recovery openly, including turning his former Malibu home into a sober living facility, in his recently released memoir, Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing. Since the news of his death has been made public, many celebrities have paid tribute to him. Hank Azaria, who was a recurring love interest of Lisa Kudrow’s character, Phoebe, spoke about how Perry helped him get sober.

I wonder if Perry hoped that comedy would heal him. His witty irony and intelligent self-deprecation were essential components to the warmth of the show. What made Friends so iconic was allowing the characters to be imperfect. They were generally likeable but not always sympathetic, often making the ‘wrong’ choice or hurting each other. But still, they demonstrated that your friends are an important component of your family. 

The themes of being unsure of what to do with your life, falling in and out of love and overcoming various obstacles as adulthood gradually creeps up on you, are now popular sitcom themes. Shows like That 70’s Show, How I Met Your Mother, and New Girl, are all inspired by Friends and Perry’s comedic style. 

To many people, seeing the six actors today is a strange sight. Their youth and playfulness are embedded in our memory. Perry hoped that he would be remembered for more than playing a character on Friends which was his prerogative to wish for. But I think that he never fully grasped how important and healing his own comedic skills were to the billions of people who watched him and so desperately needed to let go and to laugh.  

Thank you for the laughs, Chandler.


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