Saying goodbye to "a bit of our childhood"...
Upon waking up on Sunday morning (29 October) and hearing the news, I had the unenviable duty to pick up my phone and text my sister: “RIP Chandler Bing.”
I shared that Matthew Perry had died, found unresponsive due to suspected drowning. He was the first of the Friends gang to go.
“Ohhhh its like a bit of our childhood has gone away.”
This reply hit me right in the feels.
She wasn’t wrong. My sister and I had amassed many VHS tapes of the beloved sitcom and spent the 90s watching Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Ross, Joey and Chandler navigating daily life, relationships, job woes, and third nipples.
This close-knit group of young adults who lived in each other's pockets and spent most of their pay checks on coffee at Central Perk was something of an after-school treat for us. We’d mainline two or three episodes after homework, and the show served as a soothing balm of sorts. In a way that would now be described as ‘parasocial interaction’ - the social media age term for imaginary friends for adults, with a heavy dollop of toxicity - they became our friends. At least, part of a joyful daily routine.
My sister and I didn’t cultivate a warped relationship with these fictional people; we simply sat down to watch their ongoing shenanigans and ended up connecting as siblings on a different level by referencing popular culture. Read: peppering our interactions with some of their one-liners and chuckling to our shared references.
Obviously, Chandler was the one we quoted the most.
Chandler was the one everyone quoted the most.
As Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman said in the 2021 reunion special: “When Matthew reads the dialogue, it sparkles.”
There was “You have to stop the Q-tip when there’s RESISTANCE!” for a quick putdown.
“I’m going to Yemen!” was trotted out regularly when asked where we were off to.
The pivot scene meant that when arguing, my sister and I stopped telling each other to simply "shut up", but to “Shut up, shut up, shut up, SHUT UUUUUP!”
Perry’s line delivery, exceptional comic timing and speech cadence was always spot-on, and he made every wisecrack memorable.
He was also a great physical performer, someone who had a clear appreciation for slapstick and the merits of a well-executed pratfall.
Season 4 was one of our favourites, to the extent the magnetic tape would skip. It was so worn out by the end of so many viewings that the arrival of DVDs was something of a godsend for our Friends sessions. This was, after all, a time before endless reruns and streaming.
In the 1994-1995 season, Chandler felt front and centre, especially with the on-running storyline of him falling for Joey’s girlfriend Kathy, thereby putting strain on the show’s central bromance. In the eighth episode, “The One With Chandler in a Box”, Perry even managed to steal the show out of sight and from inside a box, and break your heart with one little finger-bend as he says goodbye to Kathy from the airhole.
And then there’s my favourite scene, from my favourite Friends episode: Season 4, Episode 12 - “The One With the Embryos”.
The boys and girls engage in a heated trivia game devised by Ross, with the girls' apartment on the line. When the boys win, both Chandler and Joey ride in victorious, straddling that dog sculpture into Monica’s and Rachel’s pad.
Chandler’s eating a sandwich and grins as he stretches out his arms.
It’s not much, but so memorable. Wordless comedy gold, and arguably one of the best entrances of all time.
In hindsight, Chandler could have been detestable as a character. On paper, he was the endlessly sarcastic one, whose insecurities where clearly kept at bay by an incessant need to make others laugh.
And the class clown act gets old after a while, as I was reliably informed by my peers at the time.
However, Perry managed to find warmth and charming awkwardness in the role. Depth, even. You understood that Chandler needed the laughs to keep his life from feeling empty, that his dry humour was a cover for deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and doubt.
“Hi, I’m Chandler, I make jokes when I’m uncomfortable,” the character even admitted.
In real life, Perry suffered from similar afflictions. Unbeknownst to the public during much of the original run of the show, his struggle with addiction to prescription drugs and alcohol was taking its toll.
He opened up about his insecurities, drug addiction and recovery in his memoir, “Friends, Lovers And The Big Terrible Thing”, published just last year.
"Hi, my name is Matthew, although you may know me by another name. My friends call me Matty. And I should be dead," he wrote in the opening, referring to the fact that doctors had given him a two per cent chance of survival after his colon burst due to opioid abuse.
"I had a secret and no one could know. I felt like I was gonna die if the live audience didn't laugh, and that's not healthy for sure. But I could sometimes say a line and the audience wouldn't laugh and I would sweat and sometimes go into convulsions... If I didn't get the laugh I was supposed to get I would freak out. I felt that every single night. This pressure left me in a bad place. I also knew of the six people making that show, only one of them was sick."
Perry’s work also included the underrated TV show Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip (written by The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin), a stint on The West Wing and The Good Wife, as well as a handful of films including Fools Rush In, 17 Again, and The Whole Nine Yards alongside Bruce Willis.
Last night, unable to sleep, I rewatched The Whole Nine Yards, as a form of homage.
The 2000 comedy about dentist Nick Oseransky (Perry) who finds himself living next door to a mobster, Jimmy ‘The Tulip’ Tudeski (Willis), wasn’t exactly much of a stretch for Perry, as he was playing a version of his Friends persona. It’s a cheesy throwback to Hollywood’s slapstick comedy heydays, but one which was perfect for Perry’s physical talents - as well as an ideal role for Amanda Peet, who is irresistible throughout.
Despite the constant condiment bashing in the film (mayonnaise is ALWAYS necessary on a hamburger and that's that), the whole thing felt quite charming. Granted, there’s always the temptation to elevate past films upon an actor’s passing. This isn’t that.
The Whole Nine Yards is pure fluff, but entertaining fluff. It also gave us a good piece of trivia, as Perry made a bet with Willis in 1999 that if the film topped the charts when it was released, Willis would do a guest spot on Friends. He won, and Willis agreed to appear on the show for free, with his fee donated to a charity of Perry’s choosing.
Much like the rest of his co-stars – specifically the boys – Perry didn’t have much of a cinema breakthrough once the 10 seasons and 236 episodes of Friends had ended. But boy did those seasons and episodes count to making Chandler one of the most beloved sitcom characters ever.
My sister – as is her custom – is right. Much like when Robin Williams died in 2014, a bit of our childhood has gone away. But, like that image of Chandler riding the white dog with his best bud, arms outstretched and celebrating, he was a comedy champion.
That’s how I’ll choose to remember him: giggling uncontrollably with my sister in front of the TV, triumphant in making live (and non-live) audiences laugh.