Matthew Perry Was the Voice of ‘Friends’
Friends was the voice of a generation of TV shows — as they say, often imitated, never duplicated — and Matthew Perry’s Chandler was the voice of Friends. Perry, who passed away unexpectedly this weekend at the age of 54, wasn’t the show’s star exactly. But in an ensemble cast of funny characters, Chandler’s trademark sarcasm, barely masking the character’s myriad insecurities, best embodied the show’s outlook — funny, optimistic and scared as hell. Could it have been any more iconic?
At the show’s outset, Chandler is practically the only one of the Friends holding down a real job — one of us has made it! — but the office drudgery it consisted of served as a cautionary tale. With every deadpan remark, Perry let us know how miserable this guy was. If Chandler told us something was spectacular, we knew the guy suffered from a thousand office paper cuts.
Friends was the first show featuring Gen X characters trying to make it in the world, but the show’s producers made a point of avoiding contemporary slang and generational angst. Smart move — Friends’ enduring appeal made Chandler a favorite of both millennials and Gen Z viewers alike. Turns out that using humor to mask one’s bitterness is timeless.
Another part of the show’s allure was that Perry and the other five Friends were clearly, well, friends. When another sitcom icon, Suzanne Somers, passed away recently, it was a reminder of how she had asked for pay commensurate with her co-star John Ritter. Instead of a raise, she lost her job without a public peep from comedy roommates Ritter or Joyce DeWitt.
When it came time for Perry and the gang to negotiate contracts, however, they made a pact to stick together. Even though some of the show’s stars were landing movie roles — Perry had legit hits with Fools Rush In and The Whole Nine Yards while even Jennifer Aniston was struggling to break into actual film stardom — the cast agreed that they all got the same salary or they all would walk. You could imagine the characters sticking up for each other like that on Friends. It rarely happens that way in real life.
It certainly would have been easier for Perry to hold out for more. Ask a Friends fan to imitate the sound of the show — not Joey’s “How you doin’?” or Phoebe’s “Smelly Cat,” but the actual sound of the show — and they likely would imitate Perry’s trademark snark. “Hi, I’m Chandler. I make jokes when I’m uncomfortable,” isn’t just a funny line — it rings an inner bell for scores of viewers who employ the same self-defense mechanism.
Perry’s post-Friends career wasn’t nearly as successful as it might have been, brought down by an addiction to painkillers due to onset accidents. Even then, he counted on the friends he’d made decades earlier. In his book, Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing, he gave credit to his old co-stars for helping him find sobriety. At the Friends reunion in 2021, his co-stars teared up as Perry described the bond they’d created on that show. For once, there was no sarcasm.
“The best way that I can describe it is after the show was over, at a party or any kind of social gathering, if one of us bumped into each other, that was it,” he explained. “That was the end of the night. You just sat with the person all night long and that was it. You apologized to the people you were with, but they had to understand you had met somebody special to you and you were going to talk to that person for the rest of the night. And that’s the way it worked. It’s certainly the way it worked with all of us. It’s just the way it is.”