I burst into tears when the TMZ alert came through. Matthew Perry dead at age 54 from an “apparent drowning.” When I tried to tell my husband, I choked on a sob again. “Why am I so sad about this?” I cried to him. “Because you fall asleep to him every night,” he said. And it’s true. We feel so deeply about so many fictional stories, there are entire amusement parks created so we can immerse ourselves in a world that doesn’t exist but brings us joy and comfort, and Matthew Perry made Chandler Bing feel undeniably real.
When Friends joined Netflix in 2015, I had just become a single parent. I left an abusive marriage with my 2-month-old daughter Alice and moved in with my mom, relieved and terrified. I was a ball of tangled emotions, trying to find and love myself again, and every night, it got a little easier to handle, thanks to Chandler Bing. OK, the rest of the Central Perk crew was there, too, and sure, the will-they-won’t-they agony of Ross and Rachel helped distract me. But it was always Chandler Bing who kept me company during the late-night feedings.
It was Chandler in the canoe, agonizing over how he felt about Joey’s girlfriend. It was Chandler sneaking cigarettes around his friends. It was Chandler becoming an intern in his 30s because he wanted to find some happiness in his career. In an enormous box on Thanksgiving to make amends with his best friend, overcoming his fear of commitment to marry the love of his life, knowing his best friends so well he could literally win their own apartment from them — it was all Chandler.
Watching Friends, it felt like Chandler would be in my corner, cheering me on. Like if I had walked into his apartment at 2 a.m. with my wailing baby, he would’ve let me sit in his Barcalounger, turned on Baywatch, and told me it was going to be OK. All the nights I stayed up late writing as my baby slept in two-hour spurts, I know Chandler would’ve been ready to let me use his new printer, helped me write a list of pros and cons about my new career, and would make a joke about himself that made everything feel less heavy.
All of his insecurities are on display at all times as he cracks comment after comment to lighten the mood, to make himself the butt of the joke before anybody else can.
Chandler Bing’s self-deprecating humor wasn’t just a suit of armor for himself — he held it out for other people, too. In the episode in which Rachel is trying to convince everyone that she’s fine with Ross marrying Emily (spoiler alert: she’s not), Chandler ends up making a joke about how terrible he is at dancing and why he refuses to do it at weddings to break the tension. In a world where so many of us feel like we aren’t doing it right, where we’re struggling inside on the most basic tasks, when everything feels a little bit easier for everyone else around us, Chandler has been there to remind us we aren’t alone. Could he be any more of a mess himself?
The best part is that Chandler knows it. He owns this part of him. “When I was younger, I started using humor as a defense mechanism,” he tells his friends as if he’s his own therapist. “Hi, I’m Chandler. I make jokes when I’m uncomfortable,” he says in another moment. All of his insecurities are on display at all times as he labors to lighten the mood, to make himself the butt of the joke before anybody else can. Even in situations where others feel awkward — and he’s not really even involved — he feels the need to step in and say something.
It’s why so many of us love him. We’ve all been terrified and we’ve all felt unmoored and we’ve all worried about what others think of us. It’s a true testament to Matthew Perry and the way he made Chandler Bing, who could easily have been an over-the-top irritation with too many gag lines, into a three-dimensional person that we all felt like we could text or call or page (depending on which season of Friends you’re on) at any moment.
Giving birth to my third and last daughter just a year ago, my husband and I watched Friends all day on TV as I labored. It was the perfect birth. We laughed through so many Chandler lines, and as much as he was there for me on my darkest days, Chandler Bing has been there for the lightest ones, too. He could’ve walked right into the delivery room out of the TV and nothing about it would’ve shocked me — that’s how real he felt. “He’s the best friend we never really had,” my own best friend texted me after we heard the news. “He would’ve loved us,” I said, and she agreed.
Chandler Bing made a lot of jokes, but he didn’t just make them for himself, he made them for you, too. Even if Chandler didn’t think he was worthy of much, he absolutely thought you — yes, you — were the best.