Voices: My favourite Chandler Bing scene wasn’t just funny. It shows Matthew Perry’s poignant impact

Matthew Perry as Chandler Bing in ‘Friends' (TBS)
Matthew Perry as Chandler Bing in ‘Friends' (TBS)

When I think of Matthew Perry portraying Chandler Bing in Friends, one particular moment gets me giggling every time.

It’s from season four episode three, The One with the Cuffs,” where Bing becomes romantically involved with Joanna, Rachel’s boss.

Joanna leaves Chandler partially undressed and handcuffed to a desk chair in her office. Rachel walks in on him; a confrontation ensues. Rachel frees him up briefly, but then realizes that means Joanna will know she went into her office unauthorized. Rachel tries to put the cuffs back on Chandler, who resists her. Somehow, Rachel ends up handcuffing him to an office drawer. Chandler begs her to free him for good, but Rachel refuses.

“I’m going to say this for the last time,” Chandler says. “Would you please just—”

At this exact moment, Chandler accidentally pulls out the drawer he is chained to, hitting himself in the back of the head.

I have watched this scene dozens of times, and each time, I have burst out laughing. I know it’s coming, and yet, every time, I laugh with the same delight. It’s not just this moment—throughout the entire episode, Rachel and Chandler’s scenes are a perfect comedic crescendo. Perry is at his best. He nails every eye contact, every pregnant pause, every bit of physical comedy. His delivery is perfect. So is his timing. (Chandler’s brief hesitation when he tries to answer Joanna’s phone and realizes he doesn’t know her last time? Gold.)

Like so many Friends fans, I was filled with deep sadness and shock when I heard that Perry had died on Saturday at the age of 54.

Just last year, Perry released his memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, in which he spoke openly of his experiences with addiction and recovery. In 2021, he took part in a long-awaited Friends reunion with his former castmates. He spoke of the past in a meaningful, thoughtful way. When, in an interview about his memoir, he was asked how he would like to be remembered, he stressed his desire to be thought of as someone who “lived well, loved well”, and strived to help others.

Perry achieved that in multiple ways, one of which was the 2013 opening of Perry House, a sober living facility for men in Malibu. He also provided support on a more individual level, according to his former Friends co-star Hank Azaria, who credited Perry with helping him get sober.

In the wake of Perry’s death, plenty of people have shared messages on social media saying how his role on Friends helped them, too, sometimes in profound ways.

Multiple people said the show – and Perry’s portrayal of Chandler specifically – helped them through difficult times, whether that’s overcoming depressive episodes, handling panic attacks or simply making them laugh on a tough day. Take a look at the “Matthew Perry saved my life” search on X (formerly Twitter) and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Making people laugh when they don’t feel like laughing is incredibly poignant — and powerful. Many dismiss a sitcom role as frivolous, but those messages make it clear that for a lot of viewers, watching Perry on Friends was anything but.

Even if you weren’t in a dark place when watching Friends, you likely experienced the particular delight that comes with watching an artist slide into a performance they are uniquely suited for. In the Friends history book I’ll Be There For You: The One About Friends, journalist Kelsey Miller recounts how Perry read three times for Chandler’s part: “once for [Friends co-creator Marta] Kauffman on on Wednesday, then Warner Bros on Thursday, and once more, for NBC, on Friday.” But Perry’s casting was “a done deal from the first line”, Miller wrote, citing Kauffman as saying: “He came in, and that was it.”

It was this talent that allowed Perry to portray Chandler’s evolution through 10 seasons, in a way that still resonates deeply with fans, 19 years after the series ended. Friends had a way of slotting into people’s lives in myriad ways. Maybe the series made you laugh on a bad day. Maybe Chandler Bing gave you someone to relate to. Maybe, like this writer (and plenty of other non-native English speakers around the world), you learned English while watching the show.

For me, it was a bit of all of those, and I am grateful for them all. Thank you for the laughs. And thank you for everything else.