Since Matthew Perry’s death, fans have been celebrating his performance as Chandler in Friends. And its comic skill was never clearer than in The One Where Everybody Finds Out, writes Laura Martin.
Over the 236 episodes of Friends, Chandler has numerous laugh-out-loud moments, of which everyone will have their personal favourites. There’s season four, episode 15 where he pretends to be moving to Yemen to escape his annoying girlfriend, Janice, and in a beautiful moment of exquisitely-played farce, scuttles back through the airport gate, where Janice is waiting to see him off, pretending he doesn’t see her, before laugh-crying when he actually is forced to board the plane (“Well then, I guess I’m going to Yemen!”). Or there’s season one, episode seven when he’s stuck in an ATM vestibule with the Victoria’s Secret model Jill Goodacre and launches into a tortured inner monologue (“Gum would be perfection? I loathe myself,” he scolds) that hits every comic beat, all the while exposing Chandler’s crippling sense of inadequacy. But if there’s just one episode that encapsulates the scope of Perry’s gifts as Chandler, it’s perhaps The One Where Everybody Finds Out.
A glorious game of bluff
Coming halfway through season five, it is the climax to the storyline in which Chandler and Monica have been secretly seeing each other. When Phoebe accidentally observes the couple in the throes of passion, she and Rachel decide that she should seduce Chandler, in a bid to force him to admit he’s going out with Monica.
In the opening skit of the episode, we get an example of Perry’s unique delivery that famously changed the way millennials spoke, when the gang mention Monica and Rachel’s ever-nude neighbour Ugly Naked Guy’s butt. “And now we’re done with the chicken fried rice,” Chandler says, staring at his takeaway carton, his downward inflection on the sentence as ever serving as a counterpoint to the peppy and upwardly-rising intonation of his co-stars. Perry later explained in his 2022 memoir how he honed his niche in comedy via his distinct line-readings. “I read the words in an unexpected fashion, hitting emphases that no one else had hit… I didn’t know it yet, but my way of speaking would filter into the culture across the next few decades,” he wrote. “For now, though, I was just trying to find interesting ways into lines that were already funny, but that I thought I could truly make dance.”
The proceeding love-bluff game is a delightful display of slapstick, in which having cottoned on to the fact Phoebe and Rachel have found out about their relationship, Chandler and Monica decide to play them at their own game. “The messers become the messees!” exclaims Chandler delightedly.
The seduction scene perfectly demonstrates Perry’s impeccable comic creativity and timing. Chandler has to go through the push-pull of both pretending to be into the idea of a hook-up with Phoebe just enough, while stopping things from going too far. As Chandler tries to force an air of insouciant cool, Perry masterfully plays with the many layers of body language required of him, which really adds to the joke: take Chandler’s fake-jaunty little walk into his flat with Phoebe or his hand hovering over her breast then rising to lie awkwardly upon her shoulder instead, as he almost shudders.