When Matthew Perry was on Magic FM

Perry's slot was the funniest, and saddest, thing - with one beautiful ray of light.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

For the past two Saturdays (1pm-3pm), the actor who brought us Chandler in Friends has hosted afternoon slots on Magic FM, in between performances of his play The End of Longing in the West End. Matthew Perry, now 46, promised to “share stories” (or so the original announcement from the ­station promised) and answer questions. But the person we heard talked with markedly little passion, delivering links so brief, between great swaths of music by a-ha and terrible adverts for emulsion paint, that you began to wonder if Perry had left the building. He mostly stuck to musing about his self-penned play (“Sometimes people laugh, sometimes people don’t laugh”) and the London rain.

“I live in California,” he mourned, not for the first time, “so there’s a big difference in the weather. I actually saw some sun the other day in my house here. And I rolled on the floor so my eyes would actually hit the light through my window.”

This seemed a definitively Chandler thing to do, and I couldn’t help but chortle, imagining Monica catching him doing it as she burst into the apartment carrying shopping. It reminded me of something an acquaintance told me after sitting in the audience during a recording of Friends some time in 1996. She said that without doubt it was Perry who drove the show – hilariously gracious and helpful to cast and crew, making comical little begging mimes to the audience for ever bigger laughs, and continually writing and rewriting lines and gestures and pratfalls on the spot (for both himself and the others) if things weren’t working.

The Perry we heard on Magic was evidently depressed, confessing to mostly “sleeping” when not on stage, and even when roused to confide that his favourite book was The Sun Also Rises didn’t think to share why (perhaps he was imitating Hemingway’s restrained use of description). And yet . . . that brief anecdote, that one moment of connection with the listener. That image of him rolling, as Buster Keaton might, longingly, towards a shaft of light in his ­unloved, rented house (“I’m constantly lost in London. I am at all times completely lost”). It was at once the funniest, and saddest, and most pleasing thing. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4. She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 14 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The making of a monster

Free trial CSS