LOS ANGELES – Matthew Perry, the actor who died Saturday at 54, had a distinctive linguistic style that he lobbed deep into the national consciousness.
His Chandler Bing on Friends was too clever and cool for traditional TV catchphrases: Try to imagine him saying “Bazinga!” or even his roommate Joey’s “How you doin’.”
It was how Perry spoke, with an infectious inflection, that pushed his musical Chandler-speak into the American vernacular.
Chandler phrased thoughts as if he were asking a question, a variation of rising uptalk. On the page, it could read as if he were seeking reassurance or confirmation rather than making a statement. But these inflections were themselves sarcastic declarations, ripostes that did not invite discussion but instead ended it.
Chandler’s verbal style, with its untraditional emphasis on certain syllables or words for comic effect, would become one of the show’s most widely imitated signatures.
The word “be” was a favourite, as in: “Could she be more out of my league?” (from the Season 1 episode The One With the Butt) or “Could we be more white trash?” (from the Season 4 episode The One With the Cuffs).
The gimmick gained more momentum as a running in-joke, with the other Friends characters quick to mimic Chandler’s delivery.
“Could that report be any later?” Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) ribbed him (from the Season 1 episode The One With the Ick Factor). Then Ross (David Schwimmer) chimed in: “The hills are alive with the sound of music.”
When Joey (Matt LeBlanc) put on all of his roommate’s clothes as an act of revenge, his punchline was straight out of the Chandler playbook: “Could I be wearing any more clothes?” (from the Season 3 episode The One Where No One’s Ready)
This wasn’t just a matter of the characters poking fun at Chandler Bing, the sarcasm king; the actors were also (gently) teasing Perry.
Chandler’s oddball cadence wasn’t purely a character invention, but something Perry used in real life.
As a schoolboy in Ottawa, he and his pals talked that way to amuse themselves; Perry consistently credited his friends Chris and Brian Murray with developing what he called the Murray-Perry Cadence.