It’s been over eight years since we last saw the notorious Central Perk café and its sextet of dysfunctional but memorable stars on Friends; we’ve often wondered when we’d sit down to one of the actors’ post-couch projects and be entertained by the same charm, wit and sarcasm that graced the original. While Matt LeBlanc continues his shlong jokes over on Episodes, Lisa Kudrow steals the net with Web Therapy and yet another Jennifer Aniston-led romantic comedy dances at the box office; the ever-sarcastic post-Chandler Matthew Perry’s new NBC hit Go On just received a full season pickup by the fall premiere ratings-leading Peacock network.
Go On focuses on Perry’s character Ryan King, a sharp-tongued radio sportscaster whose boss (played superbly by John Cho) sends him to a support group after a work meltdown following the recent death of his wife. Surrounded by his therapy group, led by Tony winner Laura Benanti and including Julie White, Bill Cobbs and Suzy Nakamura, Ryan begins to find the key to “the healing process” isn’t as insipid as he might have expected, and this group may be what he needs to get his life back on track.
Perry sat down with Playboy.com and a number of other outlets to chat about playing the line between grief and humor on Go On, the similarities between Ryan and Chandler and pulling his past into his comedy. (Editor’s note: Questions are from multiple press.)
Q: With Go On, how do you take a situation that is at its heart serious and make it funny?
Perry: That’s the very tonal challenge of this show, and nobody knew whether it was going to work. Nobody knew whether people were going to laugh at these sad situations. But Scott, in the pilot, just did that tone thing perfectly, so there was a lot of funny things, but at the base of it is a very sad story. And then I think it was the third episode when we did a comedic run about — I had said that it’s hard to tell people that my wife has passed away, I should just get vanity plates that say it, and then everybody starts pitching on what those vanity plates could say, like “dead wife” or “no mo wife” and things like that. And that was a really risky scene and people loved it. So then we knew that audiences were going to laugh at this stuff.
Q: Do you pull from tough times in your life when you’re working on comedy?
Perry: Yes, you pull from everything. I think just to be a comedian or somebody who’s trying to be funny, you have to have some darkness behind it; I think all comedians are able to draw on that, and that’s why some comedians who do dramatic work can do some of the best dramatic work. Like Robin Williams and Michael Keaton and Tom Hanks. So in this show I certainly draw on my past, and it helps.
Q: You’ve said in the past that you have a tendency to avert a personal thing and to go with the joke whenever you can instead. Is this still the case?
Perry: Well, I don’t think that is a current trait of mine; it certainly used to be. One of the tenets of Chandler was that, given any kind of serious situation, he will divert it by trying to make it a joke. And it makes for a very good character in a sitcom, because it’s a built-in excuse for someone to be funny.
Ryan King, my character in Go On, in the pilot is certainly like that, but by episode three or four, for the most part he has realized that he needs this group of people sort of in spite of himself. So he’s less apt to make fun of it now and more apt to take part in it. But, he’s a character just like myself that’s a little older — or a lot older — and is less in need of doing that.
Q: Ryan is a sportscaster. Why did the show go with that profession for him?
Perry: I think it was Scott Silveri, who wrote the pilot — and this answer is filled with stereotypes so I apologize in advance — but I think because the show is so touchy-feely and it so is dealing with emotions and people talking about their problems, that Scott wanted to go unapologetically male with the sports part of it; you know, he wanted guys to watch it too. And I think it lends itself to a smart-alecky kind of guy on the radio who is not prepared to be talking his feelings and emotions all the time. So the cliché answer is my character being in sports just gives something for everyone to enjoy on the show.
Q: There have been a number of comparisons between the characters of Chandler and Ryan — an evolved Chandler. The guys you play have broad appeal; what is the key to appealing to that audience?
Perry: Oh, I don’t know. I think it’s sort of a wearing his heart on his sleeve kind of people that I’ve played a lot, and I think people can relate to that journey — maybe not that openness about it, but that journey. I like to play people that say things that normally people don’t say — that they’re sort of feeling or thinking, but that they wouldn’t say. And I think that both Chandler and Ryan King have that.
But I do agree with you; when I read Go On, it was almost like this is Chandler 10 years later if something really bad had happened to him. And hopefully both characters look the same, except one looks a little bit older.
Q: Tell us a little bit more about your participation with the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. What exactly do you do?
Perry: That is Drug Court, and I’m an ambassador for them. It’s a group of judges across the country that take first-time nonviolent drug offenders and put them into treatment programs instead of just throwing them into jail. And I’m really proud to be a part of that whole thing because it’s a no-brainer. Everybody agrees that it’s a good thing. It’s a bipartisan thing; republicans and democrats both are behind it. And it’s good because it just doesn’t throw these drug addicts away; it puts them into a treatment facility where they can become valuable members of society instead of just putting them in prison.
Go On airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on NBC.