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Road to stardom not always easy for man of many jokes

Says fame wasn't what he expected it to be.
/ Source: Dateline NBC

You can understand why people confuse Matthew Perry with his character, Chandler Bing. There's a heavy dose of Matthew in Chandler: the wiseguy attitude, the nervous energy, the unsinkable sense of humor. But now that he's saying goodbye to "Friends," Matthew admits there are times he just wants to chuck his inner good humor man and get, well, real.

Matthew Perry: “I've always wanted to go on ‘The Tonight Show,’ and Jay says, ‘So, how you doing?’ And I go, ‘Not good.’ And just like, really just like tell the truth, or like, even extend it… ‘To tell you the truth, Jay, I have no idea which end is up and down in my life anymore.’” 

After 10 years of interviews about "Friends," who could blame Matthew Perry for wanting to shake things up?

Katie Couric: “I would think one of the best things about ending this chapter and saying goodbye to ‘Friends’ is you don't have to be interviewed by people like me anymore.”

Perry: “Oh, no. In fact, this is the first time you and I have done a one-on-one interview.”

Couric: “That's true.”

Perry: “So, I'm all a twitter.”

Couric: “Oh, I'm sure you are.”

Do I detect a little sarcasm? On "Friends," Chandler-speak was a dialect all it's own, often imitated, but never duplicated. 

Couric: “How much, Matthew, are you like Chandler Bing?”

Perry: “It's a-- you know, that, yes.”

Couric: “You've never been asked that before, have you?”

Perry: “No, no. And I have the standard joke for it, which is, I look a lot like him.”

Couric: “Oh, that's good.”

Perry: “That's what I say to that.”

If it seems Matthew Perry is always going for a laugh, it's because he's used to getting them. And has been ever since he was six.  

Perry: “You know, when you get your first laugh, like at six years old. And I'm, you know, I pretend to fall down, and people laugh. And just something tingles in your brain. And you're like, oh, I want more of this. And if there's any way to get paid doing it, wow. Utopia. You know?”

But his childhood was far from perfect. Matthew, an only child, was born in Massachusetts, then raised in Canada by his single mother, Suzanne.

Couric: “Your parents got divorced when you were quite young-- when you were just one.”

Perry: “I was one. Yeah. So, I didn't blame myself quite yet. But…”

Still, Matthew idolized his father, John Bennett Perry, a working actor who would call his son long-distance when he was a part of some must-see-TV.  

Perry: “That was mostly the way that I saw my father when I was young -- on TV shows, and you know, getting shot through a door on Mannix, or something like that. That's my Dad.”

His dad is also the studly sailor in those Old Spice commercials. 

Couric: “He's very attractive, by the way. I noticed the father-son thing in ‘People's’ sexiest—“

Perry: “You saw the “People” magazine thing? That was one of the best moments I've ever had.”

Couric: “Really? Why?”

Perry: “Just because I get to show up to that photo shoot with my father. And he and I really enjoy sharing time. And it's just so corny. The sexiest father and son?”

Couric: “Well, I have to tell you, your dad is hot.”

Perry: “Okay, I've been hearing that my whole life!”

Life before 'Friends'
When he was 16, Matthew moved to Hollywood, hoping a little more than the smell of his father's cologne would rub off on him. 

Perry: “I did a pilot called, ‘LAX 2194,’ which was about baggage handlers in the year 2194 at LAX.”

Couric: “Futuristic--now that sounds riveting.”

Perry: “Yeah, and I was wearing a futuristic shirt and sorting out aliens' luggage. That's what the show was.”

Couric: “I'm so shocked it wasn't a hit.”

Perry: “Yeah, well, thank God. Because if it had gotten picked up, I wouldn't have been able to do this.”

Art was about to imitate life. In creating his alter-ego Chandler, Kevin Bright, Marta Kaufman, and David Crane asked Matthew Perry to just be himself.

Perry: “What they did was they took all of us out to lunch separately, and said, tell us about your lives. I mean, we know, you can act. And you've got this part. And just, tell us a little bit about yourself."

And I remember saying two things -- Well, I'm not an unattractive man. But I'm just awful with women. And have really bad relationships-- relationship problems. And I'm scared to ask people out on dates, you know? That's the kind of character you haven't seen before. And I also am not comfortable in any silence at all. At the time--and this is ten years ago. But let me keep talking, so there's no silence.”

Couric: “Did you tell them you're a bit of a wiseacre?”

Perry: “Yeah, well, I told them that. But I said, I'm not-- I have to break any awkward moment, or any silences, with a joke. And what better character for a sitcom is that? It's a built in excuse for him to be funny.”

Perry: “I wanted this. And you know, of course it wasn't what I expected it to be. And that was weird, too. “

Couric: “What'd you expect it to be?”

Perry: “I expected it to just be-- you know, that everything was going to be okay now. Because I spent like five years complaining, like, if I just got that job where I could express myself creatively and like all those dramatic talks that you're saying to women, to try to—“

Couric: “Try to score?”

Perry: “--take them home. And you don't really mean-- no. And then, I got it. And then for about eight months, I was just thrilled. Like I would go to like the Beverly Center and walk around. And like yep.”

Couric: “See if anybody—“

Perry: "Yep. Yep. Yeah, thanks for watching. Like I would—“

Couric: “That's so sad.”

Perry: “I was really-- oh, it's so sad. It's awful.”

Battle with inner demons took a toll
He might have felt comfortable in the white hot spotlight of "Friends,” but by the show's fifth season, Matthew Perry was feeling more and more uncomfortable in his own skin.

Perry: “You get famous, which is great, and then you kind of realize, no, reality, same issues are coming up. And somebody smart once told me that it was like my fantasies had come true. Not my dreams had come true. And I think that's what it was.”

But 1997 seemed more like a nightmare. That was the year Matthew Perry checked himself into rehab for addiction to prescription pills, and he continued to battle addiction until 2001. Now at age 34, Perry says he's clean. 

Perry: “You have to get scared enough. That's the thing. You have to get scared enough to realize -- the expression that's commonly used is like, you have a drink in front of you. And you don't know what's going to happen if you finish it. And you don't know what's going to happen if you don't. You know? Like in that moment where you get so scared, that you just ask for help. You know? And it's tough to do without fully bottoming out, which I was lucky. I kind of health-wise, almost, and spiritually bottomed out. But you know, I didn't lose everything.”

Couric: “You feel great now.”

Perry: “Yeah. Yeah. I'm a little trepidatious about the future. And you know, what's in store business-wise, I suppose.”

Couric: “Are you scared?”

Perry: “But see, I chose trepidatious.”

Couric: “Okay, sorry.”

Perry: “I'm trying to sound smart.”

Couric: “I try to use easier, monosyllabic words.”

Perry: “Yeah, see, I even put glasses on for this.”

After "Friends," you can still expect to see Matthew making occasional cameos on "The West Wing.” This spring he co-stars in "The Whole Ten Yards," and next year he'll star in a movie with his dad. Yes, they're playing father and son. But if Matthew Perry's still “trepidacious,” here's why.

Perry: “I've had three auditions in the last 10 years, and gotten none of them. So, I'm 0 for three.”

Couric: “Well, I think your resume is a little more impressive now than—"

Perry: “No, but this was during ‘Friends.’ They're like, no, no thanks. I was just like, but people bring me soup where I work, what do you mean? You're saying no to me? Nobody says no to me here. People bring me soup.”