COLUMN: The 'funny friend'

Lauren Rice
Actor Matthew Perry appears at the Disney ABC Television Group Summer 2010 Press Tour, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Beverly Hills, Calif., in this Sept. 1, 2010, photo. Perry, who rose to international fame for his role as Chandler Bing in the hit sitcom 'Friends,' died Oct. 28 at age 54. [Shutterstock photo]

It’s probably safe to say that middle school is a weird time for pretty much everyone. The awkwardness of trying to make friends combined with the physical changes of puberty at their most disruptive makes for a strange experience, all around. 

But a big question is about having friends. Social survival is more important than the chicken nuggets and chocolate milk at lunchtime, even if that’s not really how we look at it at the time. 

When I was in middle school (thankfully pre-pandemic) I had friends, but they weren’t my peers. They were the characters on the aptly-named hit '90s T.V. show “Friends.”

Maybe that sounds pitiful: Poor kid’s only friends were on T.V. I had acquaintances at school for sure, but when the final bell rang we went our separate ways and I checked in with my besties (who at that time were streamable on Netflix).

Monica, Rachel, Chandler, Joey, Phoebe and Ross were all of the things a person might want in a friend: kind, funny, relatable and honest. So I wouldn’t be surprised if I wasn’t the only one who fell in love with the characters and their lives. And there’s nothing wrong with feeling a little less alone. 

A favorite among these characters for me was Chandler Bing. He was a lot of things I related to, and probably needed to see in someone else. I certainly credit him with part of my current sense of humor. 

That’s why it hit me as such a shock when the news alert came up on my phone that he passed away on Saturday night. 

I was at a Halloween party when I got the notification (don’t start thinking I’m cool, I was playing euchre in the basement), and it hurt like a word I shouldn’t publish online. 

Reading obituary after obituary later that night opened my eyes to a struggle that I hadn’t seen in him before: substance misuse. 

But it makes sense in some way, because it’s hard to be the “funny friend.” Sometimes humor is a coping mechanism, and other times it’s a social survival method. Either way, people who fit into this archetype know how much pressure there can be to be funny. 

You start asking yourself, “will people still like me if I’m not funny?” 

This is a scary thing to face, because it ignores a person’s intrinsic worth and isn’t a stable mindset. I’ve wrestled with some of this before, and I won’t say I’m out of the woods yet, but I am mixing metaphors and moving toward a healthier mindset. 

Variety magazine published a story on Sunday explaining that Perry had repurposed his Malibu mansion into the “Perry House,” a sober living center. 

In an interview on “Q with Tom Power”, Perry explained how he wanted to be remembered. 

“The best thing about me, bar none, is that if someone comes up to me and says ‘I can’t stop drinking, can you help me?’ I can say yes, and follow up, and do it,” Perry said. “That’s the best thing. 

“When I die I don’t want ‘Friends’ to be the first thing that’s mentioned, I want that (Perry House) to be the first thing that’s mentioned,” he said. “And I’m going to live the rest of my life proving that.” 

This is not an obituary for Matthew Perry – well, maybe a little – it’s more of a reminder based on his experience and his message: 

  • You are not alone. 
  • You deserve love and support no matter how entertaining you are. 
  • Help is available if you need it and when you’re ready. 

It’s easy to say these things – I know I hear the first one somewhat regularly – but it’s more difficult to follow through or build a sustainable mindset with them. 

So what are the resources on campus? 

  • Counseling Center for support from a professional
  • Your real-life friends for day-to-day socializing and support
  • CMCREW for substance misuse

In the hustle and bustle of day-to-day learning, teaching and working, don’t forget to check on your friends. 

Lauren Rice is a Central Michigan Life news editor.