Matthew Perry on ‘Go On’

The former “Friends” star tells us about his new comedy series on NBC.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Matthew Perry has become a regular at the Television Critics Association summer press tours. He’s launched several shows since “Friends” but he thinks “Go On” could be the keeper.

The half hour dramedy puts him in group therapy, where there’s plenty of outrageous humor, but also a tragic heart as the show deals with grief counseling. We spoke with Perry about “Go On” and his continuing attempts to play a darker character than Chandler Bing.


CraveOnline: How do you find the balance with this sensitive subject? Do you have experience with people grieving, and the line between comedy and tragedy?

Matthew Perry: Well, behind everything is the fact that this guy just lost his wife, so there’s the reality of that. I don’t have a lot of experience grieving. I have a ton of experience of sitting in circles and talking about my problems. So I’ve been doing that for a long, long time so I didn’t have to do much research. The interesting thing is, and you would only know this if you were in such circles, but that common bond creates a lot of laughter, a lot of jokes, a lot of funny, a lot of laughing.

CraveOnline: Do you believe in the 12 step system?

Matthew Perry: I do, yes, and this character I think in a nonlinear fashion will. That kind of belief usually comes out of a sense of need and he realizes at the end of the pilot that he needs that.

CraveOnline: How good are you at going on yourself?

Matthew Perry: I’m getting better and better at it.

CraveOnline: What’s your trick?

Matthew Perry: Well, not being alone with it. That’s what he has to learn. That’s what the thing about this show is, is that people sort of need people. He reluctantly finds that out for himself.

CraveOnline: In your post-”Friends” career you’ve been attracted to darker roles. Is this the one that’s going to crack the code of what audiences want and letting you be edgier?

Matthew Perry: I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. I know that I just love the material. I know that it breeds a kind of acting that I really am excited about. As I said, I got the chance to do both things that I really enjoy, doing comedy and drama. I hope it’s a sympathetic character and I hope I’m playing him in a sympathetic way while still being funny.

CraveOnline: Were you resistant to therapy at first, did you used to think it was bogus?

Matthew Perry: Not really. My feeling on therapy is it’s a luxury and if you’re fortunate enough to get some smart people to talk to about life, then that’s fortunate and you should go for it.

CraveOnline: So you weren’t like the character?

Matthew Perry: No, he had no reason to go to therapy. His life was he liked sports, he liked his buddies, loved his wife and had this awful thing not happened to him, he probably would have never dug deeper than that.

CraveOnline: Were you a fan of “The Bob Newhart Show?”

Matthew Perry: Oh, absolutely.

CraveOnline: Do you see any parallels with a comedy centered around therapy?

Matthew Perry: Yeah, there are some parallels. The difference being that I’m not a shrink, I’m one of the patients. Bob Newhart was such a genius, is such a genius at reactionary comedy, reacting to kooky weird things and I get to do that, but I also get to take part in the group, but yeah, we talk about Bob Newhart a lot.

CraveOnline: Do you watch The “Newsroom?”

Matthew Perry: Yes, I love it. I love it.

CraveOnline: How important was it for your character to be a sports DJ instead of rock?

Matthew Perry: I’m glad that it’s sports, but if he was a rock DJ I would’ve done it too. It wasn’t because of that that I signed on. I think we're sort of loosely basing it on a few people, Rich Eisen, Jim Rome, Colin Coward, who are sort of a very opinionated sports guy on the radio. So he's successful at his job, but there's always sort of upward national hopes, potentially. But in his  what he's doing right now, he's definitely good at his job and successful.

CraveOnline: Whenever a “Friends” star does a new show, there’s always talk of when would other “Friends” stars guest star. Will you put that off or lean into it more?

Matthew Perry: Sort of the same answer. I think it would be confusing. We’re trying to put out something new so it would be very confusing I think at first, but ultimately I love those guys so it would be nice to work with them. 


CraveOnline: Since your acting days at the Buckley School, into television, film, what would you say is the best role you've ever had?

Matthew Perry: Well, it would just be stupid to not say this one. [Laughs] That is potentially true about  about this part, because I get to do a bunch of  a bunch of things all at one time. I really like doing comedy and I really like doing drama, and this is a really funny show. But one of the scenes in the show gave me one of the biggest acting challenges I've had dramatically, so I really like this and it's either this or The Whole Ten Yards.

CraveOnline: How much time are we going to spend seeing you at the sports radio job versus in the group sessions?

Matthew Perry: You know, I don't know. I think everybody's figuring that out. I don't know what the percentage of time spent doing sports and time spent in the group. I guess it will vary from week to week.

CraveOnline: Are you a sports fan and will you get to say the things Matthew Perry would really want to say about sports?

Matthew Perry: I think that's really Scott's opportunity to vent and to say stuff that he wants to say but it's really fun for me because we're going to be able to invite famous athletes to be on the show. Terrell Owens is in the first episode. Whenever I come across a famous athlete, I'm shameless. I'll just ask them to be on the show, and to my face they've all said yes so far.

CraveOnline: If you had an opportunity to have one sports rant,what would the subject be?

Matthew Perry: Oh, man. Well, I guess I would hook into the whole moneyball thing and how unfair it is that certain baseball teams have $200 million rosters and certain teams have $50 million rosters. I probably would talk about that a little bit.

CraveOnline: Speaking of “Friends” again…

Matthew Perry: Oh, you meant a couple [questions] back.

CraveOnline: What did you learn about what made that work so well for so long and what does “Go On” have that “Friends” had too?

Matthew Perry: OK. First of all, I just wanted to point out that The Whole Ten Yards basically starts where The Whole Nine Yards left off. So it's just basically a continuation of the same original story. [Laughs] "Friends," it was just great chemistry. It was great chemistry. It had great writing, it had great directing and it had really  really great acting. 

So a little bit of magic happened there. You never know when and how that's going to happen. All you have  you just want to surround yourself with funny, talented people, which I certainly have done here with this group. Couple of exceptions.

CraveOnline: You have a great sense of humor about your film roles. Did that come after the films came out?

Matthew Perry: Yeah.

CraveOnline: During them were you as hopeful about all of them that they’d all turn out well?

Matthew Perry: Yeah, when you’re working on a movie, you’re so close to it, you can’t help but think it’s going to be good. Then some of them were not good and didn’t do great so you have to have a sense of humor about it.

CraveOnline: How did your Canadian background influence you?

Matthew Perry: I don't know what it is about Canada where a lot of funny comes out of Canada. I don't know, a lot of people being very polite and overly polite but also a lot of funny people. I don't know why that is but I loved Ottowa, it’s beautiful and yeah, very different than here.

CraveOnline: Do you ever go back?

Matthew Perry: I have some uncles and aunts. I have some buddies in Ottowa. I went back there about five years ago I think to watch the Senators in their playoff run.

CraveOnline: A lot of people in this room really liked "Mr. Sunshine." What did you learn from that experience that you can use to help this show get a bigger audience?

Matthew Perry: Oh, well, first of all, this is the room where people like "Mr. Sunshine?” I wish I had just stayed in this room that whole year. [Laughs] The bad news for me is that Scott created a TV show for me better than the one that I created for myself, so this show is  this show. It's just better. 

Scott's a better writer than I am. I gravitate towards sort of broken characters who try to be better people, and that setup is just much better here, first of all. That guy was sort of in a bad mood and no one really knew why. This guy has had some very dramatic things happen to him, and he's in denial when you meet him. So it's a sort of built-in excuse to be really funny, much like this answer was.

CraveOnline: As you’ve been exploring these darker characters, the Showtime pilot that didn’t get picked up as well, what have you learned about what works for you and what doesn’t?

Matthew Perry:  Well, in my efforts to have a TV show and come back, the characters have progressively gotten nicer. The Showtime show was about a terrible guy, and I thought it was genius and everybody went, "Heehee, I don't want to watch that."  And then, “Mr. Sunshine,” he was sort of down and out and now this guy is… he's a nicer, more well intended guy.

CraveOnline: Why do people want you to be nicer than you want you to be?

Matthew Perry: I've been asking that question for many years. No, I don't know. I don't know. I don't know why that is. But you certainly want to play a guy that people can get behind and root for, and I think that this character does have that.