Some do it with Valium, others with Pinot. There are those who breathe deeply and those who rehearse in suit and tie.
A minority conquer those pre-wedding speech nerves; the rest suffer throughout the process. What they all have in common, is a lack of confidence in their material. Particularly the jokes. Best men, grooms and fathers of the bride have nightmares about the punchline that falls flat. The tumbleweed blowing across the dancefloor. The feeling of complete and utter exposure to a critical audience.
But in our experience, there is a cure. And that’s to create content that is so fresh, relevant and unique to the happy couple that the speaker can’t wait to stand up and deliver. And at the very heart of that process is the joke writing. Get it wrong and you can feel embarrassed and exposed. Get it right and you really will feel that the world is laughing with you.
There is a huge difference between humour that makes your friends laugh down the pub, and wedding speech jokes, that will work with a humour-thirsty audience willing you to make them laugh. The temptation, of course, is to head for our old friend “Google”, but based on the speeches we get to read, we can honestly say that you should avoid cut-and-paste like the plague.
Here are ten types of joke to avoid, including some real examples of wedding speech jokes that we’ve encountered (the names have been changed to protect the innocent!)
The “In” Joke
There really is nothing less likely to get a laugh than an obscure reference to the night you, Keith and Barry spent in Thailand, with the stolen wig and the bucket of fish. This might well have been the most hilarious thing ever. But unless the rest of the audience knows exactly what you’re referring to you’ll leave them baffled and excluded. Remember, a laugh by one or two people in an otherwise silent room, is almost as bad as no laugh at all!
Example: “Rachel’s always been the centre of attention. All I’m going to say are the words wolverine, school fete, and photographer!”
Example: “Chris had a great time on the stag do. Just ask that friendly bloke in the sombrero” (Wink at Chris).
Jokes that need to be identified as jokes
We’ve all been in the position of looking at a piece of modern art, thinking: “What is that? Why did they do it? My bed’s just as disgusting as that but they didn’t give me the Turner Prize!” There are curators who will quiet happily explain it to you, of course, but let’s be honest … by that point, you’ve already made up your mind whether it moves you or not.
It’s the same with a joke or funny story. The audience shouldn’t have to be told that it’s funny. In other words, never, ever, preface a joke by saying: “This next story is absolutely hilarious!” or end by saying: “It was quite literally the most amusing thing that’s ever happened to anyone!” Not only will this set a very high bar for you to leap over, but will also highlight the intrinsic un-funniness of the “you had to be there” variety of story.
Example: “We were literally falling about laughing”.
Example: “Wait until you hear this. It’s insane! You’ll absolutely love it.”
While we’re on it, let’s just put a blanket ban on the word ‘literally’. For ever.
The over-explained joke
A good wedding speech joke should be a relatively brief set-up, followed by a punchline (not a 10,000 word thesis followed by a punchline). For instance, we know that the chicken crossed the road, but what we don’t need to know is the chicken’s entire life story leading up to that moment, from his early years as a young egg. Get to the point!
Example: John’s always been a big music fan. He’s always got his headphones on, singing along to various things, especially when he’s at work. Everyone always takes the mickey out of him for this, because it’s a bit of a manly atmosphere. You can imagine it, can’t you? And he really likes stuff that’s not really considered that manly, you know. I mean, he doesn’t really look like the kind of bloke who’s into that kind of stuff, not when you consider his MIllwall tattoos, and his shaved head, and everything. Anyway, you can imagine him there, working with all those greasy mechanics, singing along to his favourite tunes by Abba, and Madonna, and Dolly Parton: Dancing Queen, Material Girl, Jolene … those are just a few of the nicknames they’ve given him over the years.
By the time we finally get to anything resembling a punchline, most of the audience have either lost interest, fallen asleep, or passed away out of sheer boredom.
Poorly executed jokes
Sometimes the essence of a good wedding speech joke is there, but the execution is so confusing, that they’re barely even identifiable as jokes. In fact, some jokes can only be identified by their dental records.
“Poorly executed” wedding speech joke: I really can’t go on for too long, because my wife has told me that she’ll cut it if I go over ten minutes. My speech, that is, not my throat, although I wouldn’t be surprised. Only joking, dear, I know you’d never do that.
Should become: I can’t speak for long because of my throat. If I go over ten minutes, my wife is planning to cut it.
The “Me, me, me” joke
It’s your speech. You’re the centre of attention, right? To paraphrase Martine McCutcheon: “This is your moment”. There’s just one problem. When it comes to a wedding speech, it’s not an opportunity to big yourself up, especially by belittling the person you’re talking about.
Example: “Gary’s never been as successful as me, and he admits that”
Example: “Brian’s never been good with women. I was always the one with the pulling power”.
Example: “One of the things that Rachel loves most about me is my modesty”.
Audience participation jokes (and props!)
When it comes to audience participation, as well as the effectiveness of props, you’re at the mercy of several unpredictable factors. Will the audience respond in the way you’re expecting them to? Can people at the back of the room be able to see your props, or photographs? Will you be standing up there alone, frightened, and wishing the ground would open up and swallow you?
Example: I think everyone here today is aware of Gary’s catchphrase. All together now! (WAIT FOR RESPONSE)
Despite the lyrics of a popular song, silence is NOT golden!
At a wedding, you’re speaking to a wide variety of people, across every age, class, and race barrier, so this definitely isn’t the time to pull out Roy Chubby Brown’s greatest hits (Best Men, I’m looking at you!). If it wouldn’t offend Great Aunt Beryl, the friends who’ve brought their young children along, or your extremely religious Uncle Francis who’s gone on to do very well at the Vatican, then you’re probably OK.
Example: Darren’s a bit of a (CENSORED) at times. I remember one night when he (CENSORED) my (CENSORED) with a (CENSORED) that he bought from a dodgy website.
Jokes that used to be funny
Some wedding speech jokes are well-worn for a reason. They are actually funny (or were, when they were first told, sometime around the Neolithic era). For instance, you might be a great fan of caviar, but if you were force-fed caviar, for every single meal, until it was running out of your nostrils, then the novelty would soon wear off.
Example: “It’s been a very emotional day. Even the cake’s in tiers”.
Example: “This isn’t the first time today I’ve risen from a warm seat with paper in hand”.
Example: “Making a speech is like making love to the queen. It’s a great honour but nobody wants to do it”.
Jokes that are far too personal
There’s nothing wrong with poking fun at the subject of your speech (far from it) but we really don’t need to hear about the groom’s experience with various ex-girlfriends, your daughter’s bodily functions when she was a toddler (or a drunken teenager), or the type of thing you and your beautiful new wife got up to behind closed doors in the early days of your relationship.
Example: I hope my new-in laws won’t mind if I tell a quick story about the first time Claire and I were “intimate” with each other.
You hope they won’t mind? Of course they’ll mind!
Jokes that are just insults in disguise
Despite what might seem like a side-splitting “gag” down the pub, an insult is really not a joke, and that’s exactly how it will come across with your audience: Insulting.
Example: “I’m not going to go on and on about Phil’s weight, lack of hair, eczema, and body odour. You’ve all got eyes. You can see how repulsive he is.
Ouch! There are easier, gentler, funnier ways of bringing up Phil’s various “quirks”. Don’t forget that Phil is surrounded by friends and family that clearly love him very much. As such, you’re suddenly the enemy!
We hope that you’ve found this this list useful. Hopefully you’ll now be able to avoid the many pitfalls that come hand-in-hand with joke telling at weddings. The aim is for each joke to link-in seamlessly to the speech, with no awkward pauses and no opportunity for tumbleweed moments.
Needless to say, we’d also be delighted to help you with your jokes, or write them and your speech for you. Please give us a call anytime, to discuss the best way forward.
+44 (0)207 118 1600