Thursday, June 30, 2011

Speech Therapy

Wow only a couple days left until the big weekend. Some people may remember it as the weekend where my friends Eric and Romi got married, but anyone with any sense of history will remember it as the weekend where I made another epic wedding speech. For those of you who weren’t there, a little while back I spoke at my friend Jake’s wedding and stole the show. The rest of the night whispers of, “Sure that’s a nice wedding dress but who was the guy who made that speech???" and “Jake and Julie are lucky that their anniversary is on the same day as Todd’s speech, a day that will live in infamy.” Even the bride was wondering if she married the wrong guy. But as any one hit wonder can attest, with success comes pressure, and now with another wedding upon us and another speech on the way, I’ve got some pretty big shoes to fill. My own.
No matter how big or small the audience, public speaking is never easy.
The art of speaking at a wedding (or in this weekend’s case a rehearsal dinner) is to mix entertaining anecdotes about the bride and groom with sweet moments that will have the grandmas smiling and the bridesmaids swooning. While this may seem simple, I often have difficulty walking this tight rope because my standards for an offensive joke are much different than the standards of an adult crowd. Most of them come wanting to dance to “We Are Family” not hear jokes that could be from Family Guy. What stories can I repeat, what insults can I spew, what deep dark secrets about the groom’s past can I reveal? The answers to these questions are the difference between a great speech that will have the room buzzing and a snooze fest that will have your 97-year old Great Uncle Bernie looking at his watch, wondering why he isn’t dead yet.
"I'd rather be sleeping." -Great Uncle Bernie
A rule I’ve learned after my speech at Jake’s wedding is to never let someone film you. In today’s society where seemingly every mundane event is captured on anything from an HD camera to a cell phone video, nothing is left to the imagination. Where our Grandparents can tell us stories of the giant fish they caught when they were 8, if a friend told us about the same feat today we would demand to see visual evidence. When my speech at Jake’s wedding wasn’t caught on tape I was originally upset, but as time has passed, I realized the lack of proof has only added to the legend of my speech's greatness. I mean imagine if Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address had been recorded. Sure it would have a bunch of Youtube views by now, but the mystique would be gone. Don’t you ever go see a stand up comedian and die laughing while in the audience then go check out his DVD and it’s just not as great as you remember? Or don’t you ever have an amazing sex session and then later when you check the tape from the camera that you had set up in your cracked open closet you realize that your partner’s ass looks like a bucket of Knudsen cottage cheese and your hairy back makes you look like a horny ape out of some National Geographic documentary?
Sure it felt good, but this is what it looked like.
The human mind tends to remember things happening much more dramatically than they actually were. If you almost got hit by a car, you’d probably remember leaping out of the way of a speeding Hummer when in reality a Prius came to a stop in the crosswalk 20 feet in front of you. And if you go to an enjoyable concert you are probably updating your Facebook page with comments like “OMG Gaga is Amaze-balls!” when really she’s was just Above-Average-Balls. And at a wedding, during the speeches, since everyone wants to be entertained and see a good performance, most people have laughter at the tips of their lips and all they need is a mediocre joke here and there to bring it out of them. So when they hear a superior speech like the one I delivered at Jake’s wedding, they walk away thinking, “Holy Shit was that Eddie Murphy, Barack Obama, and Jesus all rolled into one?” And where normally wedding attendees would watch the speech again on tape with the high expectations that their memory had given them only to realize it was just a few wise cracks from a dude who looked nothing like the epic speech-Frankenstein they had formed in their mind, now they can only recall it fondly, with each joke getting funnier and funnier as more time passes.
"What did he say about my granddaughter?
No seriously. What did he say? I can't hear anything"
Another rule for groomsmen is never, and I mean never, say anything bad about the bride. Even if it’s a joke. Say what you want about the groom. How he killed that homeless guy when he was drunk. How he still owes you 10 grand from that gambling binge in Vegas. How he cheated on his then fiancĂ©e with a toothless stripper. But never say anything bad about the bride because 1) While the groom’s family most likely knows you and likes you, the bride’s family is probably wondering, “Who is this douche bag?” and one misstep can lose half your audience. 2) Women never like to be teased, especially on their wedding day, no matter how funny the joke is. Trust me. Knowing this fact and yet still ignoring it is the reason why I’m single.  3) You risk pissing off the groom and he’s the reason you’re up there in the first place. You don’t want him coming back from his honeymoon and telling you that his new bride was miserable and screaming at him the entire time because you called her a bitch in your speech. Even if that very situation proves you to be correct.
Additionally, and this is specifically for bridesmaids, don’t tell personal stories that nobody else gets. Save that for some alone time when you’ve had too much champagne and you want to get sentimental one on one. I don’t want to hear about that one time in college when you stayed in drinking boxed wine and watching the Lifetime Channel until 4 am. Unless you were both naked when it happened, nobody cares. 
If you wouldn't take diet advice from this woman,
why would you take life advice
from your alcoholic cousin Travis?
Finally, don’t give life advice, especially if you’re drunk. Nobody wants to hear how “You will have ups, you will have downs, but most importantly you will always have each other” from some drunk 30-year old who has complained about his or her spouse ever since they put on 30 pounds after their own wedding. And keep it short.  A wedding speech is like a blog entry. People will listen as long as they are entertained but if it goes on forever they will start to think about all of the better ways they could be spending their time. Speaking of, let’s wrap things up…
In the end, just make your speech heartfelt. No matter what you say, be sure you mean it. Not everyone is wise, not everyone is clever, not everyone is funny. So be yourself and do the best you can. Either way, if you’re going to be boring or shocking, sincere or sarcastic, just make sure it’s not on tape. If it sucks people will forget, and if it’s great, people will immortalize you and be talking about you for a lifetime. Let’s just hope the marriage lasts that long, too.  
Some additional wedding speech suggestions:
  • Use a microphone whenever possible. Half of the audience is probably old deaf people and God forbid you have to compete with someone’s stupid crying baby.
  • Have an accent. Everything sounds better with an accent. 
  • Memorize the speech, don’t read it. If you can set up a teleprompter, that’s a happy medium. 
  • Cry. I don’t care if you have to look into the lights or spray the lime from your vodka-tonic into your eyes. A few tears go a long way. 
  • Last but not least, never speak after the father of the bride. He’s guaranteed to have some good material on the bride and he has a free pass to rail into the groom. So he’s going to be a tough act to follow. Plus he’s paying for everything so people are going to laugh just so they don’t feel bad about cleaning out the open bar. 

Good luck!

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