During the traditional reception following a Western wedding, the best man usually gives a speech to toast the groom. It is usually funny, with light-hearted jokes at the fellow's expense, and helps the second cousins learn something about the groom.

So you're someone's best man and now you have to give a speech: now what?

First, congratulations, mazel tov -- the groom obviously knows you well enough that pretty much anything you have to say will be fine with him. He's not your audience.

Remember your audience: About half the people in attendance will know the bride much better than they know the groom. Preface any in-joke with a brief explanation such as "As you may know, Joe is quite fond of kielbasa...", so that nobody feels excluded. There are also some grandmothers in the crowd. Some of them may tell a dirty joke better than you ever could, but others are on heart medication. Keep it light.

Paint a picture: The main purpose of your speech, other than making a suave, witty impression on the maid of honor and avoiding the lifelong ire of offended subjects, is to talk about the groom. Use an anecdote that shows what kind of person he is: compassionate, handy with tools, etc. DO NOT attempt to portray him as a drunken reprobate or a sheep fiend, at least as the main focus of your speech. Subtle jabs are well-appreciated, but the groom is presumably a good friend and you want others to like him. Tell them what makes him such a great guy.

Deal honestly with your stage fright: You may be tempted, on the day of the wedding, to gain courage from alcohol. Unfortunately, drink tends to give you the idea that you are a magnificent orator in exact inverse proportion to your actual performance. You may gain practice through Toastmasters, where you will also certainly learn more about crafting and delivering a damn fine speech.

Learn by example: Your local library may have books on this subject. You might also find a copy of the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, which contains some of the best, and worst, best man's speeches in cinematic history. If you can find examples of what others have made of this opportunity, you need not feel you're going it alone. At the very least, you can take comfort in the fact that you will certainly do a better job than I did in my first speech as someone's best man.

 

My speech for Ed Hennis's wedding:

"Oh, shit. I knew I forgot something."

(I am not making this up. Fortunately, a fellow groomsman was in Toastmasters and stepped up to the plate so graciously that I felt relieved rather than slighted. It was a rather unusual wedding, too, in that only friends -- not family -- attended.)

 

My speech for Adam Smargon's wedding:

Ladies and gentlemen:

According to tradition, it was my duty as best man to marry Chrissy, if Adam had not recovered from the bachelor party. It is my somewhat less pleasant duty to make a speech about Adam. It could be worse -- I could have to sit there and listen to me make a speech about Adam.

I should point out that in accordance with the wishes of the bride and groom, all the jokes I'm using tonight are made from 100% post-consumer recycled material.

I first met Adam at the University of Florida (go Gators) many years ago. We have driven through Gainesville in the middle of the night, sometimes for prizes and sometimes for lack of anything better to do.

There are so many stories I could tell, but I won't tell them. Instead, I'll remind Adam that we agreed on small unmarked bills, or else I'll post it on the Internet.

I met Chrissy on Valentine's Day when Adam called to announce their engagement. Adam said, "Say hello, Chrissy", and without missing a beat she said: "'Hello, Chrissy'". I knew then that this was no ordinary match, made on earth. However, I am pleased to learn that I was wrong about the specifics: the match was actually made in Heaven.

And what more can I say, except "Please don't kill me, guys"? Let's all toast the bride and groom. To Adam and Chrissy!

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