Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Best Man's Toast

I was Best Man in a wedding this past weekend. The groom is a pretty easy-going guy, and he is an excellent friend of long standing, so the only hard part of that for me was the giving of the Best Man’s toast. I have innately at least the average level of fear of public speaking, and I haven’t spoken to a significant audience since I was 13 years old.* I wanted a proper speech, not just a one-sentence toast, although the groom graciously allowed that the latter would be fine if I didn’t think I was up to writing and giving something longer.

The Best Man’s speech is a tricky genre in which to write. It has to be in part a roast of the groom and perhaps the bride, the beauty of the ceremony and the bride must be noted, and it also must contain a certain amount of schmaltz. Positive things must be said about love and marriage, but not children or “family,” which might lead to nosy questions. Everything must be in balance lest someone be offended or shocked. “Is he saying the bride’s an alcoholic and the groom a poon-hound?” is something I’ve found myself asking on more than one such occasion.**

Anyway, I got a lot of praise afterwards. Of course I can’t be sure it was not the kind of praise you give the retarded girl for her indecent dancing with her grandfather. (No, this example does not concern a guest at this wedding.)

My one regret is that I didn’t play down or hide from the groom my performance anxiety. Giving the groom fewer, not more things to worry about, is ultimately the job description of the best man.

So here goes, as I had it printed out before me.


Excuse me everyone, if I could have your attention for a moment, I’d like to say a few words.

I’m David Pittelli, and I have the honor of being Brad’s best man.

Looking around today at all these guests, I am thankful that the duties of best man no longer include fending off the bride’s relatives with swordplay.

Civilization has advanced from Anglo-Saxon times, and of course Kim would make a pretty formidable swordswoman herself if it came to that.

So now that I’ve delivered a groom and a ring to the ceremony, it is my final duty and honor to make a little speech suitable for mixed company.

First I would like to thank our hosts, Kim and her parents Ruth and Bill, and Brad and his parents Priscilla and C.C. What a lovely place they’ve chosen for a June wedding.

It's my job to compliment the beautiful bride and also to say something profound about Brad. The first part is easy. Kim, you look stunning, and Brad is a very lucky man.

Like most of us here I know one half of the wedding couple much more than the other.

In fact, I have known Brad for almost 30 years.

I’d like to help you all get to know Brad as I have.

But, on advice of council…

I’m going to have to invoke my rights under the Fifth Amendment on all of that.

Brad is getting married late enough in life that, no doubt, many have seen him as a life-long bachelor...

Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

Destiny is a fickle mistress, if I’m allowed to use that word tonight.

In Brad’s case, finding a bride was merely a matter of a company hiring both him and Miss Right… after he had driven a few biotech firms into the ground.

I have been married for a few years. And while getting married was the best thing I ever did, my wife and I do have our occasional disagreements.

To deal with them, Brad, sometimes you’ll need a firm hand.

And sometimes you’ll need a delicate touch.

While washing my wife’s delicates the other day, it occurred to me that Brad really is a very good friend. He helped me through many a romantic crisis in my single days. And if you’ve got a difficult construction project, Brad is always willing to lend a hand.

And he’s more fit than he looks.

Which is a good thing, because it’s murder getting an ambulance through Salem traffic.

I’d also like to say that Brad is the most level-headed man I know and, along with his generosity, another thing that stands out is his appreciation of quality. And today, Brad, you’ve found a lady of true quality in Kim. It’s been an honor and a privilege to be your best man today.

So finally, it is my considered pleasure to say let us drink to the everlasting love and happiness of Brad and Kim!


* A debate before a prep school of 300. One reason I recently taught that class “Rejuvenating Your Shrubbery” was because I wanted to build up some practice speaking to a little group. Well, I got one student! My legions of fans let me down. It’s a good thing I’m not a cult leader, or you’d all be getting the Kool-Aid… Actually, the class size of one meant I could instead hold it in the student’s garden; and I think that worked out quite well for her and was good practice of another sort for me.

** It is fairly easy to write one-liners which might be funny if you heard them second-hand or in a movie featuring an awful toast, but which would really upset people in a real wedding. (e.g., “…No, we won’t be making midnight trips to Tijuana anymore, but John, one thing won’t change… you’ll still be paying for sex!”) It seems to me that the tension created in the audience, when they think you’ve just said, or are about to say, something wildly inappropriate, either explicitly or as double entendre, but then just barely don’t, is the basis for a lot of the humor in this genre. And of course, fitting the details of personality, family and history is a good idea, if for no other reason than so people don’t think you just lifted your material from the internet.

Here are two outtakes – jokes which didn’t quite work for me (the first perhaps too hard to follow aurally; the latter might have worked if I were gay):

I looked up the meaning of Brad’s name and discovered that Bradford is a place name meaning “broad ford” – as in a river crossing – and that Brad just means ‘broad.’ I looked up the meaning of Kimberly and found it means ‘ruler’ or ‘royal fortress.’ Go figure. “Broad” and “ruler.” Now what could that mean?

I know that whoever said that marriage and family can be work was not kidding. But to me, building a family is like planning and making a garden. The result and even the process are usually pleasant, even if you do get a little dirt under your fingernails. Now, ornamental gardening is my primary hobby. Perhaps to Brad marriage should be seen as an extended fishing trip. But then, ending up with a stinky fish would come to mind – so never mind all of that.


Southview said...

You have to learn to "CHILL". Sincerely is the key word in any of those situations. Sometimes a long well researched speech just doesn't say what you really want to say. I always found a short sincere, from the heart speech, worked best.

Anonymous said...

As a (clearly partial) bystander, I have to say that Dave's toast was amazing and very well delivered. It was the only toast of the day, it had the perfect balance of ceremony and humor, and it thrilled the happy couple.

Southview said...

That's a good thing.