One of the most common questions I’m asked is what proportion of a best man speech should be funny and what proportion sincere. The answer depends very much on the individual, but I generally advise a 60/40 balance in favour of a funny best man speech.
Although you have an obligation to ‘big up’ the groom, it’s important your speech entertains. This means there’s plenty of room for you to be witty, creative and clever. I’d suggest a sort of ‘sincerity sandwich’, where you start with a brief shot at sincerity, move into lightly mocking him, and then conclude with a few more genuine sentiments.
Here are some tips on how to write a funny best man speech that is still sincere and won’t offend your audience.
Keep it Universal
Don’t write your speech for the boys on the stag do. Whilst some of your mates may be in stitches by you recounting the story of you shaving the groom’s eyebrow off as he slept in a golf buggy dressed in his Spider Man outfit, the rest of the guests are unlikely to find it funny and you won’t get the laughs you’re hoping for. When you’re thinking about what to put in your speech, it’s best to keep your material as universal as possible.
Avoid Stand-Alone Jokes
This may sound odd. After all, this is the one wedding speech where people expect jokes. But punch lines that fall flat can be a nightmare for any speaker, and there are plenty of ways to make people laugh without one.
Work with Contradictions and Opposites
If the groom is a renowned drinker, then highlight his sober moments. If he loves Man United then point out your worries that he was a City fan. If he’s particularly camp, send him up as being macho. Similarly, compare and contrast his passions and achievements as a boy to the present day. This can create a lovely balance between sincerity and humour in your best man speech.
Play with the Audience’s Expectations
Ask them a question about the groom, suggest three potential answers, then surprise them with an entirely unexpected fourth.
Keep it Clean (ish)
Avoid crude jokes, mentions of ex-girlfriends, and anything that might insult the guests and, in particular, the bride! The best man speech has a reputation for being a bit saucy, but it’s easy to go too far. Don’t judge a potential story or joke on whether you find it funny, but on whether your audience will find it offensive.
Having said that, don’t feel you have to give the groom an easy ride. You can still get away with quite a lot. When a best man says that the groom is a misguided fool, the audience automatically take it as a joke. Everybody in the room knows the only reason he’s giving the speech is because he and the groom are such good mates. So any insults the best man delivers immediately register as insincere.
Use Language Accessible to Everyone
If people don’t understand your joke, they won’t find it funny. So don’t use a long word when a short one will do, don’t use a clever pun if many of the guests have travelled from overseas, and don’t use slang that only a small group of your friends will understand.
If something complicated really is necessary, then look confused and explain it with tongue firmly in cheek, rather than trying to patronise.
Pick a Theme
Anecdotes and observations are key elements of many speeches, but they don’t always link together naturally. Choosing a theme that ties everything together can help it flow. Also, an original and amusing theme is often the difference between a decent speech and a great one.
Keep Yourself Separate
It’s tempting to focus your best man speech on your own relationship with the groom. However, if you labour the point too heavily it can start to sound like narcissism, and be very boring for everyone else.
Avoid Long Stories
I strongly recommend you limit specific anecdotes to a maximum of two or three sentences each. Keeping it snappy will hold people’s attention, and if a story isn’t working, you can move swiftly on.
So, to Recap…
- Your audience is larger than the stag party
- Steer clear of exes
- Try to tease, rather than to bully
- Start and end with something a little sincere
I hope that helps. Remember, the best way to judge whether you’ve written a funny best man speech is to try it out on others.
Guest post by Lawrence Bernstein of Great Speech Writing
Image from Rebecca Prigmore Photography