They Won’t Teach You This at Toastmasters

by Kevin

in Public Speaking/Stand-Up Comedy

My wife’s brother got married Friday. I love weddings. Such a beautiful opportunity to watch people go from being on their best behavior – to abandoning all inhibition within a matter of hours.

It’s the best man’s job to make the official wedding toast, but he has crippling stage fright… so the logical thing to do was ask the former stand-up comic in the family to give the toast instead.

My response was: “Do you mean ‘toast- toast’… or ‘roast-toast?'”

“Whatever you want to do is fine.” They responded.

Okay. You asked for it.

I wrote a 5 minute no-holds-barred (and very politically incorrect) speech that became the hit of the night.

I’ll print some highlights here, then I’ll offer a couple of tips that will help you knock it out the park next time you’re asked to (dis)honor someone – and want to make sure you don’t come off looking like a nutjob.

Here’s the toast (names changed to protect the guilty):

Hi. I’m Kevin, Sal’s brother-in-law and I’m honored to be giving the toast at this special event tonight.

First, a quick announcement… since Sal is not Greek, we will bypass the ceremonious groom back-shaving and skip right to the flaming cheese dance. Opah.

As you may know… Sal’s family has a strong Italian influence. Which means, everyone at the table owes each other money.

If one of us comes in limping, we don’t say, “what happened,” we say, “Jesus, how behind are you?”

So, wow… A Greek/Italian wedding… I hope everyone enjoys the dinner: Pasta with tzadziki sauce. And if you find a hair, you can pretty much blame anyone.

I think it’s great that Sal and Adrianna’s kids will grow up with strong Greek and Italian influences… a few things we know for certain: Their daughter will be only dating guys with one syllable names, Nick, Tony, Gus, Frank… and their son will wear WAY too much cologne.

It may not surprise you at this point to learn that I was NOT Sal and Adrianna’s first choice to make this toast tonight…

Technically it’s Neil’s job – as the best man – to give the toast. But he has a fear of microphones. Well, actually what he said was, “no way am I holding something long and hard up to my mouth in a room full of Greek dudes.”

OK, enough goofing around.

I want to say that I’m proud to call Sal and Adrianna family. They’re an inspiration to us all… because they did it their way. They didn’t let the traps of tradition decide their fate…

Ya know… Most couples meet, date, fall in love, get married, have a kid or two, then spend the rest of their lives bickering.

Sal and Adrianna met, had a kid, bickered, had another kid, fell in love, and now they’re married. And soon they’ll start dating – under strict orders from their therapist.

Seriously though…

Marriage is looked at as a dying institution these days. The young generation doesn’t feel the need to “formalize” their relationship. Just let love be, they say.

But, marriage is more than an illustrious ceremony in office 203 of the county courthouse. Or an open bar that leads to the many regrettable photographs I plan to star in later tonight.

That ring on your finger symbolizes something much more than, “I’m taken.” I can tell you that, because I recently lost my ring while swimming right here in the gulf — with my girlfriend!

I kid.

But I really did lose it. And it hurt to lose it, because in 10 years of marriage it never left my finger. And being without it made me think of all the things that ring had witnessed.

All the laughter, and tears, and songs sung, and arguments lost that make up not just a relationship, but a partnership.

Look… marriage is not always easy. Not always fun, not always sexy. But when you have the confidence of that commitment fueling every moment you spend together – it’s always good… because marriage is a life project… ’til death do us part.

Which means if you screw up once in a while – it’s OK. There’s still time to fix it.

Sal and Adrianna, we love you and all your beautiful children very much. Salute.

I cut out one inside family joke that would take too much explaining, but as you see, the bulk of the speech would still be funny to a stranger on the street. Which leads me to…

Toast Tip #1: Call out the obvious.

Sometimes the obvious differences are the best common ground between 2 groups of semi-strangers. In this case, you had a room split down the middle, and the only facts everyone was sure to know were that:

a) He was Italian and she was Greek.
b) They had 2 kids together before marriage.

Those facts alone gave me plenty of material to build on.

Toast Tip #2: Make the specifics relatable to everyone.

The set up to the jokes about their kids was very specific to their situation, but the punchlines were based on stereotypes everyone can relate to. Same with the joke about the couple’s history. Mixing specifics with generalities is a good way to get a big laugh without leaving anybody out.

Toast Tip #3 No Apologies.

If you want your toast to have the flavor of a roast you have to commit 100% to the joke. So make sure you’re cool with everything you’ve written, because there’s no editing in front of a hot mic. First rule here is to know you’re audience.

Keep in mind your event audience didn’t sign up for a comedy show. You’re not out to offend people, just wake them up and get them laughing at themselves.

I wrung my hands over a couple of the jokes, fearing they might offend some people. But audiences don’t remember details as much as they do the overall performance. As long as they never see YOU second-guessing the material, they wont either.

Good luck and happy toasting.

Kevin

{ 11 comments }

Tim June 9, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Thanks! As it happens, I’m in the middle of writing the toast for my brother’s wedding. This will help.

Kevin June 16, 2009 at 11:23 am

I hope it does help. But if it gets you beat up – sorry in advance.

Vin Montello June 15, 2009 at 6:39 pm

Great kev. Very funny.

Hope you’re well.

Kevin June 16, 2009 at 11:22 am

‘preciate it, Vin. I am well. I’ll call to catch up today.

Chris Tomasulo June 15, 2009 at 9:27 pm

My sides hurt!

Kevin June 16, 2009 at 11:21 am

Thanks, Chris. (I hope it’s not a kidney stone. Those hurt like hell.)

Brian Nebel June 15, 2009 at 10:56 pm

Witty as always, Kevin. Ballsy too…”no way I’m holdin something long and hard….”, LOL.

In light of a wedding I was at last weekend, I’ll add a 4th tip…

…DON’T get PLASTERED before you’re speech, it rarely ends well.

Here’s a shout out to my fellow Italians, CIAO.

Kevin June 16, 2009 at 11:21 am

Hey Brian,

Yeah, that was the one joke that could have went either way. These Greek dudes are Baltimore street guys, too. But, luckily they had a sense of humor.

Kevin

Christine June 19, 2009 at 1:34 am

Hey, Kev!
That was great!
I like the comment back about hoping its not a kidney stone too!

Stu June 21, 2009 at 1:52 pm

As SFOTB at said wedding, hats off to a great job on the toast. Just a suggestion for next time, bring bagels too. As a lily-white 40th generation American long-divorced from my Heinz 57 ethnic roots, you had me in stitches. Pretty good considering just 5 months ago I married into Greek side of this soiree.
Signed, Stepfather of the Bride

kristin thompson July 26, 2009 at 9:46 pm

That’s super funny, and touching…job well done. Thanks for sharing.

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