Toasts, Not Roasts

Dear Helena,

I keep going to weddings with agonizing toasts. Sometimes they go on forever, with more and more guests getting up and saying really stupid, drawn-out things, severely boring the rest of us. Or toasters say wildly inappropriate things, like my friend’s wife’s brother saying, “For our whole lives my sister could never keep a man longer than two weeks. I’m so happy she finally did.” Or they’re annoyingly self-satisfied, like: “My wonderful son literally has accomplished every goal he set out to accomplish, and now this.”

Now I’m feeling stressed out because my best friend is getting married and I’ve got to give a toast. What is the proper way to toast, in content, length, and spirit? —Nervous Best Man

Dear Nervous Best Man,

It’s common to feel jittery before giving a wedding toast. That’s why some people pay ghostwriters to do it. At ThePerfectToast.com, $155 will get you a customized toast. Founder and senior writer David Pitlik says that during peak wedding season (May through August), the company churns out about 100 speeches a month. I interviewed Pitlik, along with Nato Green, a stand-up comic in San Francisco whose friends frequently ask him to give wedding toasts. Here are their tips.

Be pithy. There’s no need to tell the couple’s entire life history or philosophize about the nature of marriage. “A toast should last one to five minutes,” according to Pitlik.

Restrain the waterworks. It’s good to get a little choked up: “That guarantees at least half your audience will get emotional, too,” says Pitlik. But don’t allow yourself to become incoherent with emotion, as that’s boring for your audience. Pitlik advises: “It’s OK to take a minute to compose yourself. Take a few deep breaths and a sip of water.”

Focus on the couple. This might seem obvious, but it’s common for people to dwell on their own relationship with the bride or groom. This often happens, says Pitlik, when “the best man sees the marriage as a severing of his relationship with the groom.” Now is not the time to reminisce about your happy bachelor days.

Avoid inappropriate humor. You want to entertain the guests, but you’re addressing a mixed audience that may include the groom’s 90-year-old grandmother as well as his frat buddies. So don’t mention the groom’s days as a pickup artist or the bride’s stint working in a strip joint.

Don’t strain to be funny. Think about why you care about the couple and are glad they’re getting married, then “structure your humor around the points you’re trying to make,” says Green. That’s the best way to strike a balance between funny and tender. If you’re just striving to be funny, “it comes out like Mad Magazine or a Bazooka Joe wrapper,” Green says.

Keep your teasing gentle. “It’s a toast, not a roast,” says Pitlik. Don’t rib the bride or groom about one’s messy divorce or the other’s drinking problem. Case in point: I went to a wedding where the bride had gone down several dress sizes with the help of Weight Watchers. The best man joked that now that she had snagged a husband, she would pile on the pounds. The couple stopped speaking to him shortly afterward.

Limit drinking. If you knock back too many glasses of champagne, you may find yourself flying in the face of all the advice above. You might weep, ramble, or improvise a limerick about your one-night stand with the bride in college. You may think this funny, but no one else will.

Table Manners appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.