Advice for doing a best man speech for someone you hardly know?
July 23, 2012 6:23 AM   Subscribe

Earlier this year I was asked by a friendly co-worker to be his best man. I accepted against my better judgement because I got the sense he had no one else he could ask. Now faced with writing an appropriate heartfelt (possibly humorous) speech I am at a loss.

Earlier this year I was asked by a friendly co-worker to be his best man.

As one of the more outgoing members of my nerd tribe, I have been been asked to Best Man a few times and am comfortable with the duties this often entails. In this case, I didn't know the groom in question very well. But I got the sense he asked me because he didn't have anyone else he could ask so I accepted against my better judgement. (Sparing all the details, the last several years of his life have been very difficult and I've gotten the feeling he had to start over socially after his previous marriage ended.)

To make matters more complicated, I have met his wife-to-be three times. The two of them eloped a few months after they began dating, an issue that their respective families have mixed feelings about.

With our friendship being very fresh, and their relationship even more so, I don't have much to share in terms of describing their relationship, or any good stories or anecdotes to share about my relationship with the groom.

I am more or less at a loss. The first few drafts struck me as being too sermon-y where I just expounded on the value of companionship and love. I fear I may have gotten myself over my head with the best of intentions.

The three questions I put to Metafilter (along with any other thoughts you might have):
· Has anyone found themselves in this situation before? What did you do?
· How might one overcome not knowing someone well to provide a heartfelt (optionally humorous) speech?
· Are there any writings, authors, quotes, or blessings you especially love that you might be willing to share?

Thanks, MeFi. :)
posted by iheijoushin to Human Relations (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Be vague. Just talk about marriage in general and express your wishes for the couple's happiness.

Don't go for humor, just be sincere and pedestrian. It's two minutes. You can do two minutes.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:25 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Ask your friend to share with you one or two anecdotes about himself and his wife that he would like to have highlighted in your toast. Even if you decide they aren't appropriate/useful, they'll give you a sense of where to go, thematically, with your speech.
posted by amelioration at 6:33 AM on July 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

Yeah, I think you can hit the key points of:

1) We are so glad these two are together
2) It's so great we get to spend this day with them
3) This really makes you think about how important being able to share these things (life, big occassions) is
4) What a great guy he is, what a great woman she is! What a great couple! Don't they look great!?! Isn't this a great time?!?

without getting too specific. You can be both touching and optimistic without seeming shallow because you should feel touched and optimistic. Basically good wedding toasts are frequently about making a wedding toast, and that's ok, because the toast is explicitly about the tradition of making toasts.

I think you're likely to get into trouble by either overthinking it or by offering sentiment that is not supported by the actual state of your friendship.
posted by OmieWise at 6:35 AM on July 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

It sounds like there's no way you can pretend to know the bride, so focus on the groom.

You could fill at least 30 seconds talking about how the groom is happier now that the bride is in his life. Make up stories about how he bounces around the office and you can see a lightness in his step that just wasn't there before.

To be perfctly frank, it doesn't matter whether or not this is true because when faced with a compliment, most people will simply accept it, especially if it's on their wedding day and it's about the strength of their love.
posted by cranberrymonger at 6:37 AM on July 23, 2012 [9 favorites]

Ask him a few questions that you might find helpful in writing this speech.
  • what is his favorite thing about her?
  • what was their first date/best date/funniest date?
  • how did he know she was a great match for him? (avoid using language like 'the one' unless he does it first)
  • what has he been most excited to learn about her?
  • do they have any pets together? a hobby? Anything that you can mention in passing that their friends/family will recognize as being them?
Pick the shiniest nugget of information that you get and polish it up into two minutes. Ask for his input if you're worried.

Finally, though you aren't asking, every rule about best man speeches applies. Don't be shit faced, or even appear tipsy at the wedding. Don't make jokes at the bride's expense (or anyone else's!), don't ramble, and don't sleep with any bridesmaids.
posted by tulip-socks at 6:45 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

To put it in perspective, two minutes is one (double-spaced) typewritten page of text. So you don't need an encyclopedic rundown of all the particulars of their relationship, here. You need 1-2 (tops!)concrete anecdotes or observations about them that help to particularize and illustrate whatever other general stuff you're saying about Mawwiage. The made-up compliment/groom Q&A approaches that tulip-socks and cranberrymonger propose should be good for at least 1-2 observations, I'd think. And if not, you can always default to mentioning something you noticed about the couple on the day of the wedding ("When I saw how Bob looked at Donna as she came down the aisle..."). You'll be fine.
posted by Bardolph at 6:49 AM on July 23, 2012

You could try this: Have lunch with groom and bride and say "hey, how did you two kids meet, I don't think I ever heard?""Was it love at first sight?" Try that line of questioning. See if you can get some good stories that way. Also if you have a gf or a wife (assuming she's cool with it) bring her. She can totally pump for this kind of info.
posted by bananafish at 6:52 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Based on what you told us, the most crucial audience for your toast are the couple's lukewarm families and any dubious friends. The entire wedding celebration and all the actors in it may really be about putting a veneer of normalcy on this marriage, thereby giving it a reboot in the eyes of people who looked askance at the speedy elopement or still haven't processed the groom's divorce. Thinking about the wedding this way may help you help your friend by playing your part accordingly, including sticking to tried and true topics and observations like those recommended above.
posted by carmicha at 6:53 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

The answers from here may help you.
posted by hmo at 6:54 AM on July 23, 2012

They eloped and now there is another wedding? IF you are looking for funny, there is a lot of humor in that. Your speech will be as long as the their relationship before they eloped. Eloping is a hell of a first date.

But since there are mixed feelings about the whole thing from both families, I would spend the two or three minutes bulling them up, talking good things about their relationship or as cranberrymonger points out, giving them wide but vague platitudes.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:56 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like the idea of talking about how happy he is when he talks about her. The family is looking to get past their prejudices based on past behavior and be reassured that this is the real deal.
(Disclaimer: I watched Melancholia yesterday.)
posted by moammargaret at 7:33 AM on July 23, 2012

Break the ice a little. Say something like, as the best man I'm responsible for three things:

1) Holding onto the rings
2) Getting the groom here on time
3) Making sure the groom is sober

Hey, 2 out of 3 isn't too bad, you know? The rest just flows...
posted by dgran at 7:34 AM on July 23, 2012

Does he have other groomsmen? Email them and ask if they have any stories they'd like to include in your speech. I'm sure you can position this request in a way that makes them feel 'represented' rather mooched from.

Also: if they have any hobbies you know about, try and insert some nice platitudes/poems/etc that can relate to their hobby and to marriage/love. (If they travel or play any kind of sport, this should be pretty easy.)

You could also 'interview' your groom. He KNOWS you don't know him well. Treat it like "hey new friend, i want to know more about you as our friendship grows!" Ask to go for coffee/beer, bring a notebook to jot things down, and ask him "how did you and XYZ meet?" "how did you know she's the one?" "tell me about how you proposed?" "Tell me about the elopement?" "Why did you decide to have a conventional wedding reception too?". And voila: instant speech content.
posted by Kololo at 7:36 AM on July 23, 2012

It's corny and depends on the crowd, but an icebreaker I've heard get a laugh at less formal weddings goes something like "I'd like to toast to the most important people here tonight... the bartenders!"
posted by Wretch729 at 7:39 AM on July 23, 2012

The best man at my niece's wedding opened with a joke that went over well. He said, "I think you'll all agree that [the bride] looked stunning [pause for a big round of applause led by my niece's mother] and that [the groom] looked stunned [pause for wave of laughter because my nephew-in-law really had looked like a deer in headlights all day — he was very happy to be marrying my niece, but he's a very quiet guy who hated being the centre of attention all day].

I think this joke could work for most brides and grooms though. It compliments the bride and only gently pokes fun at the groom.
posted by orange swan at 8:03 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

This event isn't about you or your feelings about being someone's best man. It doesn't have to be heartfelt, it just needs to be nice. Complement the couple, say that this day is about love and family and friends and community, and ask him to review the speech you're going to make. Ask him what else you might want to say.

Again, this guy obviously doesn't have close friends and by asking you to be his best man, he's probably just hoping that you make him look good. He likes you and admires you, that's all. So pretend you're doing him a favor, which you are, by taking a little time to appreciate this couple.

Also, please don't say anything about how you don't know him that well or anything that conveys that you're a misfit for the role. It would be embarrassing to him and wrong.

Just write a little something, have him revise or put some suggestions into it, and just pretend it's community service/doing a nice thing for someone who was in a pickle. Don't make it about you and how you feel like you're too cool/popular to be this guy's best man.
posted by discopolo at 9:49 AM on July 23, 2012

Could you ask him to put you in touch with family members or maybe other friends to get a fuller picture and maybe a couple of childhood anecdotes?
posted by *becca* at 9:49 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

My Best Man gave what many people who attended my wedding said was one of the best Best Man speeches ever, and he didn't talk about anything particularly intimate.

He talked about researching the role of the Best Man historically, and listed off the duties he was supposed to perform, then brought everyone back to me. For example, he talked about the fact he's supposed to carry a sword to defend the marital couple, except that I was the one who fenced in university. He went through a few similar examples from tradition and who I was, and built up to the conclusion: telling my wife she was marrying the best man.

Maybe do a bit of research, both of the tradition their using and see if you can talk to a few people who've known him longer, and feel free to plagiarize my Best Man's approach.
posted by dry white toast at 9:57 AM on July 23, 2012 [10 favorites]

Break the ice a little. Say something like, as the best man I'm responsible for three things:

1) Holding onto the rings
2) Getting the groom here on time
3) Making sure the groom is sober

Hey, 2 out of 3 isn't too bad, you know?

I think you need to be very careful with lines like that. First, it is way WAY over done. Secondly, it can be inappropriate. I was at a wedding recently and the best man started it like that and it went over terribly because jokes about the groom being drunk at his wedding wasn't at all the type of guy he was, and it wasn't something either family would find funny. You could practically hear the one dry cough as he waited for the laughter... so awkward.

I would keep it classy.
- Don't curse or use profane language. This often really bothers guests, especially the older ones.
- Don't insult the groom or bride (I recently heard in a best man speech "[BRIDE] is the only one of [GROOM]'s girlfriends that I could stomach"... seriously).
- Don't insult their past relationships. (I heard a different best man give a speech calling all the grooms past girlfriends a bunch of trolls. It was a small town and some of them/their families were there... so awkward)
- Don't make fun of details relating to their wedding planning/ceremony.

Make it be about positives, not negatives.

I think your best bet is:
1. ask the groom/bride/close friend/family member for some stories about the couple
2. give generic adivce about marriage/love
3. talk about your experience as a best man (love dry white toast's suggestion)
4. Poll all the married couples/couples in successful loving relationships that you know and have them tell you what they think is the secret to a happy marriage.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:03 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thank you all so much for your responses! I feel inspired by all your suggestions!

Thanks, MeFi! I can totally do this!
posted by iheijoushin at 6:32 AM on July 24, 2012

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