x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

A best man knows his limits

Writing a decent best-man speech needs a good opener. Or does it?

"And ... the punchline?" asks one of my assembled friends, while others stare back at me with expectant faces.

"Well, that's the intro!" I insist. "Look, you have to know him."

There are downturned eyes, some deep gulps of drinks and a couple of stroked chins.

"Rubbish, mate," is their consensus of critique.

They don't understand the opening gambit to the best man's speech that I've been semi-agonising over for the past week. A decent speech, like a decent novel, needs a good opener. Mine is clearly lost on this bunch.

Fortunately, there's still time before I have to deliver a narrative that encapsulates six years of accumulated funnies at a friend's wedding back in the UK. But if there's one thing that sitcoms have taught me, going into this without some loose plan on paper - letting the moment take hold, let's say - would be categorically disastrous.

Therefore, I've jotted down all manner of minutiae and incidents that have come to mind. This means I can now write a great quiz about our friendship. But a great speech, however, remains elusive.

When my friend asked me last year to be his right-hand man, I'd flippantly passed the speech bit off as a breeze. The hard part, I thought, would be rallying a rabble of 10 men into something like a send-off, with the added pressure of doing all the organising from the Middle East.

It turns out that was surprisingly easy to sort out - none of us are monied enough or inclined to jet off to Vegas or any of the other dizzyingly expensive places that have become ritual sites for the modern stag. Instead, we go to Newcastle.

Turning my attention to the speech, I've realised you really are on your own with this sort of thing. Sure, there are precedents - you can (as I have) watch on YouTube, as a resplendent ballroom in Ohio erupts from a crowd who are swung from laughter to tears by a master orator upfront. It would be foolish to set that as a benchmark.

I've since asked colleagues who have done these speeches before. "You have to be funny," was one rather sharply delivered suggestion.

That's all well and good, but asking my friend's Spanish in-laws to appreciate the nuances of English comedy could well result in a room bisected by silence. The horror.

Steadily, it is coming together. Despite the plethora of advice out there (there's even a website, bestmanspeechinsight.com, if you're curious), the reality is that you have to stop thinking of a best man's speech as a time-honoured formula.

It's pointless to rack my brains for humorous stories that are also socially acceptable, the audience being a family he's likely to spend many a future afternoon with over a dinner table. You're not some stand-up comedian. Instead, you stand up, you congratulate your friend, you assure everybody that this is probably the most presentable the groom has ever been in his life (via a quick-to-hand anecdote or two) and you raise a glass to their happiness. Simple, honest and, as far as I'll allow, from the heart.

Have I cast off my original opening gambit then? Yes. Some things, I think, are better left unsaid.


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