The Best Man's Dilema: Jokes or Humour?
"Comedy is a damned serious business."
- David Garrick
Some people are funny. Others aren’t.
Don’t take our word for it, the boffins have looked at it and found that funny people’s brains work differently.
If you’re writing a speech for yourself you need to be brutally honest with yourself. If you don’t think you are a naturally funny person, you need to be very careful (and skilful) in your use of humour in your speech.
Some people think a best man’s speech, for example, needs to be full of jokes, when really it needs to be filled with humour. Delivering a joke is a real skill, it's an art. If you don’t have that talent, and you almost certainly don’t, then don’t try to be a stand-up comedian.
Why are jokes riskier than humour?
To deliver a joke well you need to set up a premise, you need to dramatise the idea you are communicating, and finally, you need to deliver, with perfect timing, the punchline. If you get the set up wrong, if you fail to paint a picture in the minds of your listeners, if your timing is off and the audience don’t realise you've arrived at the punchline, then you risk disaster.
And one bad joke will infect your whole speech. Flat-joke follows flat-joke making it harder and harder to get back into your stride and to win back the confidence of the room.
If a joke orders people to laugh ("that's the punchline, laugh dammit!") then humour seduces people into laughing.
Jokes are a high stakes gamble, so why build your speech on them?
So many people writing a best man’s speech forget that the best thing they’ve got going for them in the room isn’t their comic skill, it’s the fact that everyone in the room is rooting for them.
Don’t blow the goodwill that exists from the moment you rise to speak on a contrived joke that sounds unnatural coming out of your mouth. Instead use that goodwill to warm up the room with some gentle humour. Pointing out idiosyncrasies and gently poking fun at the groom strengthens the bond between you and your audience. A well written and performed joke may land and achieve the same thing but if it doesn’t you are left high and dry.
This is one reason why, if you are writing a best man's speech, it's a mistake to obsess over over writing a killer opening joke. Think of the best comedians you have watched, they don’t open with their best gags, they slowly build up their routine, and wait until their audience is in the habit of laughing before they deploy their best lines.
Remember, your aim is to make a funny speech, not to make them think you are funny. Ask yourself if a joke you have written is aimed at making people feel good, or are you really trying to make yourself look good at your friend’s expense? This is about your best friend’s special day, so leave your ego, and the cheesy jokes, on the journey back from the stag do.
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