The whole word was watching last weekend when Justin Johanssen really stepped in it.
The best friend, and best man of James Matthews, Pippa Middleton’s new husband, delivered an off-color, tasteless and offensive speech at the almost-royal wedding that was likely intended to be funny. But apparently, his banter was not well-received. The upper-crust crowd at the Middleton’s mansion in Bucklebury, Berkshire, sat in grim-faced silence as Justin reeled off quips that went from bad to worse the longer he dominated the microphone.
If a best man’s speech is in your future this year, it might be helpful for a refresher on what’s expected of you.
First, if you have been chosen to serve as someone’s best man at an upcoming wedding, that’s because someone considers you to be the BEST person for the job. And with honour comes responsibility.
Just be thankful we’ve come a way since the good ol’ days. Back then, the original duty of a “best man” was to serve as armed backup for the groom, in case he had to resort to kidnapping his intended bride away from disapproving parents. The “best” part of that title refers to his skill with a sword, should the need arise. You wouldn’t want the “just okay” member of your weapon-wielding posse accompanying you when you set out to steal yourself a wife, would you?
The best man would stand guard next to the groom right up through the exchange of vows–and later, outside the newlyweds’ bedroom door– just in case anyone should decide to attack, or a skittish bride should try to make a run for it.
Huns, Goths and Visigoths are said to have taken so many brides by force that they kept a cache of weapons stored beneath the floorboards of churches for convenience.
So, nowadays, no swordsmanship or weaponry skills required. But you do have the duty to have the groom’s back on his special day. That said, certain obligations you’re expected to fulfill are just common sense. No need to tell you to show up on time, be of good cheer, be helpful, serve as a go-fer if necessary, keep the rings safe, calm a jittery groom, etc.
But when it comes to delivering your best man’s speech, or toasting the happy couple, it’s deceptively easy not to measure up to your duties if you disregard some obvious pitfalls:
- Best to avoid mentioning exes- -especially if you’ve had a previous relationship with the bride…or the groom!
- This is not YOUR day. So try not to upstage the groom—or anyone else in the wedding party.
- Remember, this is not a “guys-night-out” type of audience, so not the venue to insult/demean/bad-mouth the groom. Johannsen’s quip about “buttock-clenching” during the first dance was rather lewd for an audience of society guests.
- Resist the urge to respond to hecklers argumentatively. It won’t end well!
- Many people are not naturally funny, so don’t try to be a comedian if you’re not one. Johannsen’s honeymoon joke about “going to Bangor for two weeks” was crude, and in bad taste. Sincerity trumps subjective humor and questionable taste every time.
- Not the time to speak negatively about the bride, or the future in-laws. Yes, there is some debate about whether Johanssen ACTUALLY compared Pippa to the groom’s pet spaniel, Raffa. But really, why go there at all? Pippa was a beautiful bride, and every bride in the universe works hard to look her best on the most important day of her life, so why ruin it, even if only in jest?
- Someone has put their trust in you: the groom may have told you things in private he does not wish to share with everyone he knows best in the world! Keep his confidences! And watch your language! Johanssen’s implications about gay bars and “lads’ nights out” could have been dispensed with.
- Even though you have a close relationship with the bride and groom, resist the urge to pepper your speech with inside jokes. The remaining 99% of the audience, who are not in the know, will not appreciate this.
- Avoid giving advice in areas in which you have no expertise: if you’re single, no sage words about “handling” a spouse; if you’re not a parent, no lessons on how to raise a child!
- Rehearse! Rehearse! Rehearse! No winging it. You have been entrusted with an honour. You’ll be thankful if you can acquit yourself honorably by preparing a speech or toast that you can deliver confidently and sincerely.
Oh, and one for the road. You know this already. Don’t drink too much before you deliver that speech, not to relax, not because you’re sure you know it well enough. NOT FOR ANY REASON. Save the shots for later, once your formal duties have been performed! Then you can have one for the road! (But then you can’t drive!!)
Though Johanssen might be maintaining a stiff upper lip about the reaction to his speech, which received global negative press, his bad taste and bad judgement will not soon be forgotten. Don’t pull a Justin Johanssen if you’re delivering a best man’s speech. Put your best foot forward instead!
If you have your own cringe-worthy examples of inappropriate best man behavior—word or deed—that you’d like to share, we’d love to hear them!