The Art of the Best-Man Speech

Co-best men Mark Karafin (left) and Marc Shapiro give their speeches at the wedding of longtime friend Mike Ewing in March 2012. (provided)
Co-best men Mark Karafin (left) and Marc Shapiro give their speeches at the wedding of longtime friend Mike Ewing in March 2012.

The best man can’t just rattle off a few jokes, say something sentimental and call it a day. A great speech has the best man playing part stand-up comedian, part best friend, part couple historian and part master of ceremonies.

I called several of my friends to reflect on their best-man speeches and drew on my own experiences, as best man at my brother’s wedding and one of two best men at my childhood friend Mike Ewing’s wedding.

“It’s hard to do because you don’t want to make it too long and you don’t want to make it too short and you don’t want to screw up,” says Ryan Fried, who gave his best-man speech in 2012 at his friend Scott Davis’ wedding in Chicago. “So, there’s a certain pressure.”

And you have to make people laugh. But achieving that perfect balance of embarrassing the groom, and possibly the bride if you know her well enough, and touching the wedding guests’ hearts with sentiments is tough. And when you have years, decades or sometimes a lifetime of stories to tell, the inclination is to dig deep for the most hilarious and embarrassing stories.

“There’s a line, and you should cross it, but you should do it gracefully and tastefully,” says Mark Karafin, my childhood best friend and my co-best man at Mike Ewing’s wedding. “You are supposed to embarrass them, but you’re not supposed to throw them under a bus.”

At my brother’s wedding, that meant saying that he was an inspiration to men everywhere, because if a regular guy like him can land a beauty like his wife, the possibilities are endless. I followed one of my quips with, “but today is not the day for making fun of Randy, that’s every other day of the year.”

My friend Aaron Walker, who was best man at his brother’s wedding in 2009, poked fun by saying things such as, “Who knew you’d graduate college to become a stay-at-home dad?” and by referring to his wife’s profession as “pediatric gynecology” instead of pediatric oncology. But he was careful to achieve that balance of telling jokes and sentimental stories.

“I kind of did one after another,” he says. “You have a serious moment and then you have a moment when you poke fun or say something inappropriate.”

The preparation time varies, and speeches generally were about two minutes. Walker excitedly started working on his speech about a month before the wedding; some start a few weeks out, others in the days leading up to the wedding. It was a two-week process for Fried.

“I wrote in all in longhand, which is something I rarely do. Something about writing in longhand makes it more personal for me,” he says. “I read through it a whole bunch of times the day of [the wedding], and I felt like it wasn’t as personal as it could have been, and so I added a last paragraph that kind of tied it together.”

At the end of the day, if the couple laughs and likes the speech, the best man can rest assured he did his job.

I called Randy to ask him what he thought of the speech I gave for him in 2007. He thought I did a good job getting across the humor and the heartwarming sentiments.

“You could have had a lot more fun with it and could have been a lot more obscene with it too, which really surprised me,” he says with a laugh. “The amount of maturity and restraint you managed to use was very surprising.”

Perhaps I didn’t embarrass him enough.

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