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How to gauge how risqué your jokes can be in your speech

by | 13 December 2014 | Wedding Entourage

At a wedding, there are some lapses of judgement that can be forgotten pretty quickly.

If you slightly misjudge the angle of a staircase after a few shandies, who cares? It’s a party.

If you fail to judge the difference between a burgeoning foetus and some recently acquired abdominal flab – well, that’s going to be awkward, but who cares? It’s a party.

If you fail to judge the success rate of risqué jokes in your speech, that’s not going to be forgotten quickly – least of all by you. In the best case scenario, you’ll bomb. And that hurts. The worst case scenario is pretty much limitlessly bad.

So here are the questions you should ask yourself before you add that little bit of extra spice to your speech.

How funny am I?

You need to be brutally honest here.

The very last thing you want to do is write a speech, to be delivered to all your nearest and dearest, with an inflated sense of your own comedic ability.

Here’s a good test: when you deliver a funny line that makes all your friends laugh, do you laugh too?

We don’t know why it works like this, but it does – funny people don’t laugh at their own jokes.

Another good test? Ask your friends. If the answer surprises you, play safe.

How well do I know my audience?

This is the most important question. By far.

If it’s a room full of nothing but your own friends and family, then you should know (lord help you if you don’t) exactly what will get a laugh and what will cause offence. You also need to consider the time and place at which you’ll be giving your speech:

Early evening, at a private reception where everyone’s already half-sozzled? Ramp it up.

Mid afternoon, just before the wedding brunch at a posh hotel where everyone’s stone sober and starving hungry? Go careful.

One of the most common dilemmas for wedding speeches arises when you know half the room really well, but the other half are people you’ve only met once, or not at all. In comedy, the majority rules most of the time. If 55% of the audience laugh at your first few gags, then the other 45% will usually follow suit. If only 45% laugh from the outset, you’re on an uphill slope, my friend.

If you’re going to write jokes that specially target the ‘haha…ooh!’ reaction, you need to be very confident of a large majority.

Do I really understand ‘shock comedy’?

If you do, then you’ll know that shock value can only amplify comedy – it can’t create it.

For example, there’s an age-old joke among US comedians called ‘the aristocrats joke’. It exists in countless forms but, in its essence, it’s a horrible, disgustingly offensive joke with a totally unfunny punchline. The challenge for standup comedians is to find a funny way of telling it, in spite of its dud punchline. It’s notoriously difficult.

It’s easy to watch crowds going wild for Jimmy Carr’s offensive jokes and think ‘I could do that’. But remember, Jimmy Carr is inherently funny, whether he’s being offensive or not. Also, that crowd wouldn’t be paying to see him if they were easily offended.

Watch the clip below of Jimmy Carr going up through the gears of offensive jokes. The shock value is just one small part of what makes it funny. The meticulous structuring of the jokes, the tone and timing of the delivery, the facial expressions – they’re the skills that make up 90% of the recipe.

Who’s the butt of my jokes? Are they a legitimate target?

You, yourself, are the only safe target for offensive jokes. With anyone else, you run a risk. In the Jimmy Carr video above, you’ll have heard this gem:

“When a dog is on heat, that means it wants sex. That’s my defence.”

It’s a good joke – it’s quick, funny and tasteless, but unlikely to offend.

If you’d come up with that joke yourself, but used the punchline “that was Steve’s defence”, you’re suddenly playing a different ball game. If Steve’s beloved Yorkshire terrier recently passed away, causing such a raw feeling of loss that Steve almost missed the wedding, that would be an example of a poorly chosen target. And a doomed joke.

If you’re ever sat there, thinking to yourself “hmm… is this person a legitimate target for this joke?” then the answer is no.

Why am I considering risqué jokes?

If you’re comfortable that you can deliver a funny speech, why would you choose to go for shock value? The ratio of risk to reward is rarely in your favour.

The best reason to go for shock value would be something like this: ‘everyone there knows me and I’ve never managed to offend any of ’em yet. So let’s think up some proper raunchy jokes and see if we can make the bride choke on her champagne’.

The worst reason would be this: ‘I’m trying to write a funny speech, but I can’t find anything online that would work. Maybe I should just dish up some embarrassing stories about some of the guests. That’ll be funny, right?’

Again: shock value can only give more punch of something that’s already funny.

What do I want to achieve with my speech?

Because this is easy to lose sight of.

If you’re Googling for advice blogs, trying to decide whether your provisional speech is pushing the limits of acceptability, you might’ve lost some perspective in your quest for laughs.

Unless you’re the bride, this day isn’t about you. It might not feel like it when you’re preparing to face a room full of expectant faces, but it’s always the truth. If you tail off into a personal quest to live out your long lost dream of being a standup comic, you’re at risk of all kinds of pitfalls.

Start by thinking about what you can do, with your few minutes of speech, to make the day more special. If the answer truly is to rattle off some foul-mouthed, offensive jokes and you’re very confident they’ll land, then go for it.

If not, hey – most wedding speeches are boring anyway. Try something different. Try something heartfelt. Just don’t try to be funny. Because if you have to try, it won’t work.

About the author

Matt Phil Carver

Matt’s a copywriter and blogger from West Sussex, England. He spends his days helping people simplify their writing and give their words more punch and personality. At weddings, Matt’s always quick to get up and dance, even when the vicar’s telling him to wait for the reception.

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Wedding Entourage How to gauge how risqué your jokes can be in your speech