Best Man: Honour or horror?
As a new survey reveals a growing number of men would rather bow out of their best man duties, we get to the bottom of why the day is so nerve-wracking...
Published 09/03/2016 | 02:30
There is little upside to being best man. It's your job to ensure the stag weekend is a triumphant last hurrah while taking care nobody is arrested / deported / filmed singing Oasis's Champagne Supernova in their underwear.
Then there is the wedding day itself, bringing with it the flop sweat-inducing obligation to deliver a moving / hilarious speech in 15 minutes or less and later dance with the bridesmaid without a) dropping any of the 25 cash-stuffed envelopes you've been lugging about or b) making eye contact with her boyfriend.
In short, the job is more chore than honour - an endurance marathon with a 4am finish line and your only reward a brain-melting hangover the next morning.
Small surprise, then, that according to a new survey, 27pc of men describe a best man's duties as "a horror". In contrast to a bridesmaid's relatively straightforward 'to do' list - wear a pink dress, hold flowers, stay off the gin until the end of the first dance - the tasks befalling a best man are essentially never-ending.
You have to be an organiser, an emotional crutch, a source of hilarity and pathos - all while belted into a suit probably not of your choosing, with 100 camera flashes going off in your face.
Moreover, there is scant evidence that these are burdens one grows into. This week's study, commissioned by Tullamore DEW, suggests that best man is a job to be suffered through, not a memory to be relished; 22pc of respondents said they would prefer not to be best man a second time; 14pc of grooms expressed regret over their choice of best man. Ouch!
None of this is a surprise, even if you've never had the privilege of taking your bromance to the ultimate place. If movies such as The Hangover have taught us anything, it is that the road to nuptial bliss is strewn with obstacles. Consider the stag weekend, that rite of passage that upgrades the simple act of going to the pub with some friends into an organisational hell.
There is the inevitable group email to the groom's school chums, college buddies and work mates, the inertia as nobody replies in time, the last-gasp scramble to find a hostel in Amsterdam.
And that's before the weekend itself, which if you're lucky, will go off without major incident but which can, in a worst case scenario, descend into a dystopian purgatory of hangovers, iffy strip-clubs and the threat of being put on the first flight home.
Presuming you survive all of that you still, of course, have to negotiate the wedding day, with its looming terror of The Speech and its requirement to be all things to all wedding goers. There are jokes to be cracked, but also heartfelt sentiments to convey, priests and mother-in-laws to compliment, boozy pals down the back to politely insult.
It is no coincidence that when the writers of the hit BBC series Sherlock tried to come up with an impossible challenge for the super sleuth, they made him best man at Watson's wedding. Not even a master of logic could get through a funny / profound spiel without the occasional stumble.
Having only been a best man once (and then strictly on condition I would not be required to do much beyond introduce the newly weds and collect the wedding gifts), I'm afraid I can't offer much advice. Yet, according to experts, the key to success is to understand your role.
You are a facilitator and, while you will occupy centre stage at various points in the course of the wedding, on no account should you ever regard yourself as centre of attention. The more people notice you the worse a job you are doing. So no zany dancing, no back-slapping the priest, no close-to-the-bone gags about the groom's exes (unless the joke is hilarious, in which case knock yourself out).
"The worst kind of best man actually believes he IS the best man," according to Confetti, the UK wedding website. "He is convinced that he is the funniest, most attractive and interesting man in the room.
"His speech will be a collection of disconnected accounts of laddish excess. It will be interspersed with exhausted wedding jokes about the mother-in-law and the impending disappointments of the honeymoon.
"There will be offensive one liners: 'when I met Danny's fianceé I was relieved - he's had a lot worse… believe me!' and so on. The fundamental problem is that the 'worst man' simply doesn't get it. He doesn't understand the importance of the day and, in truth, doesn't understand his own responsibilities."
"The best man speech is important for several reasons," adds Oliver Lucas, founder of iamthebestman.co.uk.
"Like it or not, it is part of the entertainment that people look forward to in the same way as they do when going to see stand-up. As best man you are expected to make the audience laugh by regaling stories about the groom and mocking his character, which people want to hear.
"Of course writing and delivering the material can be a huge challenge, and is a lot of pressure, particularly in an era when best man speeches are popping up on YouTube outdoing one another."
"The best man is an important component of the wedding day," says wedding planner Bláithín O' Reilly Murphy. "While his task list might not be as wide or as varied as that of a maid of honour, it's essential for a groom to have his own confidante in the lead up and on the day itself.
"If a wedding planner is not involved it's often the best man who is responsible for paying wedding day suppliers as well and he's often the reliable person who all the couples' envelopes are given to."
She agrees with the prevailing belief that the best man's speech is a critical component of the day. However, it is important not to sweat the details too much.
"The speeches are both dreaded and anticipated by the guests and best man alike. While I do think speeches are vital, I don't think it's vital for them to be funny - a stress best men often feel. Some of the best I've heard have been the shortest and most sincere. So short and sweet is what's important."