Leave them laughing (or gasping in shock) the next time you’re asked to raise a glass at a family function or event. Just follow the five F’s of giving a memorable toast from Jeffrey Ross, author of I Only Roast the Ones I Love.
I am often asked to make a funny speech at family functions. This is much more nerve-racking than performing for strangers. If I offend, I could lose more than a fan. I could lose an inheritance. In fact, it’s been years and my aunt Bess still hasn’t forgiven me for calling her “Aunt-Arctica” after she almost knocked the gravy boat over with her arm fat while reaching for a third helping of mashed potatoes one Thanksgiving.
Still, I feel an obligation to accept invitations to honor my friends on special occasions such as weddings, bachelor parties, and sometimes even funerals. When comic legend Jan Murray passed away, I looked out at the packed chapel and said, “Look at this turnout for Jan . . . nothing but old people and their parents!” If an occasion is tense, sad, or stuffy, a little humor can really lighten the mood.
Friends often call me for advice before making a toast at a party. I usually tell them to have fun, talk slowly, keep it short, and speak from the heart. I also recommend going on right after dessert is served. By then the crowd has a few drinks in ’em and has been fully fed. Nothing is funny when you’re hungry. Below I offer five tips for making toasts. I call them the five F’s …
Keep it friendly. Always try to shmooze before you slam. Remember, you want your friends to still like you afterward. Example: “Hey, Roger, you’re the best roommate I ever had, but your breath smells like an anchovy’s cunt.” This is a potentially offensive joke, but because it is delivered in the form of a backhanded compliment about being a great roommate, you’re off the hook.
Timing is everything. Comedic opportunities often come and go in a flash, so stay alert. For example, if an old man wanders into the room late and looking lost, it almost doesn’t matter what you say as long as you get it out instantaneously. “What’s the matter, gramps? Lose your golf ball?” Stay in the moment. Insult humor is a reflex.
A joke is either funny or not funny. Don’t try to analyze why. Follow your gut instincts. And remember, if a joke doesn’t offend somebody somewhere, it’s not funny. Right now there’s a kid in Utah whose pet chicken just got hit by a car while crossing the road. Fuck him too.
After years of on-the-job research, I have concluded that tossing in the word “fuck” gives even the most rudimentary insult or joke some added oomph. Examples: “Nice tie, fuckface!” “Uncle Joe, is that a new suit or did you fuck the drapes?” “Hey, Grandma, go fuck yourself.”
5. Fond Farewell
After you’ve called somebody every name in this book, it’s usually a good idea to shake hands and say something nice at the end. Hugs work, too. On occasion I have also sent flowers and handwritten notes. It is also useful to keep substantial amounts of cash around just in case something goes completely haywire.
I’ll never forget the time Buddy Hackett was making a speech at our friend Barry Katz’s wedding when suddenly a strange hum began emanating from the electric keyboard set up beside him. Buddy was a master speechmaker, but this noise was gradually becoming more and more of a distraction to him. Plus, Buddy battled with performance anxiety in his later years and was only making this toast because the best man had dragged him up there.
Before long, the hum escalated to a buzz and Buddy started getting really peeved. As he reached the end of his toast, instead of lifting his full glass of champagne in the air in honor of the bride and groom, he simply poured the whole thing into the keyboard. With alcohol now seeping through the wiring, the electric piano began emitting a noise akin to what I imagine a dolphin sounds like when it’s getting banged by a great white whale.
Suddenly a curtain opened up behind Buddy and four guys dressed as the Beatles during the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band era came running out with panicked looks on their powdered faces. Their precious vintage keyboard was ruined. Buddy started cursing and the bride, Susanna Brisk, a comedian in her own right who can usually take a hit, looked like she was about to stab Buddy with the cake knife. Her family members, most of whom had flown in from Russia and Australia for the occasion, began murmuring in disgust and confusion.
As Buddy headed for the exit, I intercepted him to see if he was okay. Matter-of-factly he said, “Please tell Barry and Susanna I’m sorry. I gotta go.” A short time later a messenger showed up with two thick envelopes: one for the bride and groom; one for the band.
My point is: No matter how much it fucking costs, a Roastmaster needs fucking silence while he’s fucking speaking. As the Beatles used to sing, “Money can’t buy you love” — but it sure can get you out of a pickle.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeffrey Ross, author of I Only Roast the Ones I Love: Busting Balls Without Burning Bridges (Copyright © 2009 by Jeffrey Ross), is feared and revered for his appearances at the celebrity roasts on Comedy Central. He also stars in a stand-up DVD, Jeffrey Ross: No Offense, as well as an award-winning documentary he directed about his time entertaining U.S. troops in Iraq, Patriot Act: A Jeffrey Ross Home Movie. Jeffrey divides his time between New York, Los Angeles, and the road.
- Read an excerpt from I Only Roast the Ones I Love: Busting Balls Without Burning Bridges
- Learn more about the book
- Watch the video: Jeffrey Ross on I Only Roast the Ones I Love