Magazine article The Spectator

A Joke Too Far

Magazine article The Spectator

A Joke Too Far

Article excerpt

Few people have any difficulty recalling the most embarrassing moment of their lives. For me, it was giving the Best Man speech at my friend Sean Macaulay's wedding in Washington earlier this year. Standup comedians use the term `dying' to describe the experience of flopping in front of an audience, but that doesn't quite do justice to its awfulness. Apart from anything else, you don't have to live with the experience of dying for the rest of your life since, after you've had it, you die. I, on the other hand, will take the memory of that night to my grave.

Fortunately, an opportunity to redeem myself arose last week when I was asked to make the Best Man speech at the wedding of my friends Sean Langan and Anabel Cutler in Ibiza. (Langan wasn't present at Macaulay's wedding.) This time round, I was determined not to flop. If I could pull it off, maybe that would go some way to erasing the shame I still feel about my previous effort. It was as if a beautiful woman was inviting me back into her bed for a second time, even though I hadn't been able to perform the first time. Here was my chance to show her what I was made of.

There was one sure-fire way to get laughs and that was to tell a string of antiGerman jokes. Anabel's mother, Lady Cutler, is German and, of the 120 guests at the wedding, about 40 of them were Krauts. `Lady Cutler,' I was tempted to say, `you mustn't think of yourself as losing a daughter so much as gaining the Sudetenland.' However, while I could rely on the British contingent to laugh at jokes like that, the Germans probably wouldn't be amused. Indeed, Anabel specifically asked me not to tell any anti-German jokes. `Please, Toby,' she said. `My mother will be really upset.' Consequently, I knew that if I made any reference to the beach towels strategically placed over the first three rows of seats in the church, or any other equally sophomoric jokes, I would end up antagonising at least a third of the guests, including the bride and her mother. What was I to do?

Well, obviously, I told a string of antiGerman jokes. In deference to Anabel's feelings, though, I did make some attempt to disguise them as anti-British jokes. For instance, I pointed out that it was just as well the Germans had come with us on our boat trip to Formentera the previous day because without them the Brits would never have been able to put up the marquee. …

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