At first glance, you might think that humour has no place at a life-cycle ceremony. After all, a wedding, say, marks a significant change, so should be solemn. And a funeral is the last place for a laugh, surely.
And yet …
The “fun” in “funeral
A funeral should be a celebration of life (not merely an opportunity to grieve – important as that is). If the deceased was a joker, that’s what people will remember. So why not remind people of a few of the laughs they had with them?
The whole family will fondly recall the time Reg (not real name) attended a bingo session. With his ‘gift of the gab’ he persuaded the organisers that he had won the main prize (a television). Once awarded it, he owned up – but was still allowed to keep it.
Not untypically, Reg carried on drinking. When he it was time to go, the stairs proved too much for him, and he dropped the TV down the flight!
Amazingly, it was undamaged (but for BBC2). But stories like that just sum up the man Reg was!
At another funeral, where I felt I knew the family reasonably well, rather to my surprise, I ad-libbed. The deceased was a rabid Chelsea supporter, and we played the theme tune “Blue is the Colour”. I encouraged those who wanted to, to join in, but pointed out that I was from the wrong side of London and totally refused!
It’s easier to ad lib or include humour in celebratory ceremonies. Gravitas may still be relevant, but not necessarily all the time.
As a celebrant, when I put together a wedding, I normally work with the bride and groom. As a rule, the groom is not always as engaged in proceedings as the bride. On one occasion, the groom left me to work with the bride, and we agreed to include a humorous poem (by Pam Ayres) without him knowing. He didn’t suspect a thing and was completely floored on the day, bringing proceedings to a near-stop!
My clients are encouraged to write their own vows, and sometimes these can be quite revealing, as well as amusing! I did have to question whether one particular groom really wanted to include public reference to his bride’s arse! (He did!)
I hope this short overview will convince you that humour can have a place in ceremonies – if used judiciously!
People often ask me if they can include something humorous in a ceremony. “What will people think?” they ask.
the answer depends on what expectations and intentions they may have. What
effect are they looking for?
Initially, my response is “yes”. “Certainly”, if it’s a wedding and “with care”, if it’s a funeral.
The traditional response
How traditional do you want your ceremony to be? If that’s your chosen path, then don’t expect much hilarity from the full Church service.
I officiated at one (secular but traditional) high society wedding, where the family were very keen that all appearances were correct and that guests would have no grounds to find fault with any part of the service.
Actually, I wondered whether it would mean more to the guests to witness a moving, sincere ceremony, rather than a fabulous spectacle. And if it entertained a bit, thanks to a touch of humour, all the better!
An alternative approach
At my “usual” weddings, however, (often, part-religious or secular), there is scope for personalising the ceremony. Normally, I advocate including some “serious” elements but also a few lighter moments. The ring blessing and vows, say, could be earnest – but the vows might include some humorous promises (based on personal idiosyncrasies of one of the couple).
I like to put in the couple’s story, where possible. This frequently offers scope for humour.
Humour in funerals
As I have implied, humour is more likely to be expected – and accepted – at a celebratory event.
However, although funerals should offer the opportunity to grieve, I believe they should also be a celebration of life and therefore should not exclude well-placed and tasteful humour.
Ad-libbing requires great care. A funeral will almost never be the place to be controversial or crude.
The best place for humour is in the eulogy or personal tribute. If the deceased had a special saying, favourite joke or some unique characteristic, reference to that will be appreciated by most who knew them. I loved the lady, who would go ballistic whenever Philip Schofield appeared on TV. When I referred to this, everybody – especially, the family – recognised, appreciated and enjoyed it!
If that’s appropriate for the deceased, why not have it?!
There’s nothing – in theory – to stop you having a whale of a time at a funeral. Sometimes, everyone is encouraged to wear a particular football shirt, say, to mark the deceased’s passion. The tone of such a service is likely to be quite light!
I hope I’ve made it clear that the tone you desire for weddings or funerals is ultimately down to you. Discuss it with your celebrant, and you can have the ceremony that suits and keeps a smile on everybody’s face.
It may sound a bit bizarre that I am writing about humour at weddings. However, ceremonies like these don’t have to be solemn all the time. That’s not to say that there aren’t parts that probably should be.
Apart from making the atmosphere lighter, humour can cause the ceremony to be more personal and memorable. (Incidentally, I’m referring to intentional humour here!)
Of course, the celebrant can contribute with touches of wit (as long as he accepts that the ceremony is not a stand-up routine!). But the point is that the whole event is actually about the couple up there with him.
One area where the bride and groom can show their individuality and humour is the vows. Instead of – or in addition to – traditional vows, the couple can write their own.
These are public declarations, so should be primarily serious and sincere. However, the dose can be lightened with a spot of humour. This will help reveal the personality of the pair.
You don’t have to write masses (in fact, less is good). Quite often, the vows can be promises. Some will say what you will do; others what you won’t do. Season with a little humour.
What about a few examples of humour?
Groom: I promise not to leave my empty beer cans in the lounge overnight. I promise not to go out to the pub every night. Not every night.
Bride: I promise to learn to cook at least two different dishes by the end of next year.
Groom: I promise not to leave my shoes all over the hallway. I even promise to take my shoes off when I come in …
Bride: I promise to wait until after the wedding day to tell you what I think of those shoes.
Groom: I promise to ask a passer-by the way, if I get lost.
Bride: I promise we won’t see my parents excessively. Of course, they may visit us the weekend we’re not with them.
Groom: I promise not to clean my football boots in front of the television. I promise not to keep the take-away in business single-handed.
Bride: I promise not to cancel the Sky Sports subscription without at least a day’s warning.
Groom: I promise to allow you to go shopping at least once when we’re on holiday.
Bride: I promise to make you proud of me by buying a lovely new handbag every month or two.
Groom: I promise to look interested when you tell me about your day.
Bride: I promise to care for you tenderly if your illness is neither man-flu nor hangover-related.
You can work individually or together when writing your vows. The effects may be fascinating!
So don’t go thinking that humour is out of place at a major ceremony. It is if the humour is insulting, offensive or derogatory. Otherwise, be prepared to use it judiciously, and your ceremony may well stand out even more.
For more advice, please contact Michael
I know: how long is a piece of string?! Everybody’s take on humour at a wedding ceremony is likely to be unique, so there’s never going to be a “one answer fits all” response. A wedding ceremony means such a lot – but there’s no compulsion for yours to be standardised, if you don’t want that.
Of course, if you choose a full religious service, then you’ll have no options as far as content is concerned. There’s unlikely to be much humour. You know what you’re getting, and that suits plenty of people, so all well and good.
Of course, you have the choice to have a secular ceremony instead. In each district the Registrars conduct their own service (although the core will be identical). So you will be at the mercy of geography when it comes to the atmosphere conjured up. Basically, you can expect about a 10-minute ceremony, plus time for signing the certificate. It may reek a bit of conveyor-belt. Maybe you’ll chance on a registrar with a sense of humour, but maybe you won’t!
What I’ve written so far seems to be suggesting that wedding ceremonies have to be serious after all. But, remember, there is a third way.
You can opt for another type of ceremony: a civil ceremony. Your civil celebrant builds a service that will be personalised to you, so the tone (as well as content) will normally be made to suit you precisely.
But how light-hearted do you want such an important ceremony to be? Of course, that depends entirely on you. However, there’s a good chance that you’ll include some serious elements. For example, I might give an address on the meaning of marriage; there could be a serious final blessing; exchanging the rings may be accompanied by fairly serious words; so might the vows.
Equally there is the potential for humour, and even laughter.
You may want to tell your story (how you met etc.), and that usually involves a funny anecdote or two. If you write your own vows, you can include humour, although most of it will probably be serious. The readings or poems can be amusing. I do enjoy this one by Pam Ayres:
Yes, I’ll marry you, my dear,
And here’s the reason why:
So I can push you out of bed
When the baby starts to cry.
And if we hear a knocking
And it’s creepy and it’s late,
I hand you the torch, you see,
And you investigate.
Yes, I’ll marry you, my dear,
You may not apprehend it,
But when the tumble-drier goes,
It’s you that has to mend it.
You have to face the neighbour
Should our Labrador, Jackson, attack him,
And if somebody makes me sad,
It’s you that has to whack him.
Yes, I’ll marry you.
You’re virile and you’re lean,
Our house is like a pigsty
You’re amazing – you keep it clean.
That sexy little dinner
Which you served by candlelight,
As I cook canned soup,
You can cook every night!
It’s you who has to work the drill
And put up curtain track,
And when I’m feeling moody,
It’s you who gets the flak.
I do see great advantages,
But none of them for you,
And so, before you see the light,
I do, I do, I do!
If you’re of a surreal inclination, you may even include readings that have nothing to do with marriage, but that you simply love. Neil Gaiman’s “The Day the Saucers Came” is a lovely example!
That Day, the saucers landed. Hundreds of them, golden,
Silent, coming down from the sky like great snowflakes,
And the people of Earth stood and
stared as they descended,
Waiting, dry-mouthed, to find out what waited inside for us
And none of us knowing if we would be here tomorrow
But you didn’t notice because
That day, the day the saucers came, by some some coincidence,
Was the day that the graves gave up their dead
And the zombies pushed up through soft earth
or erupted, shambling and dull-eyed, unstoppable,
Came towards us, the living, and we screamed and ran,
But you did not notice this because
On the saucer day, which was zombie day, it was
Ragnarok also, and the television screens showed us
A ship built of dead-men’s nails, a serpent, a wolf,
All bigger than the mind could hold,
and the cameraman could
Not get far enough away, and then the Gods came out
But you did not see them coming because
On the saucer-zombie-battling-gods
day the floodgates broke
And each of us was engulfed by genies and sprites
Offering us wishes and wonders and eternities
And charm and cleverness and true
brave hearts and pots of gold
While giants feefofummed across
the land and killer bees,
But you had no idea of any of this because
That day, the saucer day, the zombie day
The Ragnarok and fairies day,
the day the great winds came
And snows and the cities turned to crystal, the day
All plants died, plastics dissolved, the day the
Computers turned, the screens telling
us we would obey, the day
Angels, drunk and muddled, stumbled from the bars,
And all the bells of London were sounded, the day
Animals spoke to us in Assyrian, the Yeti day,
The fluttering capes and arrival of
the Time Machine day,
You didn’t notice any of this because
you were sitting in your room, not doing anything
not even reading, not really, just
looking at your telephone,
wondering if I was going to call.
So if you want a bit of humour at the altar, there are quite a lot of possibilities. In order to explore this further, please give Michael a call (07931 538487) or send ane-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org).