That’s Not Very Punny

Image of a man holding his hand up and the title "That's not very punny" for a blog post on how to write non offensive gay jokes

There’s often a fine line between a joke and an insult, and in recent years weve been bombarded by those who decry the growth of what they call “political correctness”, or as I like to call it, “good manners”. So is there a way to make non-offensive gay jokes, or do we need to be entirely serious when preparing speeches for same sex weddings?

Wedding speeches

There is a firmly entrenched custom in western cultures in which certain guests—and usually the couple themselves—make a speech. And very frequently those speeches are hilarious. One of the main reasons humour is considered appropriate at this point in the customary proceedings is that the process a formal wedding takes usually means it has been very serious—probably also stressful—up until this point. And there’s a myriad of studies about the health benefits of humour.

So, with that in mind, the couples’ parents, attendants and even the couple themselves are very likely to want to include humour in their speeches.

Now, there are some very standardised jokes that are wheeled out for weddings. As much as these might elicit a laugh, the best laughs always come from more personal musings directly related to the couple being celebrated.

The science of jokes

Cognitive psychologists largely agree that there are three stages in finding something humorous. For a joke to work, the audience has to:

  1. Mentally construct the set-up of the joke
  2. Detect incongruity in its multiple interpretations, and
  3. Resolve the incongruity by inhibiting the literal interpretations (which are not funny), and enjoying the meaning of the funny one.

You can read more about this process in this excellent article on humour in The Conversation, and theres a great study of humour from the ACU here. But all you really need to know to tread the line between funny and just plain rude is whether your audience will be able to step through that process with you.

To do that, first consider whether the audience can imagine the set-up you’re creating. If they aren’t with you in the setup, there is no way they’re going to follow you into the next stage. It’s here, right at the beginning, that those who want to keep telling old jokes lose their audience.

If a tired or inappropriate stereotype is being perpetuated, any member of the audience who finds the stereotype inappropriate won’t be able to inhibit the unfunny interpretations, and therefore won’t recognise the funny one. Its not a choice they’re making; it’s a choice you’re making.

And thats when the jokers start complaining about political correctness.

Start by understanding the audience

The most important thing you can do is consider the audience. And for a wedding, they are all reasonably likely to have something in common with the couple getting married. A gay wedding will probably have a strong proportion of gay attendees: so gay-themed jokes are fine, as long as they don’t mock gay people. A lesbian wedding will probably have a strong contingent of lesbian attendants: so lesbian jokes are definitely appropriate, as long as they don’t mock lesbians.

Are you detecting a theme yet?

If the only way you can be funny is by mocking others, you’re probably not very funny. Perhaps in that case you can ask someone else to make that speech. But non offensive gay jokes exist, and it’s always better just to stick to jokes that don’t mock other people.

The idea that you can’t tell a joke without offending anyone anymore is just nonsense. You never could tell a racist joke without offending a racial minority. The only thing thats changed is that—for the most part—we actually care about racial minorities now. You could only tell racist jokes in the past because in the past your audience didn’t care about racial minorities. The same applies to any other kind of marginalised group.

Write for the couple, and you should hit a point that carries most of the audience along with you.

Write your own jokes

I don’t object entirely to using jokes you find on the internet. There are many many many websites dedicated to listing jokes and one liners for wedding speeches. There are even a few that list non offensive gay jokes. But apart from the fact that your audience is very likely to have heard them all before, using recycled jokes misses the advantage you get from ensuring your audience can construct the setup in their imagination.

Write your own jokes, considering the couple and the characteristics their friends are likely to share. This is a winning formula for a hilarious wedding speech that is perfect for the event.

That said, it can be helpful to gain some inspiration, and I certainly guffawed at this page!

Celebrate the couple

Lastly, the most important thing you’re being asked to do when making a speech at a wedding is to celebrate the couple. If you get so lost in the humour that you forget to do that, your speech will definitely fall flat.

  • Use humour to engage the audience.
  • Use humour to make the event a celebration.
  • Use humour to praise the couple.

The speaker who can make us laugh while being entirely serious about how joyful the occasion is, wins.

Check out my other posts about same sex weddings!

Published by Trevar Alan Skillicorn-Chilver

Trevar Alan Skillicorn-Chilver is an authorised celebrant, a playwright, a teacher and quite a few other things!

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