Don’t Give Up Your Day Job

March 19, 2007 at 3:29 am (Uncategorized)

What is it with celebrants? Why do so many of them think they’re comedians? You have to wonder why they go into this line of business if what they really want to do is crack jokes at someone else’s expense. If you really think you’re that funny, try stand-up, not marriage ceremonies.

A case in point was the celebrant at James and Melissa’s beautiful wedding on Saturday at Tocal Homestead, Paterson. It was a garden ceremony, overlooking rolling green paddocks and a family of Clydesdales, and an excellent vantage point from which to watch the afternoon light change and a terrific, moody storm roll in. It was all gorgeous.

The celebrant’s probably a perfectly decent bloke once you pull him away from the limelight, but he spent a good portion of the ceremony absolutely whipping the groom. By the time they went to sign the marriage certificate, we were all busting to turn around in our seats and have an animated chat about this peculiar phenomenon. It’s the celebrant comedy act, coming soon to a wedding near you.

This particular celebrant announced early that James had confided Melissa “can be a nightmare,” and asked James if he’d care to elaborate. James passed. Before James began his vows, the celebrant said something along the lines of “After all the weeks of your friends asking you if you’re really going to go through with it, this is where you show them that yes, you are.” As Melissa went to slide on James’s wedding ring, the celebrant said “Let’s hope James hasn’t put on even more weight.” When Jeff, Melissa’s father, went to take his seat after giving his daughter away, the celebrant said “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Pause. “No, no, just kidding, you were great.”

There was more. It was relentless. And he’s not at all an isolated case. It seems to be the rule rather than exception, which suggests to me the job – for many a second, weekend means of income earning – must attract a certain type of person. The first thing about a civil marriage celebrant is that you’ve got a guaranteed captive audience. People will show up, definitely, for the wedding. You will never play to an empty house. And it doesn’t matter how bad your comedy routine is, because there’s always the marriage ceremony as handy back up should you ever encounter any rough patches. It’s also a happy occasion, which guarantees a forgiving, friendly crowd. I also have to wonder if the little bit of power is part of the attraction, in the way I often think it is for some religious figures and, say, bouncers. There’s nothing quite like having a big important job to do to make the socially awkward puff their chest and strut their stuff. Just look at John Howard.

The main thing that increasingly concerns me about all these comic celebrants is the fact that their departures from script – and we all swapped stories about the alarming ad-libbing of a celebrant on a roll – have the effect of making it all about them. And rule number one of any wedding is that it’s all about you if and only if you are the bride and groom.

Congratulations, James and Melissa, now husband and wife. Here’s to you and a long, happy life together.



  1. Elisabeth O'Brien said,

    Dear Doctor Di

    When a celebrant acts in this unprofessional manner then the bride and groom should make a formal complaint to the Registrar of Marriage Celebrants in the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Office. This behaviour is not acceptable on any level and denegrades good work by other caring celebrants. If of course this ceremony took place in Australia.

    I own a training company for marriage celebrants nationally in Australia (Australian Celebrations Training) and am a President of a professisonal association and it is our desire to perform legal and dignified ceremonies that will be a lovely lasting family memory. Elisabeth O’Brien

  2. doctordi said,

    Dear Elisabeth
    Thank you for taking the time to comment. Yes, the ceremony did take place in Australia, in country New South Wales, and it was still very much a lovely day, in no way marred by the (no doubt well-intentioned) barbs of the celebrant. He was obviously meaning only to be light-hearted, not malicious, and no one was offended. We were just bemused by the tendency among some celebrants – and we all had a tale or two to tell of someone similar – to think it’s an opportunity to flex their funny bone.
    Thanks again for providing information on alternatives.

  3. Some Say said,

    Yes, we all have a tale…..

  4. doctordi said,

    I can hear those melodious tones now….

  5. weddingplanningtips said,

    Hi Doctor Di, Thanks for your thoughts. As a professional wedding photographer, I have often wondered when photographing a wedding if guests share my bewildement of the jokes told by some celebrants.

    There are some great, caring & professional celebrants out there and there are some bad ones too (just like photographers). I agree with Elizabeth’s comments and you will find a lot of information on the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Office website about weddings and celebrants.

    I have just added a scarey story on my blog about a couple who booked an unregistered celebrant for their wedding.

    Thanks Doctor Di, I enjoyed reading your blog.
    Sarhn McArthur

  6. doctordi said,

    Yes, Sarhn, we do share your bewilderment!

    I’ll just say again this celebrant wasn’t bad or mean or a blight on the day. On the contrary, he was definitely trying to inject (more than) his share of levity into the ceremony. It just struck me – for the millionth time – as a peculiarity of the celebrant industry, but he was certainly registered, and not shonky at all. Bridal party beware, I guess – and thanks for your comments, Sarhn, I hope some of my readers head your way if they’re in the market for some wedding planning tips!

  7. Tony Gelme said,

    Dr Di, Beth and others.
    I appreciate your comments. You’re quite right – jokes are entirely out of place in a wedding ceremony. Celebrants are not appreciated as would-be stand up comedians. However, judicious use of appropriate humour is OK. Humour is simply one of the “tricks of the speaker’s trade” along with, voice modulation, drama, pause, repetition, word pictures, etc.
    The skill is in effective public speaking – engaging an audience. I’m a marriage celebrant of 15 plus years standing and a celebrant trainer. I have to say, I too have been a guest at dreadful weddings. They’ve been boring, monotonous, impersonal and totally forgettable.
    Weddings are celebrations – a special time – they should be happy, joyous an event the couple and their guests will treasure forever. Rule out jokes, but don’t rule out humour. Professional speakers have a saying – “you don’t have to use humour, unless you want to be paid!” A nice use of appropriate humour maintains attention and adds interest to the rest of the words. It’s a special skill many (but not all) celebrants have. Some do make a hash of it.
    Unfortunately, too many choose celebrants by price (not knowing what else to ask). Ask a celebrant what they do, how they do it and check their experience, qualifications & service. These are more reliable guides.
    Tony Gelme

  8. doctordi said,

    Hi Tony, and welcome. I completely agree. A wedding is a very happy occasion, the perfect setting for laughter, and I think humour is therefore utterly appropriate to the ceremony and general celebrations. I guess it’s a fine line, and some are better walking it than others.

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