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TO LAUGH AND TO HOLD:
Telling a Wedding Day Story Through Humor

Here’s a little test for all you soon-to-be-newlyweds:

It’s your wedding day. As your guests stream into the church for your ceremony, onlookers gasp as grandma suddenly catches her foot on a fold in the carpet and takes a header right in front of the altar. Do you…

A) Cry
B) Tell her that she obviously did something to upset God
C) Comment that her lipstick is now even MORE outside the lines
D) Roll her up in the carpet so the bridal party can get by
E) Yell, “TIMBERRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!”

If you answered anything but “E”, this article is for you.

TWO GUYS WALK INTO AN OPEN BAR…

We all wake up on our wedding day with the exact same thought: “AHHHH…what could possibly go wrong today?” But, like Lindsay Lohan in a common sense factory, fate has a way of blowing us off course.

Every newly betrothed couple assumes that their event will go off without a hitch. But there’s one big mitigating factor in this lofty assumption. Namely, your day’s success is entirely dependent on other humans. And, unfortunately, that species is still a few sardines short of a bucket of chum.

So you have two choices. You can either freak out over minor mishaps or serve yourself up a big helping of cool cucumber. My advice? Ditch the stress ball and take the time to stop and smell the squirting roses. Weddings aren’t just for tears and smiles; there’s also a little room for laughs. So when Glitch shows up at your wedding with his date, Blooper, just relax and roll with the punches. And by all means, make sure to get a good picture.

SHOW ME THE FUNNY

The popularity of shows like America’s Funniest Home Videos and Jackass proved that this country enjoys a wide spectrum of humor. From getting kicked in the groin, to getting kicked in the groin while falling out of a tree, Americans love a delicately whipped compote of human wit and irony. Your wedding could be all that and more.

Even with the best-laid plans, things can happen. A tuxedo may be too short; the caterers may forget the sporks; the custodians could forget to hose down the dance floor after the 4-H fair. These and innumerable other little ”accidents” lend flavor to a nuptial bash, and should be celebrated for their ability to break you out of a routine. If you’re able to appreciate all that comes with living in the moment, you could wind up with some wonderful memories.

Illinois WPJA member Peter Pawinski is a master of this philosophy, witnessed in his recent award-winning photo. As Pawinski tells it, the shot of a bride’s impromptu whiplash was like catching lightning in a bottle. “I snap one frame of the approach and I see the father's foot snag on the bride's long veil,” he recalls. “I quickly double-check my AF, hammer on the shutter, and very slightly recompose as I see the bride's expression quickly change to surprise as she feels the veil pulling sharply on the back of her head.” Pawinski knew he had gold. “As a photographer, you feel that excitement of your heart leaping because you know you nailed a moment.” The bride was fine and they were left with a picture of a lifetime.

I SEE LONDON, I SEE FRANCE…

Eventually, you’ll find that everyone wants to get into the act. Remember when your mom constantly admonished you to put on clean underwear? Mine always did. Even though it was years before she thought to tell me, “I meant your own.” Well this advice turned out to be fortuitous in Ira Lippke’s famous shot. The New York WPJA photographer won an award with his picture of a little thong and dance.

“The bride had just finished changing into her wedding lingerie and was sliding into her wedding dress, when her little dog picked up her discarded panties and started prancing around,” Ira mused. “He shook them around a little and then walked right over onto her dress and sat down.” Lippke realized the unique opportunity at hand and squeezed off a shot, unbeknownst to the bride. The couple got a priceless picture, and Fido got some solid props from his homeys in the dog park.

Pawinski adds, “These sorts of pictures often happen in the most mundane, boring times, so a wedding photojournalist should always be on [his or her] toes, always looking for these pictures in all situations.” It’s kind of like being a star, targeted by paparazzi for a day. Except your pictures don’t wind up on the cover of The Enquirer, followed by a boozy late-night phone call from Danny Bonaduce. Usually.

GAG REFLEX

Take note, pranksters: humorous wedding moments aren’t all accidental. I learned of one best man who surreptitiously used Wite-Out to paint ”Help Me” on the soles of the groom’s shoes. When the groom knelt down at the altar, the entire church erupted in laughter, all to the bewilderment of the honorees.

There are loads of practical jokes that have been played out at weddings down through the ages. I would be happy to list a few of them here, but space considerations and this magazine’s liability insurance preclude me from doing so. (Pssst…www.youtube.com, search: “wedding joke” …shhhh)

However, one should never set out to artificially create his own comedy. You can’t always count on mass approval for your efforts. While the basic wedding day gags are all in good fun— for example, itching powder in the bridal gown; replacing the groom’s vows with a passage from “There Once Was A Man From Nantucket….”— some jokes can go a little too far.

There’s a legendary story of a guy who participated in the traditional pulling off of his bride’s garter belt for the garter toss. But when he emerged from under her dress, he held high a (fake) baby. Medical impossibilities aside, what group of bachelors really wants to then try and catch a tossed newborn? And just think of the implications for the poor gal who caught the bouquet. Alas, the groom successfully shaved years off the struggle to win his in-laws’ enmity.

GIVE ‘EM THE FINGER

For sheer shock value, nothing tops the Greek wedding covered by Connecticut wedding photographer Richard Esposito. In Greek tradition, the bride puts the wedding ring on her right finger. That was all fine and good, except for one thing: the ring was sized for her left finger…which just happened to be a little smaller. When the groom couldn’t get it on her hand during the ceremony, she forced it on herself.

“After they walked down the aisle I noticed the bride biting at her ring. We could see her finger was turning purple,” recalls Esposito. It had to come off immediately. “We went into the church’s kitchen and got oil and butter. The ring was able to turn, but we couldn't get it past the swelling,” Esposito notes.

This is a wedding photo of a bride having paramedics removing a ring from her finger.

Photo by Richard Esposito

There was only one option. As Esposito documented the moment, paramedics arrived at the ceremony with a special tool and sawed the band off of the bride’s bulging digit. It cut into the day’s photo time, but as Richard admits, “It’s better than cutting off the finger!”

Everything turned out cool and the couple had a story for the ages. Though the guests at the next church supper couldn’t explain why the buttered bread tasted a little bit platinum-y.

THE BUTT OF THE JOKE

Keep in mind that not every mishap should make it into the wedding album. Amorous guests caught in a compromising situation or a bridesmaid’s top falling down is best left on the cutting room floor. But don’t discount the benefits of blackmail. Hey, you’ve got future kids’ college educations to think of.

As you prepare for your big day, just make peace with the fact that plans can sometimes take on a life of their own. Simply go with the flow and learn to weave those loose threads into what will become a joyous and everlasting marital tapestry.

As Pawinski sagely sums up: “As long as the main players are there and the ceremony takes place, who cares about the little bumps in the road?”

Except maybe grandma.

—by Jeff Corriveau for the Wedding Photojournalist Association