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Wedding Etiquette 101: Never Do What Malcolm Gladwell Did

How this clever Canadian ruined his best friend's wedding, and what we can learn from his epically tacky toast

Photo: Gladwell.com

Photo: Gladwell.com

The New Yorker’s Malcolm Gladwell may be a bestselling author, but he makes for a shockingly bad wedding guest, suggests Ottawa-based etiquette expert and author Julie Blais Comeau.

Evidence of The Outlier author’s lack of wedding-savvy is made painfully clear by the true story “How I Ruined My Best Friend’s Wedding,” in which he describes ruining his friendship with the groom by performing a “comic” song parody during his wedding reception. (You can watch a video of his 2009 performance here.)

The song was an original creation cooked up by Gladwell and a few friends who, he now admits, loathed the bride. Set to the tune of “My Way,” the lyrics mocked her dominating influence on their buddy.

“Girlfriends he’s had a few, in fact a lot, the list is endless / But Leigh is a woman that’s true / She set him straight and now he’s friendless,” sang Gladwell and Co. as the bride and groom left the reception in anger and confusion.

Good thing, too, because they missed the last stanza, a real doozy:

“She pays the bills / He sits and rots / She has her doctorate, and he has not / He’s on a leash / He’s made his peace / He’ll do it herrrrrrrrr wayyyyyyyy!

For Blais Comeau, Gladwell’s prank is better suited to a bachelor party than a wedding. By performing it at the reception, he not only revealed a complete lack of decorum but also a fundamental ignorance about his “responsibility” as guest.

“His obligation is to contribute to the celebration; the attention should be kept on the groom and the bride,” she explains. And that attention should be positive. “They’ve invited you and they are celebrating their love! It shouldn’t be about destroying their love or putting them down.”

If you don’t like the person your pal is marrying, you have two choices: keep your opinion to yourself and smile, smile, smile or don’t attend the wedding, she says. “In an extreme case—if you really don’t approve—or you have serious concerns about it, it’s probably best not to attend.”

To those who are planning to perform their own song parody at a best pal’s upcoming nuptials, Blais Comeau recommends passing the lyric sheet by the couple beforehand to get their yay, or hell nay! “If you’re asked to make a toast and plan on telling an edgy or tongue-in-cheek anecdote, find out if it’s OK beforehand,” she says.

If only Gladwell had done that. The author reveals that he never saw his best friend again—the groom left his own wedding reception, his face contorted in an expression of “pain and confusion and betrayal”.

Now try and make that funny.

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