I attended a birthday party recently. After the birthday song someone in the crowd yelled, “Speech!” Then everyone chanted, “Speech! Speech! Speech!” The 20-something birthday girl did not have a speech prepared and lacked the improvisational skills to make one up. She said something like, “Uh, thanks!”
It was a total letdown. The party never fully recovered. It was like when Goose died in “Top Gun.” You stuck around for the end, but it wasn’t as fun as before. My next thought was, “I wonder when I should leave.” That’s how you know The Moment has passed.
The party speech is a tradition that goes back to the first humble hero, Cincinnatus. Cincinnatus was a Roman soldier who wanted nothing more than to work his farm. Whenever war arose, whenever there was a rebellion, whenever someone looked at an Italian funny, the senate called on Cincinnatus and gave him dictatorial powers. Cincinnatus would raise an army, fight, win, resign his post and go back to his fields. After victory over the Aequi one of his soldiers yelled, “Speech!” Cincinnatus addressed the assembled soldiers and senators and said, “Just let me fucking farm already.”
It was the finest speech in Roman history.
The “Speech!” tradition was rekindled most recently in an episode of the television show “Arrested Development.” At a Valentine’s Day party the Bluth family yells, “Speech! Speech! Speech!” to no one in particular. It is a great moment in the history of a show full of great moments. Finally Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) gives an impromptu speech and accidentally declares his love for his brother’s girlfriend.
Like Michael Bluth, most people don’t have a speech ready for such moments. That’s because you are normal human beings who would never think of such things. I, on the other hand, am not normal. I have problems. Not only do I feel compelled to write 1,500 words about party speeches, I happen to have such a speech written. It is good for anyone, anytime, anyplace. Feel free to use this if you are ever called upon to speak.
Crowd: Speech! Speech! Speech!
You: Sure, I’ll say a few words. I’d be honored. I want to thank you all for coming to my bris. Wait, that’s later. (Take a big gulp of your drink as if you are nervous.) For real, thank you for coming to (name of real event). I especially want to thank (oldest person in the room) for being here. Let’s keep (oldest person) away from the tequila tonight, OK? We love you (oldest person), you old drunk. How about a big hand? (Hold for applause.)
It’s great to see you all here. I also want to thank (woman everyone likes) for bringing (her date). I think I speak for all of the men in the room when I say, if you break her heart we will slice your head off and bury you in the desert, Larry. (His name will probably be Larry.) Hey (most Italian guy in the room – can be Greek if needs be), go get my softball bat out of the trunk of my Buick (model of your car, even if it is not a Buick). We kid because we love, Larry. (Sip beverage. Glare at Larry.)
We all know why we’re here today. Well, all of us except (guy who is always drunk.) (Guy who is always drunk) doesn’t know he’s at a party. He’s like, “What are all these people doing at work?” Get back to work, (guy who is always drunk)!
He’s a good sport, folks. Bus driver. Very professional.
Let’s get serious, just for one second, if we can. I don’t have a lot of words of wisdom I can share. But my father did give me a great piece of advice when I was younger. (Look into the distance, wait a few seconds, then nod slowly and move on to next topic.)
They say the greatest fear is death, followed by public speaking. I don’t know what fear number three is, but if I had to guess, it would probably be getting a ride home with (guy who is always drunk), followed by whatever is making Larry piss himself right now. No one in here is going to hurt you, Larry. We’re going to hurt you outside.
Let’s welcome Larry. He’s a good guy. A round of applause! (Lead a round of clapping but end with the slow one-man-clap while staring HARD at Larry.)
Enough of my blah-blah-blah, let us raise a toast. (If you have a real piece of toast on you it would be hilarious to hold it up right here.) To all of those who could not be here, the family and friends who are no longer with us due to death or marriage, to all of those who could not be in attendance tonight because they were feeling “bleh” or have Netflix. We remember you all, you wusses, especially the dead wusses, whom I call life’s quitters.
Salut! (Take a drink.)
And now for the bris. (Start to pull down your pants, but stop, but have a look on your face like, “I’ll really do it. Isn’t this great?”)
For the record, that speech works in any situation. The ladies can use the bris jokes, too. They’re actually funnier. And yes, I am fully aware that when I write speeches, I do so in the style of Bill Murray and Bob Odenkirk’s unholy love child.
All of which brings me to this presidential election and the point – there’s a point? – to this column. In 2004 President Bush was elected in part, the experts said, because he was the candidate voters would most like to have a beer with. This makes my head explode for about 768 reasons, three of which I will share:
– Bush admitted he “drank too much” at one time in his life and had an “addiction” to alcohol. He quit cold turkey at age 40. It would be sad to drink with a man like that. He’s the last guy I would want to have a drink with – an old booze hound.
– Bush no longer drinks alcohol at all – or so we’re told. How can you have a beer with a guy who doesn’t drink beer? That should have disqualified him from the poll, and frankly, from being president.
– When’s the last time any regular Joe Eighteen-Pack “had a beer” with the leader of the free world? This is a scenario that never, ever happens. It’s like saying, “Which candidate would you like to shrink to the size of a shoulder-parrot for your next pirate adventure?” It doesn’t matter what the answer is, because it’s never, ever going to happen. (The correct answer, in case you are wondering, is Ron Paul.)
I picture John Kerry waking up every morning, donning one of his natty blue suits, eating a quiet breakfast in a stately home, being driven to Capitol Hill while reading a newspaper, walking through the Russell Building, waving to staffers, entering his office, closing the door, moving a painting off the wall and punching the hell out of the wall for the first 45 minutes of his workday, every day, for the rest of his life.
At least that’s what I would do.
This election is not about whom the voters want to have a beer with. Every election is about wa
nting the opposite of the last election. This election, in my opinion, is about who would give the best speech at a party.
Our current president is lousy on his feet. He needs a script. It’s the Yale cheerleader in him. There are no impromptu cheers. Cheers are memorized and repeated and only contain good news. There are no bad news cheers. This completely explains his speeches, if you think about it, and most people choose not to.
This election the people want a leader who can think on his or her feet, someone who can dazzle us with oratory, someone who could be called upon to give a speech at a moment’s notice in a room full of revelers and kill. It’s not about the 3 AM phone call. It’s about the 3 AM speech. For this reason, I see Barack Obama winning the next election. (I am not endorsing Obama. I am just making a prediction based on the many years I spent in the U.S. Senate … softball league.)
You get the feeling that Obama goes to parties waiting, hoping, prodding people to yell “Speech!” Then, in an aw-shucks manner, he says he doesn’t really have anything prepared, but will “just say a few words.” Cut to 20 minutes later: women weep with joy, men wish they were better men and old people forget – just for a few minutes – how much they think everything sucks.
Hillary Clinton or John McCain giving a speech?
Hope you like the part of the movie when Goose dies.
(To hear Sean, Mike, Carlos, my brother Dan and me talk about this column on The Second Column podcast on iTunes, click here.)