No laughing matter: Wedding industry becomes big business for comedians

WASHINGTON — When Laurie Potter and her fiancé, Mike, started planning their 2013 wedding, they had every intention of tying the knot the traditional way — but that quickly changed. Potter says all of the planning got too chaotic and too stressful, “and it wasn’t what we wanted anyway,” she says.

Instead, the Albany, New York, couple opted for a pop-up wedding on top of the Empire State Building, and they asked Harris Bloom, a New York comedian, to become ordained and officiate the affair.

“This couple wrote to me telling me they wanted to get married and they wanted a comedian to do it,” Bloom says. “I’d obviously never done this before, but … I figured, ‘Why not? I’ll give it a shot. I’m an adventurous guy.’”

For Potter, asking a comedian to oversee her marriage just seemed natural.

“It just seemed more us. We’re not really serious people to begin with, so it just seemed more appropriate … and not us, all of the sudden, trying to be serious people,” she says.

That’s not to say Laurie and Mike’s wedding turned into a stand-up routine. Potter says Bloom kept the ceremony “on the lighter side,” but personal — peppering in a few laughs when appropriate.

“It was just a really happy occasion for us,” she says.

Since then, Bloom’s professional life has changed in a way he never could have predicted. He’s seeing more demand from couples eager for a laugh during one of life’s more serious moments. For the upcoming year, he’s already booked 40 weddings.

“While now I’m the stand-up comic who also does weddings, soon I will be the wedding officiant who also does stand-up,” Bloom says.

What, exactly, can one expect from a ceremony that’s orchestrated by a comedian? Bloom says it’s nothing like a comedy club.

“I’m not looking to get a laugh a minute; it’s still going to be poignant and meaningful. But, I do specialize in doing weddings with certainly more humor than people are used to,” says Bloom, who adds that he’s extra careful to keep jokes tasteful, so as not to offend grandma.

Like most officiants, Bloom meets with couples before the big day to get to know them better and to figure out what they want from their ceremony. After the meeting, he says, he’s able to pinpoint their sense of humor and even find humor in their relationship.

And while pleasing the bride and groom is a highlight for Bloom, he says it’s great to see the reaction from guests, too, since they never expect the jokes.

“It’s not like I’m dressed like a comedian or anything like that. I’m dressed in my suit and tie,” Bloom says. “I’ve had a lot of ceremonies that almost feel, and they become, almost like a stand-up show, because the crowd is really into it, and obviously, the couple is into it because they wanted me in the first place. It really adds something. To me, it just makes it more memorable than just a regular ceremony.”

For comedians, the wedding industry isn’t limited to overseeing vows. Northern Virginia comedian Geoff Woliner helps make sure the wedding party delivers engaging speeches.

Woliner, who has worked in comedy since 1999, first saw the opportunity to break into the wedding industry when he attended his best friend’s wedding a few years ago. After delivering his best-man speech, another friend grabbed the microphone and took the audience on “a white-knuckle adventure.”

“He called the bride stuck-up, he called the groom a jerk, and those are some of the nicer things he said over the course of those five minutes,” says Woliner, who is the founder and CEO of Winning Wit.

“It was that time when it dawned on me that what I’ve been doing as a stand-up comedian could really apply to this specific industry. Nobody had been doing it, and so why not take the experience that I have and the skills that I have, apply it to this, and help other people be funny?”

When interested clients reach out to Woliner, he meets with them to learn about their relationships to the bride and groom, then helps them structure a speech. And, of course, he helps them write a few jokes for the big toast — and figure out what subjects should not be joked about.

“What’s going to get you kicked out of the family? Let’s avoid that,” Woliner says.

Like Bloom, Woliner says he’s really seen business pick up over the past few years — this year, he says, it’s “gone through the roof.” He’s hoping to help with more than 100 weddings in 2015.

“We’ve really just seen this explode. And the beauty of it is, people have a different feeling once they get through that speech — everyone’s excited, there’s a juice to it, and people are still talking about it,” he says. “If the speeches are killer, it’s going to be the wedding of a lifetime.”

Bloom says that as word spreads about his services, he doesn’t see any reason why business would slow. After all, he has something unique he can offer to couples.

“Not to knock myself too much, but as a comedian, I’m, like, one in 1,000 here in New York City. There are tons of funny comedians. I mean, I’m funny, but I’m not anything special, quite frankly. But as an officiant, I really do think that I offer something different.”

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