When 36-year-old writer Orly Minazad told her white American friend that she and her fiancé crashed at least 10 weddings in one summer to gather intel and inspiration for their upcoming nuptials, it took a good minute or two to peel her friend’s jaw off the floor. “She couldn’t believe that I’d gone to all these people’s weddings uninvited,” she says. “And I couldn’t believe she hadn’t!”
Minazad is from Iran, a country where she says the weddings are big, the parties go late and crashing them is as commonplace as cutting the cake. She moved to L.A. in 1991, and found it “really weird” to learn that crashing had a negative connotation. “For us, when you have a big celebration, everybody’s invited, no matter what,” she tells me. “The sacred part of the ceremony is just everyone being there.”
Crashing said ceremonies, then, is a “totally normal” thing to do. “In Persian culture, weddings are like tryouts for the venue, florist, caterer or band,” she explains. “We crash tons of them to spy on them and see what their work is like. It’s kind of like a rite of passage — you go with your fiancé and just sort of inspect the scene while 500 other people party around you.”
She understood her friend’s initial shock, though. To the average American — who tends to view weddings as intimate, personal affairs — barging in on the “biggest day” of a couple’s life and siphoning off their generously circulating crab wontons like a canape-seeking leech is kind of a shitty thing to do, and infiltrating their most intimate moment can leave ugly scars on an otherwise beautiful memory.
“I know this is going to come off as unfun, but please please don’t crash people’s weddings,” writes one wet blanket — sorry, redditor — on an AskReddit thread about wedding crashing. “Weddings are a time when people can have the happiest time of their lives with their friends and family… You crashing that and eating their food and drinking their booze might make for an ‘epic story’ in your mind, but for the bride and groom it will often be ‘and then those random people showed up and it was weird.’”
“We had crashers at our New Year’s Eve wedding,” recalls another redditor. “They were there for at least an hour and definitely had multiple drinks on our dime… It didn’t ruin our night, but it makes me kind of crabby to think about.”
That “crabiness” is hardly universal, though. There have been plenty of cases in which a crash worked out just fine — this couple loved their crashers so much that they enlisted Steve Harvey to reunite them on live TV — and in many cultures like Minazad’s, crashing isn’t only accepted, but encouraged.
In 2011, she and her now-husband did this every weekend for three months, suiting up in full nuptial regalia to eat the food, drink the drinks and absorb the inspiration from complete strangers in the midst of celebrating their big day. Each time, they’d play a little game with each other, and as she writes in an LA Weekly article about the experience, he’d make it a point to “engage in an intense conversation with the waiter about the fish” while she took it upon herself to assess the catering quality by eating as many appetizers as humanly possible (pigs in a blanket were her favorite). Then, once their respective missions were complete, they’d come back together and debrief, poring over the details in hushed whispers while they did their best to blend in.
It’s completely normal to be a little standoffish, too. While it’s not customary for crashers to interact with wedding guests, sit at the tables or partake in the party — they usually dress in black and keep to themselves — it’s perfectly fine for them to do strange, borderline antisocial things like slowly finger the linens, sample the food and point at the flower arrangements while squinting and nodding vigorously to themselves. If a bride or groom should suss them out, it’s no big deal; more often than not, they’re happy to chime in with recommendations and advice.
Minazad lost track of how many weddings she crashed before her own “intimate, 400-person ceremony,” but after a while, it started to get old. She and her fiancé began changing into their wedding outfits in the car and leaving before dinner, exhausted by balancing their never-ending crash calendar with the chore of planning their own wedding. “Once you start fighting about the food at other people’s weddings, it does get a little tiring,” she laughs.
There is an upside, though: No gifts. “You just show up, eat as much as you want and leave,” she says.
But while the little-known world of perfectly acceptable wedding crashing may be exciting to some, nothing on this planet sounds more boring to Fred Karger, a 70-year-old ex-politician and LGBTQ+ rights activist who holds the esteemed and undisputed title of “World’s Greatest Party Crasher.” “If there are no stakes, I’m not interested,” he says over speakerphone during a recent drive to Orange County. “If I’m going to crash something, there’s gotta be some sort of challenge. Otherwise, what’s the point?”
Lucky for him, Jedi-level crashes aren’t hard to find. In addition to crashing history by becoming the country’s first openly gay major-party presidential candidate in 2012 (as a Romney-hating Republican, no less), Karger has crashed hundreds of high-profile events over the years, charming his way into celebrity funerals, political conventions and star-studded parties for the Hollywood elite, armed each time with nothing more than a preternatural sense confidence, a few improv skills and the occasional clutch prop.
In 1972, he weaseled his way onstage at the Oscars during an honorary award ceremony for Charlie Chaplin, shaking the legendary star’s hand like an old chum as TV cameras broadcast the scene to millions of people around the country. The next year, having found the security at the Academy Awards to be rather permeable, he stood behind Liza Minnelli as the closing credits rolled. She had accepted an Oscar for Best Actress just moments before.
In 2006, he crashed Vanity Fair’s Academy Awards after-party, an ultra-exclusive bash that he infiltrated by toting around a fake Oscar, which he nearly dropped on Catherine Keener’s foot. Then, in 2018, he snuck past five security checkpoints and Anna Wintour at Versace’s Met Gala after-party, slipping in, cool as a cucumber, by carrying the train of Blake Lively’s cascading satin gown.
If Karger’s ingenuity and resourcefulness sound like your wedding worst nightmare, you’re not alone. Ever since Wedding Crashers espoused the idea that fist-bumping adult children will invade your ceremony, guzzle your beverages and steal your women, brides, grooms and protective in-laws have clutched their pearls about crashers, going so far as to install ceremonial bouncers and purchase crashing insurance should any uninvited guests attempt to make off with the card box. Fortunately for them, wedding experts don’t think crashing is all that common. As deputy editor of The Knot Lauren Kay told the New York Times, it’s nowhere near as “rampant” a problem as Wedding Crashers makes it seem.
It might just seem that way, though, because the good ones never get caught. Karger’s never been ousted, and if anyone questions him, he either charms his way into their good graces or slips out before causing a scene. “It’s all about looking like you belong,” he explains. “If you act confident enough to appear like you should be there, that’s half the battle.”
That’s a lesson Karger learned early on as a young, closeted boy living in a uniquely homophobic era. “Where I’m from, dropping a baseball meant you were gay,” he says. “From the time I realized I was gay at 12 to the time I came out, I had to live a double life.” For a full half-century, he was always acting, learning to improvise storylines about where he was going and who he was with and refining them based on the situation. “I had to be really quick on my feet,” he continues. “It was hard, but it also made me very creative.” It wasn’t until he came out publicly in the early 2000s that he truly felt as confident as he’d been acting. Now, he says, there isn’t a single event he feels he couldn’t crash.
Incredibly, however, Karger has never crashed a wedding — he finds them drab and overly familial. “I’d much rather crash a funeral,” he says, recounting the time he snuck into Joan Rivers’ service at New York’s Temple Emanu-El where Howard Stern allegedly “cried like a baby.” “They’re a lot more interesting, and a lot harder to get into.”
That said, if he were to crash a wedding, he has a pretty good idea of what he’d do. He’d show up looking the part, well-coiffed and armed with a believable backstory in case anyone got nosy. Then, he’d gain entry the way he normally does — by seamlessly absorbing himself into a group of guests, either striking up conversation with them outside the event or walking just far enough behind them that it looks like he’s part of their set.
If that’s not possible, he’d try to find an empty drink and carry it around so he looked like he’d already been inside. That, or he’d pull out the prop cigarette he’s carried around for years and pretend to be on a smoke break while he plots his way in. “That’s how I got into the Barbra Streisand concert for Al Gore and Joe Lieberman at the Democratic Convention in 2000,” he recalls. “It’s a real nifty trick.”
Once inside, he’d do the exact opposite of what Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson’s characters do in Wedding Crashers — he’d blend in. “Those guys are idiots!” he says, explaining that their usual line of “We know Aunt Edna” sounds about as ridiculous as announcing you know no one at the party. “What you ought to do is engage in conversation with the other guests first. You strike up some chit-chat, ask them which side they’re on — bride or groom — and then suddenly, you’re on the opposite side. That way, you’re almost guaranteed to have nothing in common.”
It wouldn’t hurt to bring a gift, either. Karger crashes with a conscience and always makes a donation to the organization hosting the event, so walking around with a gift bag or an important-looking envelope might make for both a convenient disguise and an offering of karmic forgiveness. (This, apparently, is a hallmark of a professional crasher; according to one account on Reddit, a groom who hired “professional crashers” for his wedding found them to be completely undetectable until he noticed the $50 check they left for him at their table.) That’s just a smattering of options for the would-be wedding crasher, though — Karger goes into much more detail in his forthcoming book, Crasher. Before he hangs up, he offers a synopsis: “It’s not Wedding Crashers,” says. “That’s all you need to know.”
Karger “absolutely hates” the film for its banal, “amateur” spin on crashing, and plenty of people debate whether people like Vaughn and Wilson’s characters actually exist. But, much to his chagrin and others’, people are out there living that life, emulating the movie’s puerile quest for booze, babes and bromance.
Sean, a miner stationed in Juneau, Alaska, is one such man. Though he’s pushing 50 now, he was a prolific crasher back in the day, cutting his teeth at the fancy weddings that took place in the airy ballrooms of Anchorage’s finest hotels. He fell into crashing somewhat naturally after he and his buddies — who worked as bellmen — started noticing that the extravagant weddings that took place inside their hotel were often full of “free booze” and “babes,” both of which were often bragged about by the drunk men who stumbled down the carpeted hallways in undone ties.
Sean and his friends knew they couldn’t get away with crashing weddings at their hotel, so they developed a habit of inserting themselves into weddings at some of the fancier ones around town. Their bellmen background came in handy; as hospitality professionals, they had the “gift of gab,” and were accustomed to dressing up, striking up chipper conversations and moving around hotels like they knew where they were going.
Like Karger, they also learned to blend into crowds of people, enter the venue embedded in groups of real guests and avoid arriving too early — that way, they didn’t have to bother with the sort of sober, pre-party small talk that could have blown their cover. To be safe, they always said they were on the groom’s side, offering vague aliases like “We’re college buddies” or “I’m a friend from growing up.” At the same time, they stayed as far away from the groom as humanly possible, drinking his booze, canoodling with his female guests and partying it up on his dime.
If they got caught in a conversation, they’d talk about “Anchorage things” like hockey, the weather and then more hockey. With girls, he’d pretend his dad was a big-time oil exec and that he was heading off to college at Arizona State, a school he pulled out of his ass one night before permanently committing to the bit. For whatever reason, his crash game worked. He says he got “lucky” with “babes” more than a few times.
Sean and his crew crashed between 7 to 10 weddings during their spree as Anchorage’s suavest party crashers, but they never got caught. He managed to catch something, though — a matronly “cougar” who slipped him her hotel key and entertained him in her room with sexual delights. “She was some local bigwig at a Baptist church,” he remembers fondly. “We started a relationship that lasted for years. I usually had a girlfriend, but I could call this lady anytime.”
Now all grown up and cougar-age himself, Sean misses his crashing days, calling them “some of the best of [his] life.” If he read Karger’s book, he might learn that older dudes have a much easier time crashing weddings than hot, young Vince Vaughn studs (everyone assumes they’re someone’s parent), but alas, he’s resigned himself to a noble career of mining, a field sure to be lacking in the same babe-level as hospitality or hotels.
Minazad, for her part, hasn’t crashed a wedding since 2011 and hopes to “never have to do that again.” And if she does, she can assure you she’s not after your open bar, your precious flower arrangements or your sensuous Baptist cougar. “Honestly, after your own wedding, you never want to go to another one,” she says. “I’m over it. I’m out!”