When we ask newlyweds to think back on what they wanted most for their big day — and we’ve interviewed hundreds of them over the years — the most common response is “For it not to feel like a wedding!” But in a monsoon of flower crowns and macaron towers, how do you see beyond the usual tropes and actually pull off a non-cookie-cutter affair? For the answer, we decided to interrogate the cool couples whose weddings we would actually want to steal — right down to the tiger-shaped cake toppers.
Here, we talked to two creatives — Joanna Rothkopf is a writer on Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, and Brad Becker-Parton is an independent film producer — who prefer to be behind the scenes rather than in the spotlight. Thus, when they were married in September 2018 on a Brooklyn rooftop, one of the guiding principles was, in the bride’s words to the groom: “I don’t want this to feel like your bar mitzvah.”
Joanna: I had this now-iconic conversation with a wedding planner who was like, “It’s not possible to have a wedding in New York for under $750 a head,” and we were like … [Laughs] After that, I was very determined! We ended up having a 220-person wedding for less than half of $750 a head.
Brad: When we started planning the wedding, Jo was like, “I don’t want this to feel like your bar mitzvah. I want to know most of the people at my wedding,” which was completely understandable.
Joanna: We’d been together for ten years.
Brad: We met in college at Middlebury, both doing the college radio station.
Joanna: We were a very classic radio-station couple.
Brad: In the fall of 2017, she and her sister picked out a ring and showed it to me.
Joanna: It was a long saga for him to get the ring because he had to get it from Japan, which was very rude of me. From far away, it’s just like, oh, that’s a pretty ring, but up close, it’s extremely complicated and beautiful.
Brad: I wanted to propose the moment it arrived.
Joanna: Even though the idea of the proposal was not a surprise and I’d lived with him for ten years, I’m just so bad at ceremonies and rites of passage, so I was so nervous. It made me all weird. And Brad, bless him, did it very quickly and gave just a nice teaspoon of emotion because he knew I couldn’t handle more.
Brad: For the wedding venue, she ended up ultimately finding the Glasserie in Greenpoint. As soon as we saw it, it just made sense. We ate dinner at the restaurant, and it was really good. It was right in Brooklyn. We both care about food.
Joanna: They had this big roof on the top of a hotel, and it was reasonably priced. Glasserie is a restaurant we love, and in terms of budgeting, we knew we wanted to spend money where it counted: the flowers, the food, the DJ, the photographer. So we focused our resources there and then did everything else — place cards, other things you don’t think you need but you really do — for as little money as possible. For example, we bought fancy paper and printed out our table numbers ourselves and did the invitations online via Paperless Post.
Brad: I wore a blue suit that I got custom-made at Brooklyn Tailors in Williamsburg for $1,600. I had never really splurged on fancy dress clothes before, and it was important to me to get something that felt special, that fit correctly — I have a big butt but like a tapered cut — and that was just slightly flashier than things I would usually wear. It was a real deep royal blue. Somewhat embarrassingly, I really liked the royal-blue color of the suit Judd Apatow was wearing in his Netflix special and based my color choice off that.
Joanna: I initially wanted a not-white dress because my mom’s wedding dress was blue. I went by myself to Saks and tried on this flowered Carolina Herrera, and it was a revelation. It fit perfectly — I’ve never had something just look like that before. I didn’t expect to find anything I liked that much on that trip, and I definitely didn’t expect to find something I liked that was so expensive, but unfortunately the dress gave me no choice. The guy who had been helping me was very Stanley Tucci in The Devil Wears Prada, and he said, “Is this your wedding dress?” And I said, “Yes.”
Brad: We woke up the morning of our wedding in our apartment in Boerum Hill, and Jo went to the Box House Hotel [starting at $179 per night], where we were staying that night, to get ready with her friends in the suite. I immediately locked myself out of the apartment, so I had to get an Uber and chase Jo to the hotel. I also locked my phone inside, so I couldn’t text her.
Joanna: This was when I hadn’t slept more than four hours the night before, I was so grumpy, I woke up with hives all over my eye, and my foot was mysteriously starting to bleed, so I think it just was another funny thing to go wrong. And to be fair to Brad, he does stuff like that all the time, so it wasn’t particularly shocking.
Brad: Then from there, my dad, my brother, and I got our hair cut. We’ve been going to the same place for 15 years, the Kinsman; even though I was running late by that point, I wasn’t anxious about it because we know the place. It was something I was excited to do, the three of us. Then we went back to my apartment, where we hung out with my friends. We didn’t have bridesmaids or groomsmen. When I was ready, I went to the suite, and there she was in her wedding dress. It was so cool! I loved that she got that dress. She looked so beautiful. She had told me our whole life that she wanted to wear something funky and untraditional to the wedding, so I was really glad she decided to get something a little bit different. I could tell she was really excited to wear it.
Joanna: When Brad came in, that ended up being our reveal, and everyone in the room got all weepy and screaming. I was like, Please, enough.
Brad: Jo’s uncle, Rick Prelinger, officiated the ceremony. He’s a documentary filmmaker and archivist, and he’s a really fascinating, weird, brilliant guy who I have built a relationship with because I’m a filmmaker as well. He gives a lot of talks and he’s used to speaking in front of students, and I knew we wanted somebody who knew us to do it. We didn’t want to go with a rabbi.
Joanna: Brad and I are not religious at all; any religion that made its way there was more cultural and more for our families because both our families are Jewish, mostly. His older cousins said the blessing. His grandpa, who’d just died, used to say the blessing at all the weddings, so it was nice for them to do that.
Brad: Jo kept saying we want to wink at Judaism. So the chuppah-esque thing didn’t look like a traditional chuppah at all.
Joanna: Instead of the normal four posts, it only had two and was basically just a prettily draped cloth with an incredible flower arrangement from Rawan at Aurora Botanica.
Brad: Rick had one Jewish-related quote. But we both broke glasses at the end. Jo was like — that seems fun, I want to do it too. Our philosophy through the wedding was, is there any particular reason why we shouldn’t go and do this? There was no reason. So we both did it. And a funny thing I learned: The company that makes glasses you stomp at weddings is called Shardz, with a Z.
Joanna: Then we went downstairs and signed stuff, and the cocktail hour started and we were there for basically all of it.
Brad: We told the photographer, Jacquelyne Pierson, “Get everything done in advance. We don’t want to miss this.” Glasserie did the catering, and they’re Mediterranean–Middle Eastern.
Joanna: Our passed hors d’oeuvre were chickpea canapés, mushroom-and-kashkaval flatbreads, and falafel skewers. There were two signature cocktails — one that was vodka and fruity, which I usually hate, but this tasted like lightly fruity soda. And one was kind of an old-fashioned.
Brad: Everything was in one space, just an open rooftop. The seating was four long tables that held 50 people each. The dance floor was at the end of the tables, and the ceremony had been at the edge of the dance floor. Dinner was big, shared plates. We sat in the middle of one of the long tables with our siblings and friends. We didn’t want to be at one of those weird two-person tables. Horrible.
Joanna: We had dinner first, said a little thing, cut our cake.
Brad: I don’t eat dairy, so Jo’s aunt made a dairy-free wedding cake for us, which was very nice of her.
Joanna: It was a confetti cake with vanilla-and-lemon frosting and raspberry jam covered in nasturtiums from my aunt’s garden. She was unofficially competing with Harry and Meghan’s wedding cake, and, everyone agrees, she won. She did a lot of testing to make an actually good dairy-free cake and it was the best dairy-free cake I’ve ever had.
Brad: It was all dancing from then on out.
Joanna: Our first dance was to a song that was a big deal for us in college, “Need You Now,” by Cut Copy, but we had warned our friends. “We really don’t like to be the center of attention.” So we had all of our friends prepared to get up immediately when the song came on and start dancing so we weren’t out there for a moment alone. One of the pictures you’ll see is them ready to do that.
Brad: The DJ, DJ Lindsey, she was amazing. She asked our tastes, but she was mostly like, “I’ve been doing this for so many years, I used to run club nights downtown, I am going to play what I want to play.” We’d given her a list of songs that were important to us, and she integrated a lot of them. But she said, “If your dad comes over and asks me to play “Build Me Up Buttercup,” I’m not going to do it. And we said, “That’s great.” Everyone danced, danced, and danced.
Joanna: Lindsey and Brad and I all agreed that we hate traditional wedding music, so there was no wedding music. There was no “Shout.” Brad’s parents gave a speech, and they were widely praised for being very hot, like attractive, though I do want to note that my parents are also hot. Then my dad gave a speech, and my sister and Brad’s brother gave speeches. And I will say, the only time Brad cried was during my sister’s. I didn’t cry at all. I don’t think Brad is a weepy person. I’m a weepy person privately.
Brad: Jo’s sister and my brother gave a speech together, and they are typically the quieter ones in the family as opposed to me and Jo, who are absolute blabbermouths. I think it was less something she said specifically and more just seeing them sharing the spotlight and speaking with such love for us that really made me appreciate them and feel like Laura was my family. I was overwhelmed emotionally by the moment, okay? God! We had a hard out at 11:30, and we had rented out a bar down the street called Broken Land. We bought an open bar to keep the party going.
Joanna: It was mainly a priority because I wanted to get drunk and dance to nasty music we couldn’t play at the wedding. We looked all over Greenpoint and both loved Broken Land, both for its vibes and because its incredibly nice management let us take over the bar and — this is key — be nasty.
Brad: While everyone walked over there, I took off my jacket and Jo changed into shorts and a T-shirt, and when we got there, 20 minutes after everybody else, our friend Spencer had bought bangs and fake beards — so people were wearing our hairstyles. Jo’s always had long hair with bangs; I’ve had a bushy beard for ten years.
Joanna: The bar is known for piña coladas, and everyone got very piña colada–y. One of my friends left to get pizza, and I was eating pizza and one of my other friends slapped the full slice out of my hand and it landed facedown on the ground. That’s kind of all I remember.
Brad: Around 3:30 in the morning, the night ended when we decided to play Wiffle ball in the street. I swallowed one pitch, and it hit a moving taxi cab and we decided okay, that was good.