Sweaty Teddy

For this maestro, the weddings go on forever and the receptions never change

Saturday-night fever in St. Charles hasn't surfaced yet, but Ted Burke is already feeling the heat. The sweat has started with Ted.

Ted's been a successful wedding-reception DJ for more than eleven years, so this isn't flop sweat. He's not worried that this night's "show," as he calls it, will turn ugly or weird. And Ted isn't just sweating the details. Ted literally sweats everything, hence his nickname: Sweaty Teddy.

Ted laughs it off, introducing himself that way to strangers and referring to himself over the microphone as Sweaty Teddy. He says he has a medical condition called hyperhydrosis: He sweats too much.

Jennifer Silverberg
Ted doesn't play "YMCA" at every wedding reception he DJs, but he comes prepared.
Jennifer Silverberg
Ted doesn't play "YMCA" at every wedding reception he DJs, but he comes prepared.

At this point, early in the evening, it's not noticeable. Ted is negotiating with those in charge at the Stegton Banquet Center, off Interstate 70, about one of his personal rituals within the larger ritual that is the working-class wedding reception. It's one of the little things that he believes set him apart from your garden-variety wedding-reception DJ.

The wedding party's bus is about to pull up in front. Ordinarily this is Ted's cue to bring out a round of drinks for the groomsmen and bridesmaids as they get off the bus. But that would mean leaving the building with drinks, and Stegton security rules forbid that.

So after some haggling back in the kitchen, Ted goes with the flow and forgets about the curb-service part of his shtick. But he has his reasons for trying to lubricate the wedding party early.

"When they get off the bus, they're going to be hot. They're going to be thirsty. What do you do? You greet them with drinks," Ted says as he snaps his fingers loudly enough to be heard a table away. "Right away, they see you are on top of things."

Any reasonable doubt about Ted's being on top of things is hard to maintain. As he heads out to greet the wedding party at the front door, he walks with the urgency of a waiter working for tips. His head swivels from side to side, as if he's a maitre d' searching the room for an empty table. He's not looking for anything specific, really, just checking things out.

Ted knows the drill, and he's on top of it. This may be the first time for the groom, Tim Newman, and the bride, Jill Stoverink, but Ted has been through this hundreds of times. Couples only get married for the first time once; for Ted, almost every Saturday night is another nuptial celebration.

Exhorting the wedding party as they line up in the lobby, about to enter the hall, Ted is part coach, part director -- part Knute Rockne, part Cecil B. DeMille.

During the previous week, he's practiced the pronunciation of each groomsman's and bridesmaid's name, and now he rattles them off as he walks past the wedding party. "John Blas-ka-witz ... Jim Gen-til-ee." The groomsmen appear impressed. "He got it right," one says.

Then it's time to pump up the volume. At six-foot-four, Ted is a taller version of former Saturday Night Live cast member Will Ferrell. People tell him he reminds them of Ferrell in the SNL cheerleader skits. He towers over the wedding party as he booms out his instructions, sans microphone:

"Ladies and gentlemen, let's make some noise for the reason we're all here tonight: Jill and Tim Newman."

He is answered with much cheering and screaming, whooping and hollering.

A movie buff, Ted borrows an interjection Al Pacino used in his Academy Award-winning performance as a blind Army officer in Scent of a Woman:

"Can we have a 'hoo-ah?' One-two-three, hoo-ah! Again! One-two-three, hoo-ah! For the bride and groom: One-two-three, hoo-ah!"

The 300-or-so guests inside the hall, on the other side of the door, have no idea what's causing the commotion. Once he gauges that the wedding party is frenzied enough, Ted goes through the doors, walking double-time back to his sound system to set up the first music requested by the bride and groom.

It's the theme from Shaft.

As the Isaac Hayes classic blares from the speakers, Ted introduces the ring bearer, the flower girl, the ushers, the groomsmen and the bridesmaids. They walk in -- two by two, arm in arm -- past the wedding cake and up to the head table, as Ted instructed them earlier, "ladies on the left, right-hand men on the right."

When it's time for Tim and Jill to enter the hall, Ted fades Isaac Hayes and talks over the music: "Ladies and gentlemen, let's get out of our chairs. I want a standing ovation, a big round of applause, for the reason we're all here tonight." Ted flips to the music the newlyweds have picked for their intro -- the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive," from the 1977 movie Saturday Night Fever -- and encourages the crowd: "I want a big round of applause for Tim and Jill Newman!"

Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk
I'm a woman's man: no time to talk
Music loud and women warm
I've been kicked around
Since I was born

The crowd is standing up. Jill and Tim walk to the head table with the photographer's lights on them. The crowd is clapping rhythmically to the Bee Gees' signature tune.

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