There is nothing quite frightening as hearing the opening line of Happy Birthday in a restaurant. "It's not my birthday, is it? When is my fucking birthday?" The panic sets in. I don't understand who gets any joy from it? It's just not funny. At least it's over quickly, normally, but I recently witnessed the most agonising happy restaurant birthday ritual ever.
I was staying in a hotel where the buffet dinners were served at the poolside restaurant. In the centre of the pool a six man band played on small island with a palm tree in it. On our first night, the band's soulful rendition of Careless Whisper was interrupted by the chef bursting out of the kitchen in a comically large hat, cake in hand, trailed by a conga line of kitchen and wait staff banging together knives and whisks. They snaked through the tables, wobbling from side to side singing happy birthday. This parade was longer than Riverdance. They goofily swiped the cake under people's noses, then laughed in their faces and moved on. The comedy of it died after the third table. Just then they were joined by a giddy seven year old and a gigantic German with trousers two inches too short, so they couldn't give up. It was never ending.
The second night was a Swahili themed night. We were greeted under flowered arch by a frenzied trainee who looked like Steve Urkel from Family Matters. He had a lot of saliva and gave us an emotional introduction to our coconut drinks. The band were banging out the tourist-oriented Swahili songs while we ate goat kebabs. It all felt pretty cheesy until two female dancers emerged on the island in the pool and put on a truly enthralling dance performance with the help of the drummer.
Just when the tackiness of the buffet dinners was fading, the chef appeared with his cake. Surely the crowd couldn't think it was funny two nights in a row? I was wrong. The diners, charged by the energy of the dance performance, were gagging for it. The conga line was suddenly twenty people long, buffered by a large group of middle aged Australian women, the tall man and his embarrassed-to-the-point-of-nausea-looking teenage daughter. The dancers had joined and were blowing whistles, trying to imbue their zealous, highly sexualised rhythm into the crowd.
They formed a circle and the trainee, the chef, the giant, the Australians and the beautiful dancers were twerking to lyrics of "Jambo, Jambo Bwana, habari gani? Mzuri sana." (Translation: Hello, how are you sir? I am fine.)
It was more car crash entertainment than comedy - watching Steve grinding up against a sixty-year old. Then there was a sudden whoosh, slap, feedback screeching and a gasp from the twerkers. A huge, brown palm frond had fallen and wiped out three band members. They were very professional (like the time that Beyonce's hair got caught in a giant fan) and stayed still under the leaf until the trainees pulled it off them. Don't laugh, not funny, don't laugh. Wide eyed and biting my cheeks, I glanced over at my friend Jen, who had already let a loud PAAAARP laugh escape her throat.
Just then a concerned looking waitress passed, behind her the scene of the band gathering their instruments. Her worry turned to anger when she saw our faces, and then we were done for. Jen, trying to stay straight faced, looked like she was trying not to sneeze. Impressively, she was still able to spit out a high pitched, "I'm just glad that they're okay," before letting out another inappropriate honk. I laughed silently, with tears streaming down my face and eventually covered my whole head with the huge white napkin until the waitress had gone away.
Now that's funny.