In just over two raucous years Bongo’s Bingo has become an indelible part of the UK’s cultural landscape – a wild party where you’re as likely to leave with a life-size cut-out of Kanye West as you are to be castigated for daring to call ‘bingo’ in error. In my hometown Manchester people LOVE it (capitals needed), and regularly fill up the pretty huge Albert Hall to get their Bongo's Bingo fix.
Despite that pedigree I must admit, five minutes after it all kicked off, after resident compere Jonny Bongo - accompanied by two bearded guys dressed in Disney princess outfits - has relentlessly implored us to get up on our tables and dance, I feared the worst.
‘This is organised fun’, thought I. For the record - I hate organised fun.
Then, suddenly, things changed. Jonny’s routine, a combination of Irish-charm and Irish-bastardy, became a thing to marvel at. Even when he’s repeatedly telling audience members to ‘eff off’, his sort of half-drunken-half-devilish schlock works. And the dance-offs, rave intervals, heckling, audience participation, and vast array of endless hands-in-the-air anthems being blasted out from Panama’s huge speaker system somehow goes from being slightly naff to irrepressibly entertaining – a tidal wave of chaos and kitsch to be swept along with rather than fought against.
Of course, there’s also the actual bingo. On offer throughout the several games we played on the night were prizes that I truly thought I couldn’t live without, whether it was that earlier mentioned Kanye cut-out, a Henry Hoover and even €200 in cash. And though I didn’t win, the camaraderie with my mates built while scratching numbers from our cards and sheer excitement at being on the brink of being able to shout ‘full house’ victoriously into the skies was truly thrilling.
Bringing back a sense of unadulterated fun and escapism, Bongo's Bingo is certainly worthy of a place among the best nights of Amsterdam’s thriving cultural scene: a vibrant and riotous reinvention of bingo which gives the game a new lease of life. The unpredictable ethos and distilled mayhem of the night might not be for everyone, but if you’re a believer, be prepared to get down on your knees and worship at the altar of Jonny Bongo and his band of bonkers bingo fans.
Bongo’s Bingo is back in Amsterdam on Sunday, 22 October as part of the annual ADE music conference, and on Saturday, 25 November.
Bongo’s Bingo – ADE Special // Sunday, 22 October // Panama // 18:00 // Tickets