Bingo, a drag no more?
You might have always thought bingo was just one big drag – cheesy callers listlessly running through the numbers in front of equally bored middle aged moms or as an activity to keep the elderly residents quiet in retirement homes.
But that’s because you may not have experienced the full glory that is Drag Bingo. After all, if The Simpsons has already embraced cross-dressing, why not the bingo hall which, for all its fustiness and old-fashioned vibe, has always had a camp air to the proceedings and is surely ripe for the full RuPaul treatment.
But even if you already know about the idea of Drag Bingo, it could well be that you think it’s a relatively new phenomenon, but you’d be wrong. In fact, it’s proof that Seattle deserves to be famous for a whole lot more than giving the world Starbucks, the Space Needle, and making a major contribution to US rainfall levels.
That’s because, way back in the early ‘90s, when AIDS charities were really getting their act into gear, the Director of Development for the Chicken Soup Brigade, Judy Werle, had the bright idea of identifying places where people spent money freely in the theory that it would be easy to direct it some of it their way. The combination of the enthusiastic players – yes, really –and a format that looked ripe for a gay reinvention made it the obvious choice for her, at least.
For the first ever event, she enlisted the services of The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a crazy combination of nuns on the run and an over the top cabaret act. From the start, there was a huge gay following with standing room only in the hall, but as word spread, straight audiences started to show up too and more and more events were planned.
The huge success of Gay Bingo, as it was then called, also started to attract the interest of other AIDS charities and film director Glenn Holsten. He was so moved by the story of one family who’d come along to celebrate the life of their son who had died of AIDS that he was driven to make a documentary film called ‘Gay Bingo’ which generated even more interest in the game.
Before long, Gay Bingo also started to appear in cities across the US, including Boston, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles and, naturally, New York. It even found its way into states where you maybe wouldn’t expect to find so much support for something as left field as gay bingo including Utah, Alaska, Idaho, and Wyoming.
Once the momentum really gathered speed, it was transformed into Drag Bingo and spread out to bars, clubs and even restaurants looking for an alternative way to drum up custom on quieter nights of the week. It reached a real pinnacle of fame in Season 2 of Sex and the City when Carrie and the gang found that it had taken over their favorite bar on a Saturday night.
At around the same time, Drag Bingo’s popularity started to spread around the world as this whistle stop tour only goes to show.
Up in the chilly expanses of Halifax, one of the hottest nights out is the drag bingo event held twice a year, once in March and then again as part of the annual Pride celebrations. Since it began in 2012, it’s raised over $64,000 to support local good causes and it’s even attracted some of the sequinned legends of Ru Paul’s Drag Race to take part.
Royal Oak, Missouri
Although originally intended to raise money for AIDS-support charities, over the years Drag Bingo has been adopted by a pretty random range of causes including an Autism group in Royal Oak, Missouri. Over nine record-breaking years, the annual event has gained a real reputation for being a comic highlight which is just as big a hit with the straight community as it is with the LBGTQ one.
Shambala is a festival that takes place over four days in August at a mystery estate in the heart of the green and lush Northamptonshire countryside. Its scope is wide ranging from music to drama and from environmental activism to a forum for new ideas. As part of the festival’s drive for inclusivity, Drag Bingo was a brand new introduction in 2018. But at this event it wasn’t just the callers who were expected dress up in their fines, players were too – and they did, in the hundreds.
Tuesday nights at Amsterdam’s appropriately-named Queen’s Head suddenly took an upturn when they introduced their Drag Bingo nights and succeeded in attracting bigger crowds than ever to one of the city’s longest-established gay bars. The atmosphere is raucous, it’s three deep at the bar, and game tickets are only 5 euros. So you know what to expect.
In France, they even have an organization called the Fédération Française du Bingo Drag Apéro, which holds regular events at the A La Folie nightclub in the center of Paris. It’s just part of a whole stylish night of cabaret and burlesque – what else could you expect from a Parisian nigh-spot? But it still manages to retain the fun of the drag bingo experience. In a word, it’s magnifique!
Colleges like NYU have jumped onto the drag bingo craze by using Drag Bingo to welcome students to campus.
Think Bingo is a drag? Well… it is. Join Season 6 winner of RuPaul's Drag Race, Bianca del Rio for a night filled with laughter, lip-syncing and luck. There's no other way to play this friendly game than with the Queen of Mean herself. Students came ready to SLAY the competition!
But even though the drag bingo phenomenon is now worldwide, there are plenty of reasons to suppose that it’s still got a long way to go. For example while it’s largely still confined to gay clubs and bars, it’s certainly the sort of shot in the arm that traditional bingo halls might need to bring back the players that have been deserting them for years. After all, over in the UK they have already started to reinvent themselves by attracting the hipster crowd so why not become big gay venues too?
If they also incorporated the money raising for good causes element this would add an extra dimension to the evenings and surely draw in an even bigger crowd eager to indulge in fun, frolics – and even to win a little cash in the process.
So it’s eyes down and watch your cards!