If you venture into your local veteran’s hall for a round of blue-haired bingo and get a little too rambunctious (i.e. have fun), you’re sure to be shushed and then asked to leave if it continues. Case in point: When Legendary Bingo creator and producer Jeffery “Bingo-Boy” Bowman went to check out a session of standard bingo years ago with Go-Go’s guitarist Jane Wiedlin, they lasted about two games before they were escorted out. Their crime? Too much talking, too much laughter. Jeffery recalls, “The people were just so mean and like, ‘Shhhhhhh, be quiet!’ And the guy calling the balls was so serious. It was like, [in a monotone voice] ‘Beeeeeeeee 3.’”
But bingo at Hamburger Mary’s in West Hollywood is a whole different animal, and inappropriate behavior is not only encouraged—it’s demanded. The music is loud. Drag queens hand out leather-strapped spankings to anyone who calls out a false bingo. (Yes, people do it on purpose all the time.) When you win, you have to run around the room while the crowd throws wadded-up bingo cards at you and chants, “Pelt them! Pelt them! All the way down, and all the way back!” And celebrity guest ballcallers toss out sassy calls and responses such as “It’s our favorite number, O-69, dinner for two, sauce on the side!” If that doesn’t paint a clear enough picture of the debauchery that is Legendary Bingo, Jeffery lovingly refers to the four-times-a-week event as “The Monster.” “We do our best to control it, but it’s just this over-the-top, everybody screaming and yelling sort of thing. Whatever happens ... happens.”
A quick gander at the endless list of celebrity guest ballcallers who have graced Mary’s stage over the years shows that Jeffery has no problem pulling in the big guns—Molly Shannon, Leslie Ann Warren, Paris Hilton, Eric McCormack, Jeremy Sisto, Eliza Dushku, Kevin Smith, Mink Stole, Jeff Probst, Ana Gasteyer, Tippi Hedren, Chaz Bono and Linda Blair. And then there are the celebs who stop by regularly with their friends and family members simply to play some bingo—Rachel McAdams, Lily Tomlin, Brittany Snow, Hayden Panettiere, Anna Kendrick, Mila Kunis, Zac Efron, Michael Cera, Jonah Hill and Kellan Lutz. “We get all these major celebrities who come in,” he says. “All of a sudden there’s Mila Kunis having a smoke out in front. What’s fun is, people just leave them alone.”
But there’s one celebrity guest ballcaller who really stands out in Jeffery’s mind. “Anna Nicole Smith was—I can’t even explain it. She quacked like a duck. People were just mesmerized by anything that came out of her mouth. She looked amazing and was having such a good time. But as the night went on, it got weirder and weirder until she couldn’t actually speak.”
Jeffery started Legendary Bingo in April 1998 at Stonewall Gourmet Coffee in West Hollywood. At the time, he was working at AIDS Project Los Angeles as an event coordinator and putting on fancy thousand-dollar-a-person events. But he wanted to create a fundraising event that was community-based and would allow anyone to support their favorite cause without having to shell out 200 bucks for a ticket to a gala. The proceeds from every session of Legendary Bingo go to a different charity. Over the years it has millions of dollars for local, national and international charities and organizations, including animal rescues, HIV/AIDS charities, cancer charities and many more.
“This event has created a really cool atmosphere where younger people do something good for charity but still have a really good time. They’re not sitting at some boring dinner or awards show. My wish for the world is that more club events were for charity. It attracts so many different kinds of people, and they all sit in the same room together, which levels the playing field. It’s not gay bingo at all—it’s gay, straight, young, old, black, white. There’ll be a table of Beverly Hills housewives sitting next to a table of cute gay guys sitting next to a table of the red hat ladies who are all 90 years old. People come in wheelchairs, and people bring their kids. They’re all there and all are having a good time. Everyone is welcome.”
Catch Legendary Bingo at Hamburger Mary’s in West Hollywood, with shows every Wednesday night at 7 and 9 p.m. and every Sunday at 6 and 8 p.m. For information on other Legendary Bingo events throughout the city, visit bingoboyinc.com.