Saturday night, and there's a guy pacing the stage like a circus lion
eyeing his captors. He has barely started his monologue and he's already
sweaty. He's explaining the rules, such as they are. “And losers … ”
he screams into the microphone “ … will continue to be losers for the
rest of their shit lives!” The frenzied crowd shrieks in ecstasy.
They might be here for a postapocalyptic kangaroo court or a medieval execution — or even a Pentecostal tent revival. But bingo?
bingo. Make that Underground Rebel Bingo: a surrealistic version of the
game for the hip and hedonistic, held in a Hollywood club and initially
promoted as by-invitation-only. There is smoking, and drinking, and
shrieking. There are buxom burlesque performers. And yes, there are
bingo tickets, and someone calls out G-46, but they rhyme the callout
with “dicks” or “pricks” — this is bingo as they might have played it in
the Moulin Rouge while fucked up on absinthe and opium.
is the brainchild of one Freddie Fortune, although it's unclear whether
Fortune is his real name (he has given the supposedly false surname
Sorensen to at least two other publications). There's a lot about
Fortune, in fact, that isn't clear — even after exhaustive research.
When we tried to schedule an interview with him, he canceled on us,
ignored us and changed our meeting times and locations at the last
minute before finally talking, and even then not saying much.
we do know: Fortune is a soft-spoken Brit with close-cropped hair. He's
likely about 28, give or take. He likes black coffee and Marlboro
Lights. And that's about it.
In hushed tones, with an accent that
betrays upper-middle-class south of London (although it's possible he's
faking, as his stage accent sounds lower-class northeast London, oddly
enough), he gives his spiel: “We were drinking a bit and messing around
in this church basement back in London and we found this old bingo kit.
One thing led to another.”
else he wants to share is a political screed, pitting the villainous
bingo establishment against his heroic bingo partisans.
Fortune's telling, there's the bingo 99 percent and the bingo 1 percent,
and this rigid order is kept in place by a boring old guard that's
intent on stopping the lively young upstarts represented by Fortune's
ilk who want bingo to be fun, freaky and flirtatious.
“We do have pretty hard and fast rules … as every rebel should,” he says.
No. 1 is “no old people” — followed by “no boring people.”
may be unhinged, if not bat-shit loony, but he seriously loves L.A.
He's held Rebel Bingo nights in 25 cities across the globe, including
Madrid and Toronto, but suggests that he may settle his gadfly games
into a more permanent home. “I love this city. It's perfectly trashy,”
he says. “And there are a lot of bingo traditionalists here. This is, in
some ways, the belly of the traditionalist beast.”
traditional bingo outlets throughout L.A. — Catholic churches, Jewish
rec centers and American Legion halls — are staid affairs, attended
mostly by placid, elderly folks.
(Asked about Rebel Bingo, one
74-year-old player at All Souls Catholic Church in Alhambra, who will
give her name only as Terry, says, “You've got to mark your card. Pay
attention! They called one of your numbers.” Of Fortune's enterprise,
she says, “I don't know what you're talking about. Sounds communist.”)
Bingo is held irregularly at Hollywood's Dragonfly under the ruse
“Story Club,” or something similarly hush-hush. The whole scene looks
like something out of Ziggy Stardust's basement hootenanny. The under-30
set is dressed in glitter, gloss, rave wear and standard-issue hipster
duds. Most have temporarily tattooed each other with their markers.
dude has duct tape covering his nipples. “I've been waiting for someone
to rip it off,” dude winks. He's also wearing a codpiece.
and his cohorts hand out bingo cards and markers. Fortune — Tony
Robbins meets Tony Blair — is onstage working up the crowd: “Oooh, No.
7! A lucky number for stupid people!” Two burlesque ladies Fortune hired
for tonight only, Frankie Sin and Natasha Marcellina, draw numbers with
rhymes and naughty aphorisms.
Winners get pool floats, panda
suits and a really rad faux-old-school iPod boom box. Losers who
approach the stage with incorrect numbers are mercilessly scorned:
Beck's “Loser” blasts over the sound system as a ravenous crowd calls
This version of Pinocchio's Pleasure Island
comes to a close with a DJ and dancing. Pairs of 20-somethings
aggressively make out in all corners. There are lots of drunken asses,
but no one has yet turned into a donkey.
Maria, 24, who lives in
Hermosa Beach, has been dubbed “the unicorn master” for her skill with a
marker. She says, “Our co-workers come all the time, even though we
think the idea is pretentious. It's very Silver Lake … like, who are
they rebelling against?”
The insight hasn't stopped her from dropping $20 to be here.
But even if this is, in fact, a grand gimmick and Fortune is full of shit, he's having fun. Everyone's having a blast, actually.
has snuck out back for a smoke. “It's a cheap way to have a silly night
out with your friends,” he says between puffs. Right? “And this is how I
get out all of my rage,” he admits, exhausted and looking worse for the
In a follow-up email after a sojourn in London, he says,
“Look, we've dropped the 'Underground' from our name. We're not going to
hide from the bingo traditionalists anymore — we're coming out of the
shadows — standing up for what we believe in.”
Rebel Bingo returns to Los Angeles in October to stick it to those very traditionalists.
Our new friend Terry was unavailable for comment.