Man behind hugely popular ‘rebrand’ of game bringing it to his native city
A Belfast man who hit the jackpot when his fresh take on bingo became a global phenomenon is bringing his event home.
Jonny Lacey, aka Jonny Bongo, helped change the face of the traditional game when he set up Bongo’s Bingo with pal Joshua Burke in Liverpool six years ago.
The night out combines the original game with music, dance-offs and rave intervals.
Since its inception, Bongo’s Bingo has expanded from one host to (unlucky for some) 13, is played in 40 UK locations and has visited Ibiza, Australia and Dubai.
The Ballyhackamore native always wanted to bring his big night out back home but logistical issues prevented it. The event is now being classed as a performance-style stage show, however, and with his (two little) ducks in a row, Bongo’s Bingo is coming to Belfast on October 28.
Jonny said: “I was working in hospitality and started a weekly pub quiz in Liverpool, which really took off.
“I’d wanted to breathe new life into pub quizzes, which I felt had become a bit stale, and that was really the building block for Bongo’s Bingo.
“I took the same formula — interactive music rounds, rave sections — and set up Bongo’s Bingo. But while it is something different, the one key thing that makes it so successful is it is still bingo. It’s not a rave or a theme night. It’s still the traditional game, just with different elements.”
Players can win anything from Henry vacuum cleaners to pink unicorns and cardboard cutouts of celebrities.
“I’ve seen people win mobility scooters and ride them home that night,” added Jonny.
“And there have been times, walking around Liverpool, I’ve spotted lifesize cardboard cut-outs of Ainsley Harriott or Ted Hastings in people’s houses. Then I know they’ve been to Bongo’s Bingo.”
While he uses the familiar bingo phrases such as Legs Eleven and Lucky Seven, he has introduced a few of his own — number 12 has become AC-12 in tribute to Line Of Duty, while 33 (pronounced Tirty Tree) is accompanied by a well-known pop song by an Irish band like B*Witched or The Corrs.
Jonny said: “Certain numbers really get the crowd going. When I pull out 33 the room goes off and everyone gets up to dance. Then it’s back down again on the benches to continue the game.
“It’s a really inclusive night and obviously we don’t take ourselves seriously. Even the people who don’t think it’s their thing end up joining in.”
The format has gone global, with tours in Australia and Europe and up to 100 shows a month in the UK. Before the outbreak of Covid-19 Jonny and Joshua had been hoping to bring the game to the US and Canada and are still pushing ahead with that plan.
Jonny says the lifting of lockdown restrictions has brought more people out than ever before, with a fresh appreciation for a good night’s entertainment. Tickets for this year’s Christmas shows sold out quicker than they’ve done in the past.
But it’s the homecoming event that Jonny is most excited about now.
“I’ve been trying for six years to bring Bongo’s Bingo to Belfast but logistics prevented me from doing so,” he explained.
“We’ve got the green light now, though, and I can’t wait. I’m absolutely over the Moon. It’s going to be a great night and an emotional one for me too.”
Bongo’s Bingo Belfast takes place at Boucher Road Playing Fields, with gates open at 6pm and the first game at 8pm. Tickets and info at: www.bongosbingo.co.uk.