Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ben Bailey of "Cash Cab"

Mary, Mark and I saw Bailey perform at the Hu Ke Lau on Friday night and he was excellent. Although some of his material was "blue" – I love that term – most of it was clever observational humor. He's a funny guy and it's a shame the "Cash Cab" format doesn't allow him to showcase his consiberable comic talent more.

Here is my interview piece with him. I enjoyed speaking with him.

Think driving a cab in New York City is challenge? Imagine conducting a television game show while negotiating Manhattan traffic.

That's the job of Ben Bailey, the stand-up comic and actor who is the host and star of "Cash Cab," the Emmy-awarding winning game show.

Bailey, who won an Emmy himself for his hosting duties, is appearing at the Hu Ke Lau on Jan. 28 for one show.

Speaking to Reminder Publications, Bailey readily admitted that driving a cab and hosting a television show was "tough at the beginning." He started the "Cash Cab" job in 2005.

"It's still tough," he said. He added that as he doesn't concentrate on any one of his tasks listening to the producers of the show feed him questions to ask through an earpiece, driving the cab and interacting with his guests — he does alright.

"It's sort of a Zen thing," he said.

Bailey has never had an accident, despite his multi-tasking.

In "Cash Cab," unsuspecting people seeking a cab get into Bailey's taxi, only to find out they are on a quiz show and their ride, if their answers are right, could pay off in hundreds of dollars.

If their answers are wrong all it takes are three bad ones — they are back out on the street.

Bailey said the show seemed "pretty ridiculous on paper" when he auditioned for it. Originally, the producers had thought a New York cabbie would be the host, but soon realized they needed someone who could improvise and had a comic background.

He had an edge over some of the other comics, as he had already spent years as a limousine and delivery driver. To get the job, though, he had to pass the test for his taxi license, which Bailey took quite seriously.

"I was studying for a couple of weeks," he said. "I had a lot in the balance."

He was offered a pre-test, which if he passed would allow him to skip the class for the test and he had to answer the question of which bridge he would use to drive someone from 161st Street to Yankee Stadium.

The question stumped him and he was shocked to see a list of bridges in the city with names he didn't recognize.

Bailey fell into stand-up in an accidental way. He described himself as a "wise ass" in school, who enjoyed making his fellow students laugh. He aspired to be an actor and moved to California to pursue a career.

He worked in hotels while trying to get a break and was talking to a fellow New Jersey transplant in the parking lot of the Comedy Store one night in Los Angeles where he was offered a job answering the club's phones.

He watched some of the comics from the wings, thinking he could be funnier and after telling stories to other comics while they waited to perform, landed a spot on a show.

He also acted in television series such as "Law and Order Special Victim's Unit," "One Life to Live" and "Hope and Faith."

When asked which performing venue he prefers, he replied, "None of them are easy. All of them are difficult."

He added, "All are very hard, but I get a lot of enjoyment out of all of them. Stand-up is great because you get immediate feedback. The show is great because you can meet people."

Bailey has thought about starring in a sit-com and has developed several ideas. "I've been too busy to pitch them," he said.

He added the television networks really seek out reality show concepts because they are less expensive to produce and he isn't interested in doing that kind of show.

He has a busy tour schedule as a stand-up and he said with a laugh of his writing process, "For me, the jokes just fall out of the sky."

When an idea hits him, he hurriedly writes it down.

"I grab a napkin, toilet paper, a paper towel," he said.

Naturally the ideas don't' spring forth finished and Bailey said that writing and perfecting new additions to his act "is as much fun as performance,"

His comedic style is to tell stories with multiple punch lines along the way to the conclusion.

"I milk it," he said.

He clears the schedule for "Cash Cab," though. When the producers call, Bailey sets aside eight weeks once or twice a year to shoot footage for what will become 40 new shows.

Despite the show's popularity at first people would ask, "What on earth is this?" Bailey recalled not everybody wants to play. He said that on one day's shooting, it took six stops before he could find someone to play the game.

© 2011 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

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