If you haven't gotten into Cash Cab yet, then your New Yorker status needs to be downgraded. The show is as New York as New York 1, the Sleepy's jingle and publicly-funded sports arenas. I got addicted a few years ago while watching on the little TV with like five channels perched atop the Stairmaster at my New York Sports Club. No matter what time of day I worked out it was always on. This season Cash Cab won the Daytime Emmy again for Best Game Show and its perfectly likable host Ben Bailey brought home his first Emmy for Best Game Show Host. Below is my brief and enlightening chat with Ben:
Congratulations on your Emmy.
Thanks, man. The whole thing was surreal. I was on painkillers the whole time.
Yeah. I don't know when that theater was built but it was a long time ago, and those seats are not the best for a bad back. So I was doped up. I don't think anyone could tell.
Is that why were you wearing sneakers at the Emmys?
That is absolutely why. I put on my dress shoes and it hurt to stand in them. So I said alright, I'm wearing running shoes and a tuxedo to the Emmys. I went out and got a tie that matched the color of the shoes. I just went with it.
In your acceptance speech you graciously thanked the show's first executive producer -- Ron Deutsch -- as being so instrumental to the show's current success. What did he do that was so formative?
He has produced a bunch of different games shows in his career and he knew what the show had to be. He knew that it had to move through the questions quickly. He knew I had to be enthusiastic. He just knew what it needed to be all around. And he got it there through long days and hard work. I mean, that was the hardest season -- the first one... Because we were writing all the dialogue that I now say over and over again. We were basically laying out how the show works and he was the one who had the answers when we were like "What should we do about this?"
In the early episodes of Cash Cab, the first times people got in a cab and you sprung it on them that this was a game show, how did the unsuspecting contestants react?
In the beginning no telling how they would react. Some where like "Alright, let's do it!" Others just got out and shut the door without a word. Others had a thousand questions - like could this possibly be real? Am I getting set up for something? What's going to happen to me next?
Do contestants have to pay for their fare?
The never have to pay. Sometimes they try to, or they try to give me a nice big tip. I never accept it.
On the final question contestants are given the option to keep their winnings or go all-in. What is ratio of people who keep the money to those who risk it all?
Honestly, I can't tell you for sure but I'd say it's about even. But it's not always the people you would think. Some people get every question right all the way to the end and they're like "no." Some people barely make it, they've got two strikes, they've used all their shout outs and they're like "Let's risk it all!" And we're like "What? You crazy? You're lucky you made it this far."
You were not a cabbie before the show existed, but you are now a member of the Taxi and Limousine Commission?
I am. I am a licensed hack. I had to go through taxi school in order to get the gig.
Let's see how much of a NYC cabbie you really are. How much did you make in overcharging scandal?
I didn't make anything in that. We have to run the meter and keep track of our pick up and drop off locations, but we never charge anybody anything. I was not part of any of the strikes, either.
How often have you fought with other cabbies?
Well that's just it. As far as how much of a New York cabbie am I, it depends on the moment. And I have my moments. I'm about to tape a standup special for Comedy Central and I talk about some of this stuff in the special. Road rage is real, let's put it that way, and I am no exception.
Certain NYC cop shows are liked by NYC cops. How do NYC cabbies feel about Cash Cab?
They love it, as far as I know. The ones that talk to me say they love it. But I think some of the minivan guys resent me a little bit, because they tell me people flag them down, look in and see that they're not me and then they wave them on. I think that pisses them off.
It's late February/early March 2008. Wet freezing rain. 35th and Madison, by the little Whitney. A blow-dried blonde haired woman contestant with two other guys use their street shout. The answer was "Intermezzo."
A course between meals and also a musical interlude.
Yes! I was the street shout out. And that was exactly the question.
Ha! That's awesome.
And I got it right!
I don't remember faces but I remember the questions. That's awesome, dude. It's like six degrees of Cash Cab at this point.