Cash Cab's Ben Bailey Upgrades His Ride from Clubs to Theaters

By Lee Valentine Smith

Known for hosting the rolling gameshow Cash Cab, comedian-actor-musician Ben Bailey is currently crossing the country on his first major theater tour. The Daytime Emmy-Award® winner is also featured in the latest batch of rebooted Cash Cab episodes premiering on Bravo next month. But even though he's back behind the wheel of an upgraded NYC cab, Bailey's first love remains live comedy.

He can be seen on various platforms as the star of two stand-up performances and is currently road-testing new material for an upcoming special. His 2011 "Road Rage and Accidental Ornithology" remains a popular selection on Netflix. In addition to podcast spots, his TV resume includes visits to Last Call with Carson Daly, The Late Show, The Tonight Show and The Today Show.

Before leaving his New York home for a tour that brings him to Atlanta's Center Stage, the lanky laugh-maker spoke with INsite by phone.

Many of the comics I speak with are either promoting a new special or working out material for a new one. Where are you on the special spectrum?

I'm ready to do a new one. I'm just waiting to see who I'll be doing it for. This tour will feature all-new material that will eventually be in the special.

When you plan a new set, do you leave room for an encore of some "greatest hits" if fans request stuff from one of the previous shows?

That's a good question. My new set is kinda finished and honed and it's what I feel the best about but that hour has been ready for a while. Now I have a new twenty that I might also do. So with so much new stuff I might not even have time to get any of the greatest hits in there at all.

That's a good place to be. As you know, a number of comics go back to the files to fill a headliner spot.

Oh, I know! But I'm glad that I have more than I know what to do with at this point. I think I'm overdue for a special. I did one that I sell at the shows called Live and Uncensored but the Road Rage hour on Netflix is probably the one with the most "hits" on it. But you've got a good point. Sometimes I'm not quite sure what people want. I know if I go see a band I do want to hear some of their older stuff but as a comic, you're always wanting to do something new.

In the age of the internet and the new platforms, a comic probably burns through a lot of stuff just because people have seen it over and over.

It does seem like there's a lot of stuff floating around these days. But I think there are a lot more comedians than there used to be, too. And if everybody keeps making specials, pretty soon we're going to be overrun with them. I'm thinking there's definitely room for at least one more. But ask me about it after this next one and we'll see.

Everyone has a slightly different sense of humor, so there's an audience for every comic.
That's true. There's room for everybody. And if it's done right, a good joke is still funny on repeated plays.

We definitely need to talk about Cash Cab. You've amassed an incredible number of episodes of it. Does it still seem fresh to you after all these years?

There are new episodes coming in April on Bravo and since we've moved there, I feel like it's got some new life to it. We've had over 500 episodes at this point but I feel like we can just keep going. As long as we can come up with new questions and pick up new people, I think we'll be fine. It still seems to work so I feel that we've still got plenty of life in us even after all these shows. It always seems new to me.

As a comic, you must enjoy the whole improvisational nature of it. With a constant parade of new fares, you never know exactly what they'll say or what will happen.

That's true and I always want to try to sneak some funny in there, you know? It's been tricky because the game has to move along but I manage to make faces at the camera and try to make it fun. And to show people that being funny is what I do - in addition to hosting the show and driving the car.

Refreshingly, you're not one of those comics who drop in a few minutes of their stand-up into the show. There's a definite division between your two worlds.

Yeah, I've never been one to even try to do that. I don't want to squeeze my jokes into the show. I do the stand-up when I'm in a club or theater. But an interview or a game show isn't the place for that kinda thing. Some comics are just talking but not really listening. They're always performing. I've never been that guy. Usually the people around that kind of person are thinking, 'Boy I wish I had a chance to say something.'

Every episode is a little different, but what has been a favorite moment along the way?

One day we were shooting some B-roll stuff in Times Square. Just shots of me driving and it was packed there. Just wall to wall people as it often is, but this was just a huge crowd. We were stopped in the middle of this crowd. Couldn't move at all for like ten minutes and nobody was noticing us. The guy filming was sitting in the back of the van with the hatch open, with his camera. Finally somebody notices the camera. I saw the guy look from the camera to me, to see what we were filming. He sees me and just screams out, 'It's the Cash Cab!' This wave or recognition just went through the crowd. I pumped my fist out the window and we got this big ovation from everyone in Times Square. It was insane. That was one of the highlights not just of the show but of my entire life. I'll never forget it.

Has a celebrity ever hopped in unaware?

We did some prearranged stuff when one of the Spiderman movies was coming out so we had a bunch of the cast in the cab. We've had some guys from The Today Show and the ladies from The View but I've never just randomly picked up a celebrity. Yet.

In the era of Lyft and Uber, the appeal of grabbing a cab in New York City is still a necessity.

Yeah, it hasn't affected us at all. People are still hailing cabs constantly in Manhattan. A cab in New York is just iconic. It's traditional.

And unlike some people, you are actually driving the car.

(Laughs) Yeah, like James Corden. People were surprised when he said he wasn't always driving the Carpool cars. But I don't blame him at all. It's safer really. I'd love to not drive. It would make my job much easier.

Any traffic accidents along the way?

Nope, knock on wood. There've been some close calls but I've never hit anybody and nobody has ever hit me. But I've always loved to drive. I've been driving for a living since I got my driver's license. It's just second nature to me now. But pretty soon the cars will be driving themselves and then what will I do?

That would leave more time for comedy. When did you start your stand-up career?

When I moved to L.A., I got a job at The Comedy Store and just about everybody that worked out there wanted to be a stand-up comic. But I was trying to be an actor. So I kinda stumbled into it. I was answering the phones in the green room and just telling a few stories one day. A guy heard me and offered me a spot on one of his shows. That was December of 1993 and I'm still telling stories.

A number of comics won't play colleges anymore because of the whole P.C. backlash. What's your take on all the folks who are so easily offended?

You know, it hasn't really affected me. I tend to write about weird stuff. I don't go political. I'm not really dirty so I don't often find myself in the realm where I might be offending somebody. I actually feel lucky that I'm not inspired to write the kind of stuff that would get that kind of negative reaction. It's just unusual storytelling. I've never known what to call it, really. A friend of mine dubbed it 'surreal observational humor,' which I thought was pretty cool. So that's what I do.

Ben Bailey performs at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 21 at Center Stage. For more information, please visit centerstage-atlanta.com.



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