Cash Cab, the only game show played in a New York City taxi, is back — but it was nearly someone other than comedian Ben Bailey at the wheel.
“I actually heard, like most people, through the news that they were bringing it back,” says Bailey, who’s won three Daytime Emmys for hosting Cash Cab. “And then there was all this craziness about was I gonna be hosting or not, and people were pretty vocal on social media about it and I got the offer.”
As if there’s another stand-up comic who’s also a licensed New York City cab driver! (Turns out there is someone, “just one, though I don’t know if he’s still a licensed cabbie.”)
Drama aside, Bailey is happy to be back at the wheel five years after “Cash Cab” was canceled after its original run from 2005-2012. The show returned this month on the Discovery Channel, airing Sundays at 10 p.m.
New this season are celebrity guests like Matthew Perry, Brooke Shields and Dave Foley, who get in the cab to help passengers out (though not so much with Gilbert Gottfried, apparently.) The reaction from contestants, Bailey says, has been everything from getting very nervous to “rolling with it even though they were very excited.”
Rather than yelling out the cab’s window, guests can also go on Facebook Live to ask for help answering questions worth up to $500 until they arrive at their destination — or make three bad guesses, at which point they’re out of the cab.
The Morristown, New Jersey, resident has been keeping busy with other hosting gigs, his podcast Tall But True (he’s 6 feet, 6 inches tall) and his stand-up, including the special “Ben Bailey Live & Uncensored” and a three-night stint at Carolines on Broadway from Dec. 14-16.
In the time he’s been away from the show, he says New Yorkers have “mellowed a bit” but driving has gotten much harder. “I missed making the show,” he says, “but I did not miss driving the taxi. You can’t make left turns onto avenues a lot; there are more pedestrian walkways; there are so many new buildings and so many storefronts are turned over.”
This is especially true in Lower Manhattan, where Cash Cab production company Lion Television is located. This is also the best tip for would-be contestants to get on the show, as it’s where Bailey starts his day. (He also recommends the food scene and convenient mass transit — ha!)
His other tip: Try to ride in a group. “The more brains you have working together, the better. A family will often do very well because the parents and kids know different areas.”
But the prospect of a free ride with a cash reward at the end isn’t enough for some. Bailey recalls “a handful of times” that people have either silently gotten out of the cab or declined to play.
“One woman said she was in the CIA,” Bailey recalls. “Another guy said he was in the witness-protection program, and a few different times we got couples who weren’t with the person they were supposed to be with.”
When he’s not driving the Cash Cab, Bailey gets around mostly via a car service, though he admits it takes “three times as long as the subway, which is still the best way to get around.”
That’s the kind of truth about New York life you don’t get from a lot of shows. “Aside from Taxi Cab Confessions,” says Bailey, Cash Cab is one of the most authentic representations of the city.
“That’s part of what a lot of people say they love about the show — they get to experience New York again, almost like they get to go back.”
As far as his stand-up unlike a lot of comics Bailey’s material is resolutely apolitical; he also doesn’t rely on racist or sexist tropes — dare we call it wholesome?
“That’s no accident,” says Bailey, noting that his ideas are more likely to come “weird little things that I notice” from news stories or even subway signs. “I don’t like to write about political stuff. I feel like if you’re gonna go to a show, it should be a break from that, especially now when everything is as crazy as it is. It’s not what nurtures my creative process.”