When he’s not behind the wheel for Discovery Channel’s beloved taxi game show, Cash Cab, Ben Bailey is usually behind a microphone at a comedy club. On Saturday 18, the 41-year-old brings his blue-collar, everyman appeal to the stage for three shows at the new UP Comedy Club and also headlines its grand-opening party Friday 17.
All cabbies have horror stories. How do your Cash Cab experiences figure into your stand-up material?
Somewhere near the beginning of the show, I’ll say “My name is Ben Bailey. I am the Cash Cab guy. I’ll tell you how I know that: Everyone that I saw today told me.” That’s what happens when people know you from TV: They run up and tell you who you are.
Cash Cab fans who see you do stand-up must be surprised you have legs.
They are surprised. [Laughs] I think they’re like, “Oh, wow, he’s an actual comedian. He’s not just some dude trying to cash in on his TV show.”
I saw a clip of you riffing about shitting and blow-drying your balls. Is being raw on stage a release after having to watch what you say on TV?
Absolutely. At first, it was kind of tough because once Cash Cab hit, all these fans came out to see me, and I was worried about scaring them off. So I would edit myself, keep it clean. And at some point, I was like, “Fuck that!”
You recently became host of the NBC game show Who’s Still Standing? Growing up in Jersey, did you idolize both stand-up comics and game-show hosts?
I never grew up idolizing any game-show host. [Laughs] I never expected to be one, that’s for sure. There’s always been a cheesy aspect to game-show hosts.
Well, there’s a difference between you and, say, Chuck Woolery.
I would hope so! Those ’70s game-show guys were pretty hilarious. I don’t own a sequined jacket.
To land the Cash Cab gig, you had to become a licensed NYC cabbie. So, you always have a fallback.
Yeah, I walked into taxi school the first day, and the other students all thought I was the teacher. [Laughs] They were stunned when I walked past them and sat down. And it was tough: I was getting offered my big break, but I had two weeks to do what people usually spend a couple months doing. And there was mandatory drug testing and a major background check.
Were you nervous to pee in a cup?
You can draw your own conclusions based on the fact that I’m a little nervous to answer that question. [Laughs]
Do you have more respect for full-time cab drivers now?
I do because people treat cab drivers like shit: “Fuck this guy. He’s a cabbie.” And they’ll just cut you off and give you the finger. I’ve had people screaming and yelling at me, and recognizing me in the middle of it: “Oh, Ben! Omigod! Hey!” It’s like, “You just cut me off and now you want my autograph? Fuck you!”
Bailey takes the stage at UP Comedy Club Saturday 18 at 7, 9:30 and 11:45pm.