Ben Bailey, a stand-up comic for 17 years, found his calling as a game-show host a few years ago in an unusual venue: a cab.
Discovery’s “Cash Cab” ended up becoming an Emmy winning program, thanks in part to Bailey’s wry sense of humor and blue-collar cabbie persona. Fans can check out a more unexpurgated version of Bailey at the Punchline Comedy Club on March 11 and 12.
“It’s pretty limited” for him to stretch his comedy chops in the show, Bailey said in a phone interview last week. “That’s why I started making funny faces while I wait for their answers. I need to be funny somehow. They’ll edit around the questions. The game has to keep moving.”
He said a ton of comics auditioned for the show. “I got insanely lucky,” Bailey said. “It was a good fit for me. I’d been a driver. I used to drive limousines. One audition, four callbacks later, taxi school and a major background check and I was in. It almost didn’t happen. A friend asked me to go to a beach house. I almost did that instead of try out.”
The show makes it so people sort of recognize him on the street. “It’s weird because I don’t have a cab around me. People see me at a deli and can’t place me because I’m surrounded by a deli.”
I then asked him some random “Cash Cab” questions. Does a producer feed him questions? Nope. He memorizes them. Thus, he’s always encouraging shorter questions. “Saves me a lot of space in my brain,” he said. How often do people say no to playing the game? He didn’t have a percentage but most people are willing to take a free cab ride and possibly win some money to boot. If not, the producers simply flag them another cab.
He has taped 400 episodes and now consider himself a better than average person with trivia but not yet a trivia buff. He also catches himself when someone brings up a topic that turns him into Cliff Clavin of “Cheers.” “I had to stop,” he said. “I was not really annoying everybody else. I was annoying myself!”
One Facebook inquiry was: “Has ‘Cash Cab’ ever been robbed?” No. But they have been followed a couple of times. “We’ve sent a security guy to see what they were doing and they just took off,” he said.
And people will sometimes use homeless folks for their “Shout Out” lifelines. “It’s usually accidental,” he said. “But they’ve gotten some right answers and are pleasantly surprised.”
While Bailey admits most people know him more as the “Cash Cab” dude, he has now come to Atlanta enough times to know him as a comic. (He’s worked the Funny Farm, too.)
Though he tells plenty of stories and makes quirky observational humor, he doesn’t get terribly personal. (He’s married with kids but wouldn’t detail that part of his life.) “A lot of comics use comedy as therapy and to complain about their life,” he said. “My comedy is meant to be a break from that stuff. It’s meant to be a total escape.”
For him, topics are all over the map. “I used to say it’s about stupid things people do. That doesn’t cover it. It’s little things everybody does but may not even notice. I try to see things in a slightly different way.”
Here’s a sampling:
He also wanted to note that he’s got a Comedy Central coming in May and a DVD of that special out soon.
Punchline Comedy Club
280 Hilderbrand Drive
Atlanta, Georgia 30328
Friday, 8 p.m., 10 p.m. March 11
Saturday, 6 p.m., 8 p.m., March 12
Tickets available here