Ben Bailey Prowls NYC Streets In The 'Cash Cab'

In The Cash Cab i i

Cash Cab contestants Timothy Thanke-Thike, Mimi Thiha, Christine Chang and John Chang, with host Ben Bailey. Discovery Channel hide caption

itoggle caption Discovery Channel
In The Cash Cab

Cash Cab contestants Timothy Thanke-Thike, Mimi Thiha, Christine Chang and John Chang, with host Ben Bailey.

Discovery Channel

When people on the streets of New York hail Ben Bailey's taxi, they're in for an extraordinary cab ride.

On his Discovery Channel show, Cash Cab, surprise contestants get the chance to win money for correctly answering trivia questions. If they get three questions wrong, though, they're out on the street.

Each round in the Cash Cab starts the same way. Bailey pulls up in the cab, a Toyota minivan decorated to look like a typical taxi. The passengers enter and have a routine exchange with the driver, Bailey, about where they're going. Then lights flash, music plays and Bailey announces, "You guys are in the Cash Cab!"

Ben Bailey i i

Cash Cab host Ben Bailey has won two daytime Emmys for his work on the show. Discovery Channel hide caption

itoggle caption Discovery Channel
Ben Bailey

Cash Cab host Ben Bailey has won two daytime Emmys for his work on the show.

Discovery Channel

In the early days of the show, when no one knew about it, would-be contestants frequently declined the opportunity to play. "Now they know the show," Bailey tells NPR's Neal Conan, "so they pretty much stick around." If they opt not to play, producers help them find another, legitimate cab.

Bailey, a stand-up comedian by trade, also used to drive Lincoln Towncars around New York. So he knew the city pretty well already. But "downtown and the village," he allows, "can get pretty hairy."

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NEAL CONAN, host:

So you're in New York City; you flag down a taxi. As you hop in, the driver asks where you're headed, and then it's game time.

(Soundbite of TV program, "Cash Cab")

Mr. BEN BAILEY (Host, "Cash Cab"): You guys are in the "Cash Cab."

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. BAILEY: It's a TV game show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man: Oh, yeah.

Unidentified Woman #1: We watch the show all time.

Mr. BAILEY: Oh, cool. Well, welcome. Now, you're on the show.

Unidentified Woman #2: Oh, great.

Mr. BAILEY: I'm guessing you guys know how it works already, but I've got tell you anyway. My name is Ben Bailey. I am your host. I'm going to drive you guys to your destination. I'm going to ask you general knowledge questions along the way. They're going to start off easy. They're gonna get harder as we go.

CONAN: On the Discovery Channel show "Cash Cab," Ben Bailey gives unsuspecting passengers the chance to win money if they know those answers to trivia questions. The game lasts as long as it takes to get to their destination. If contestants get stumped, they can phone for help on their cell phone, or ask somebody off the street. Answer three questions wrong, you're out on the curb.

But turnabout is fair play. If you have questions for Ben Bailey, give us a call. Our phone number is 800-989-8255. The email address is talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Apparently, the cab taking Ben Bailey to the radio station in Newark is, well, taking a little longer that he'd expected so he's not yet quite in the studio. So we'll take questions for Ben Bailey at 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org.

One of the reasons we want to talk to him today was that "Cash Cab" recently won two Daytime Emmy Awards, including one for best quiz show host, so we hope to offer him his congratulations as soon as he gets into the studio. 800-989-8255. Email, again, is talk@npr.org.

"Cash Cab," of course, drives around Manhattan for the most part, in New York City. And the contest only takes as long as the space you get in, say, Grand Central Terminal, and where you're going, say, the Waldorf Astoria Hotel - well, if you're upscale enough to stay at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel - or downtown to Greenwich Village or up to Central Park. Then the questions start pouring in, and Ben Bailey tries to elicit answers from people who are talking to him. And again, we're still waiting for Ben to get into the studio in WBGO in Newark.

In the meantime, we can give you an update on the World Cup soccer game. The semifinal match between Uruguay and the Netherlands tied at one goal apiece. They're already in the second half, so that's an update. The second game, between Germany and Spain, will take place about this time tomorrow.

We're hoping to talk with Ben Bailey, the host of "Cash Cab," 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. The show is on the Discovery Channel and, as we mentioned, it just won two Daytime Emmy Awards.

In the meantime, Arizona law challenge. The stage is set for a clash between the federal government and the state of Arizona over the nation's toughest immigration crackdown. Today, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit, arguing that the state's new law that targets illegal immigrants is unconstitutional. The suit says it's up to the federal government to regulate immigration.

There's also news of the meeting today, at the White House, between the president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel, Barack Obama, of course, and Bibi Netanyahu. They dismissed talk of a rift between the two countries. And Barack Obama said the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable. Prime Minister Netanyahu said he and Obama discussed the civic steps that could be taken in the weeks ahead to move the peace process with Palestinians forward. There are indirect talks that have been under way for some time, but they hope to move to direct talks.

In any case, Ben Bailey is with us from the studios of member station WBGO in Newark. Ben Bailey, nice to have you with us, and congratulations on your Emmy Award.

Mr. BAILEY: Thank you very much, sir. Sorry, there was a little craziness trying to get me on here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Oh, well, we apologize - oh, so it's a technical difficulty. Your cab wasn't late.

Mr. BAILEY: Yeah. Well, it was a little of both, really.

CONAN: All right. I wonder, how did you get your job?

Mr. BAILEY: Well, I'm a stand-up comedian, and I just auditioned for the show.

CONAN: And so this wasn't your idea?

Mr. BAILEY: No. The show actually started in London years back, and I don't think it's still on over there. Ours was the second one that they made. And with ours, they sold the format to like, 20 different countries. So there's "Cash Cabs" all over the world.

CONAN: In the meantime, some people might have thought, for a stand-up comic, that driving a taxi cab would be a fallback job.

Mr. BAILEY: Yeah, exactly. It's like I had to work through show business to get a better day job.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Get a - what kind of vehicle is it? It looks quite roomy in there.

Mr. BAILEY: It's a minivan. It's a Toyota Sienna minivan. I know that's going to get complaints - like, it should be American.

CONAN: It should be American. But...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: ...and is there somebody other than you in the cab?

Mr. BAILEY: Sometimes there is. You never see them, but there's someone helping me run the lights and stuff during the games - but obviously, not when we pick the people up.

CONAN: Not when you pick the people up because that would give it away right away.

Mr. BAILEY: Yeah, like, who's this guy? Someone's already in this cab.

CONAN: Is there a robot camera that gets that wonderful instant reaction when the lights go off?

Mr. BAILEY: Well, there's several cameras. I think there's 11 cameras, total, mounted on and in the cab. So we capture pretty much everything.

CONAN: And how does the process of the cab ride go? I mean, obviously, the contestants need to sign a release form saying it's okay to - for you to film them, and to do all that. Do they sign that before the contest begins or afterwards?

Mr. BAILEY: Before the contest. But basically, after they agree to play, I say, all right, let's take a ride in the Cash Cab. And then I pull over.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And then you pull over.

Mr. BAILEY: Yeah. And they...

CONAN: And that's...

Mr. BAILEY: That's when they get the (unintelligible)...

CONAN: The release forms.

Mr. BAILEY: Yeah, and they sign the form.

CONAN: Because if you waited until afterwards, if they made an idiot out of themselves, they might decide differently.

Mr. BAILEY: Yeah. Oh, definitely. And sometimes, they come running back. Like, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, I know I signed that thing, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAILEY: ...could you possibly not show anyone what just happened here?

CONAN: Let's see if we get some callers. There are a lot of people who want to ask you questions, for a change. This is Tara(ph). Tara is with us from Pennfield in New York.

Mr. BAILEY: Oh, cool.

TARA (Caller): Hi, Ben. I'm calling - actually, wanted to thank you for getting me through bedrest.

Mr. BAILEY: Oh, you're welcome.

TARA: Your show saved me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAILEY: That's great. I love to hear that. That's so nice. Thanks for calling in.

TARA: Yeah, it was just - it got me through it, for sure. I have two questions for you. One is, I heard a rumor that sometimes, you actually have actors that you pick up if it's a slow - I don't know when it's a slow day in New York City. But does that ever take place?

Mr. BAILEY: Well, we've definitely had actors in the cab, but...

CONAN: But not shills, I think, is what she...

Mr. BAILEY: ...yeah, not hired actors, no, definitely not. Nobody knows...

TARA: Okay.

Mr. BAILEY: ...ahead of time that they're getting into the Cash Cab.

TARA: So that's a rumor. That's what I thought. Okay, good because that's - that hurt my feelings when I found that out.

Mr. BAILEY: Unless they figure it out when they see me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAILEY: Then they go, hey, I know that guy.

TARA: Yeah.

Mr. BAILEY: That's the "Cash Cab."

TARA: Yeah. My second question is, how do you simultaneously drive, maneuver the streets of New York, and get fed your questions without crashing?

Mr. BAILEY: Well, you know, people have asked me that one a lot. And it's kind of - I don't know if you play golf or something like it -whenever you have a million things that you have to do right, you can't think about any single one of them. You just sort of have to try to plant them all in your subconscious, and then just roll with it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TARA: Oh.

Mr. BAILEY: So that's kind of how - that's kind of what I'm doing. I try to get the questions in my head ahead of time. I study them and learn them so I know the questions, and I'm familiar with the questions and answers before we start, which makes that part a lot easier. And then I've been driving for a living, basically, since I got my license at 17, and it's kind of second nature at this point. So if I can get everything as close to second nature as possible, then, you know, then I can get through. But you know, sometimes, I've got to pull over and get out, walk around a little bit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Tara, is bed restover for you?

TARA: It is, yes, thankfully.

Mr. BAILEY: Oh, that's good.

TARA: You know, my son is 13 months old.

CONAN: Well, congratulations.

Mr. BAILEY: Congratulations. That's awesome.

TARA: And I'm sane. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, so far. But certainly, yes.

TARA: (Unintelligible) yeah, I know.

Mr. BAILEY: Now it's time for the hard part.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TARA: Yeah, really. And thank you. I'm a big, big fan.

Mr. BAILEY: Thanks, Tara.

CONAN: Thanks for the call.

Mr. BAILEY: Nice talking to you.

CONAN: Email from Doug(ph) in Coflin(ph), California. I've been curious, Ben, have there been any incidences where the contestants were so awful you didn't show the segment?

Mr. BAILEY: Oh, yes, absolutely. We - it's not - but it's not because they're so awful. It's because, you know, we want it to be difficult. It's Discovery Channel. People have to be learning. It has to be challenging. To even have a game show on there, is kind of an interesting thing. So, making the questions very difficult, you end up with losing games. And you can't show all losing games all the time and a few winners. So, you know, a fair amount of games where - that people don't win actually don't make it to the show.

CONAN: Here's an email from Brian(ph). When contestants enter the cab, you always ask if they want to play. How often do people decline? And do you still have to drive them to their destination, like a regular taxi driver, or do they have to get out?

Mr. BAILEY: Okay. It happens less and less. In the very beginning, when no one knew about the show, it was pretty frequent. People would kind of look at me and go, I don't know what this crazy cab driver is up to, but I am out of here. Now they know the show, once they realize what they're doing, so they pretty much stick around. And if they do get out, we will help them get another cab. We won't - we don't drive them. I suppose if they demanded, we might have to because...

CONAN: You might have to because there's taxi rules and regulations.

Mr. BAILEY: Yeah, yeah. I'm supposed to. But I mean, they know what's going on. And usually, you know, we'll hail another cab and get them where they're going.

CONAN: But you don't have a shadow cab behind you for that purpose?

Mr. BAILEY: No. We dont keep one sort of on hold.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAILEY: That'd be a good gig for a cabbie, though, I'll tell you that.

CONAN: It would be, yeah. Elsa(ph) is on the line, calling from Tulsa.

ELSA (Caller): Hi. I'm a huge fan.

Mr. BAILEY: Thank you, Elsa. How are you?

ELSA: You get me one extra mile on the treadmill when your show is on. I have to keep going until it finishes.

Mr. BAILEY: Oh, cool. To find out if they win or not by - at the end, right?

ELSA: That's right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAILEY: That's great.

ELSA: That's right. My question is, do you ever have people that like, see that its the Cash Cab because a different contestant gets in, and then follows you and tries to get on - like crazy New York people trying to...

Mr. BAILEY: Oh, yeah.

ELSA: ...(unintelligible) a cab because it's Cash Cab? Or (unintelligible)...

Mr. BAILEY: Yes, we, you know, I haven't been out there in about a year, but people were following us around, like if we - and if we stop and drop someone at a bar or a restaurant, by the time they're done and they get out, the whole restaurant or bar is out on the street. Half of them...

ELSA: Wow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAILEY: ...are running down the block, trying to be the next people to hail me. So we just have to drive away. We can't really pick any of them up.

ELSA: And so you don't let those people on - like, you can't try to get in the Cash Cab? You have to really legitimately be surprised?

Mr. BAILEY: Well, I mean, if it was one person or, you know, like, two people together trying to get the cab, we might be able to pick them up. But if there's a couple of people every 20 feet down the next block who are all trying to be the next ones, we just kind of have to drive away and get, you know, find a place where it's not so crazy.

ELSA: Well, thank you very much (unintelligible).

Mr. BAILEY: We're figuring that part out as we go. Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Elsa. We're talking with Ben Bailey, the now Emmy-winning host and quiz master on Discovery Channel's "Cash Cab." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And this email from Jeff(ph) in Riverside, Missouri. How long did it take you to learn the city well enough to not only be a good host but a good cab driver?

Mr. BAILEY: Oh, that's a good question. I - like I said, actually earlier, I've been driving for a living for a long time, starting in my hometown near in New Jersey, where I grew up. But then eventually, I drove car service cars, like town cars and limos.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BAILEY: So I knew the city pretty well and also, I had been doing stand-up in New York for about a decade. And the clubs are all over the place so you pretty much are going to learn your way around Manhattan doing that, too. So I knew the city pretty well before we started.

CONAN: And above Greenwich Village, it's kind of a grid system; it's not that complicated.

Mr. BAILEY: It's not that complicated. But there are some areas -downtown and the village are - they can get pretty hairy. It's easy to get confused.

CONAN: Let's go Kendall(ph), Kendall with us from Fort Walton Beach in Florida.

KENDALL (Caller): How's it going, guys?

CONAN: Not too bad.

Mr. BAILEY: Hey what's up, Kendall?

KENDALL: Hey. It's fine. My question is, I know through the magic of television, everythings all edited and it's all pretty. But what happens - you know, the trip takes a lot longer than what we see. What goes on during those is it just awkward silence while you're waiting on the question? What goes on?

Mr. BAILEY: Awkward silence is correct.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAILEY: No, it depends on the people. If they're really nervous, then there's definitely some awkward silence, with me trying to break that up. You know, I'm not a huge fan of everyone that rides in the back, either. So you know, occasionally there's contestants that I don't really feel like talking to. Or maybe I'm just in a bad mood and my back is hurting, you know, because I'm sitting all day. So sometimes it's awkward silence, sometimes it's good conversation, sometimes it's radio.

CONAN: Yeah. Did you have one of those backrests with those wooden beads that the other cab drivers have?

Mr. BAILEY: You know, I really, I really should have one. I'm too big to sit in the front of that cab. And all the hours in it have really taken a toll on my back. I was like, hobbling to get in here in time for the interview. And this is 10 days in from a little back mishap, so maybe I'll end up with one of those bead things.

CONAN: Yeah. Or workman's comp, one or the other.

Mr. BAILEY: I'll get one of those and everything will be skippy.

CONAN: Kendall, any tar balls there in Fort Walton Beach?

KENDALL: Plenty.

CONAN: All right. Well, sad to hear that.

KENDALL: It's really not that bad.

CONAN: All right. Well, I hope that doesn't get too bad. Anyway, appreciate it.

KENDALL: It's not.

Mr. BAILEY: Well, that's good to hear.

CONAN: Here's an email from Paul(ph). Paul writes: I'm always worried Ben is going to get in an accident. How can anybody concentrate running a trivia game while keeping his attention on the road? Well, you sort of answered that. Also, have you ever been robbed?

Mr. BAILEY: No. Not while I was in the cab, anyway. But you know, I do bank with banks, so. And I have to pay for public utilities, so were all getting robbed a little bit, arent we?

CONAN: Well, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAILEY: You're going to get emails about that.

CONAN: Not with a six-gun, as Woody wouldve said, but with a fountain pen.

Mr. BAILEY: Yeah, exactly. No, I've never been robbed in the cab, never been robbed. Although we have been followed, and had people taking a lot of pictures in sort of a mysterious manner a couple of times, so. They didn't look like they were fans, so we went over to ask them what they were doing, and they took off.

CONAN: Let's go to Jacob(ph), and Jacob's with us from Detroit.

JACOB (Caller): Hi. Hi, Ben.

Mr. BAILEY: Hi, Jacob.

ACOB: My question - hi, my question is, how has the show, quizzing people all day, changed your overall view of intelligence in America, probably specifically New York?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAILEY: Well, that's a good one. Here's what I've learned. You can't judge a book by its cover, ever. The people that get in that I think aren't going to know anything sometimes know everything - and vice versa. People, you know, they surprise me in both capacities.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAILEY: What they do know, and what they don't know.

CONAN: Jacob, thanks very much.

JACOB: True. Thank you.

Mr. BAILEY: Thanks, Jacob.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Speaking of not being robbed - at least not in the cab - do you really drive around with those wads of cash, to pay people?

Mr. BAILEY: Well, you know, that enters into an area where I'm not really supposed to answer, but that sort of answers it for you.

CONAN: No shadow cab - but a Brink's truck follows you. I get it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAILEY: We do have our secrets about how we run the show. You know...

CONAN: Maribel(ph) emails to ask: Do you get to choose the questions for the show? And where do you get the questions from?

Mr. BAILEY: Oh, okay. That's a good one, Maribel. I don't really choose them, but I do have veto power. If I don't want to ask one, I won't. And we have a staff. There's a team of researchers that are, you know, studying and researching, and writing those questions.

CONAN: Let's go to Michael(ph), Michael with us from Hayward in California.

MICHAEL (Caller): Hey, thanks for having me on the show.

CONAN: Go ahead.

Mr. BAILEY: What's up, Michael?

MICHAEL: I just thought of my second question. But my first question is, have you ever been pulled over by a police officer while, you know, shooting?

CONAN: Ah.

Mr. BAILEY: You bet, I have.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MICHAEL: Really?

Mr. BAILEY: Yeah, oh, yeah, several times.

MICHAEL: Well, what was the reason for them? I'm curious.

Mr. BAILEY: Well, maybe eight out of 10, the cops just want to come over and say, hey - "Cash Cab." Maybe not that many, but a few times it's been that. And you know, once in a while, I try to get away with something that I can't get away with - like make a left when I'm not supposed to make a left.

CONAN: Hmm.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MICHAEL: And my second question is...

CONAN: Very quickly, Michael.

MICHAEL: Have you ever been tipped on the show, after you drop them off?

Mr. BAILEY: People offer, but I don't take it.

CONAN: No tipping allowed. It's the one cab in the city where no tipping is allowed.

Mr. BAILEY: No. Tips are not accepted in the "Cash Cab."

CONAN: Michael, thanks very much for the call. And Ben Bailey, again, congratulations on the Emmy. Nice of you to join us today.

Mr. BAILEY: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me. Thanks for watching, everybody. New episodes coming soon.

CONAN: Ben Bailey, host of "Cash Cab" on the Discovery Channel. The show recently won two daytime Emmys. He's also a stand-up comic and joined us from member station WBGO in Newark.

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