The “Cash Cab” star talks jokes, awards and snow squalls
By Nick Hawks
Ben Bailey is a household name. As the host of “Cash Cab,” which has won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Game Show three times, Bailey’s face has been plastered on televisions since the show debuted in 2005.
In addition to the show’s awards, he himself has won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Game Show Host three times. He’s about to embark on a multi-city standup tour, so he’s been making the rounds to promote it. As an entertainer, Bailey’s job is as much promoting himself as it is actually performing, a cell phone as a substitute for a briefcase.
It’s fair to wonder what his mood will be, answering numerous questions that he’s probably been asked in every city where he performs. Is he the same guy in real life as he is on TV and onstage?
Immediately, nerves are put to ease as Bailey went into a hearty laugh about a snowstorm that had just happened where he resides in New Jersey.
“We just had a blizzard for like a minute,” Bailey said. “Literally, for like a minute. They call it a snow squall.”
Bailey has a way of talking to you like he’s been your best friend for decades. There are no awkward pauses, short answers or diva-like behavior, only bellowing laughs and nasally voice impressions. We spoke for half an hour over the phone, and it easily could’ve turned into hours in the blink of an eye.
Bailey identifies as a standup comedian first and a gameshow host second, having began performing on-stage in 1993. His journey to the stage was a long time in the works, after discovering in fourth grade that he could make the other kids laugh by messing with the substitute teacher.
“All I wanted to do was make the other kids laugh, and the first time it happened I was like, ‘Oh, I like that,’” Bailey said.
Something that still peeves Bailey is that he was not voted class clown in high school.
“I was not voted class clown, and I was pretty pissed about it,” he said. “Most elections are fixed, right? The other guy was running smear campaigns! He came to school dressed as a clown for a week straight. He had the nose and the big shoes; I didn’t stand a chance.”
Not deterred, Bailey moved to Los Angeles to pursue his passion, landing a job answering phones at The Comedy Store. He stumbled into the world of standup comedy by accident, telling a story there to a group of other comedians, his natural charisma rubbing off on them. They just assumed he was a comedian. He was offered a shot to perform for the first time by Skip E. Lowe, a talk show host who was emceeing at the club. Bailey does a nasally, high-pitched impression of Lowe, “You’re funny, you should come do my show!”
The transition to standup wasn’t as difficult to Bailey as you might think, as he has a natural comfort speaking in front of an audience.
He took a public speaking class in college and realized he was a natural, receiving an A+ in the course.
It wasn’t all easy though, as he echoes something that others had told him, that it takes 10 years for you to be your natural self onstage.
“When I started doing standup, people always talked about finding a persona,” he said. “I was always like, ‘What are you talking about?’ It seemed like this weird concept of what I was supposed to do. Later, I developed this delivery, and I don’t know where it came from. I have this joke about filling out a job application and you put your name in the wrong box. I have to tell the guy that I live on Ben Bailey Boulevard because I make a mistake on the form. Somehow, when I started doing that bit, it’s the only bit I ever wrote beginning to end in one shot, then performed it at a party I was at and killed with it.”
The bit changed Bailey’s trajectory as a standup comedian.
“That bit changed my delivery. I started doing this exaggerated voice, like I was this old-time mayor in this old western town, addressing the townsfolk or something.”
“This weird announcing,” Bailey continued, deepening his voice and slowing his delivery to exaggerate every syllable, “So the rule is, if you screw up one too many job interviews,” Bailey pauses for effect, “You become… a standup comedian.”
Then, “Cash Cab” came along. Emmy nominations followed, for both the show and for Bailey himself.
Bailey recalls one year where both the show and himself were nominated, and the show won. He was off celebrating the victory with his co-workers when somebody from the show came back and told him to rush back because he was going to have to collect his next award.
“It was this big miscommunication, and we thought, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to win two awards,’ and we all ran back. We didn’t win. It was a miscommunication, and it was brutal.”
Bailey recalls telling this story to his father.
“I was talking to my dad, and he goes, ‘Well, maybe this will prepare you for something else.’ I said, ‘Like what?’ and he said, ‘Maybe you won’t win an Oscar some day.’”
Bailey breaks into a hysterical, almost breathless laughter. Surely, he’s told this story countless times before, but you’d never know it by talking to him.
Bailey’s national “Ben Bailey Live” standup tour will stop at The House of Blues in Cleveland on Jan. 25. Show and ticket information is available at http://www.TheRealBenBailey.com.
His six-time Daytime Emmy-Award winning gameshow, “Cash Cab,” is currently airing on BRAVO.