There’s a sense of exclusivity that comes with knowing you’re having a disco trivia party in a taxi while the rest of the city is in the middle of the workday.
It starts out with the realization that you’ve just entered a cab ride that might leave you richer. Then come the glares, stares and pointed fingers as your fellow New Yorkers begin to recognize the face behind the driver’s seat and spot the rainbow lights flickering through the van’s tinted windows.
“They do that often,” Ben Bailey, host of “Cash Cab,” says after driving past a string of frustrated faces and briefcase-carrying commuters with their arms stuck out high in traffic. “People see a cab and feel like it’s theirs.”
Bailey was cruising around the Upper East Side along Second Avenue in the signature “Cash Cab” taxi this month to promote the second season of the rebooted Discovery game show, out Friday. The series films at various locations throughout the city, though midtown can often be spotted as the backdrop through the cab’s windshield.
“It’s funny, people think that there’s different people in different neighborhoods. They’re New Yorkers everywhere,” Bailey says behind the wheel. “So they’re like, ‘oh, if we get stuck (on a question), we’re not gonna ask people in this neighborhood for help, these people won’t know, but the contestant didn’t know either!”
After eight seasons as a comedian-turned-cab driver, Bailey is relaxed behind the wheel as he navigates Manhattan traffic swiftly alongside fellow cabbies — even with the five-year break. “Cash Cab” aired its original seven seasons from 2006 to 2012 and its first revived season last December.
Bailey is a licensed cabdriver who received his certification for the series. The car itself is a real cab that just so happens to double as a TV set prop.
The major difference between Bailey’s ride and a real cab — aside from a rainbow headliner, enthusiastic driver and free fare — is the van’s lack of spaciousness due to sound and lighting equipment. It is a mobile television set, after all.
“I pick up whoever, but if they have luggage, a suitcase and stuff I won’t pick them up because I know they won’t be able to play, they have a plane or a train to catch,” Bailey says. Storage space is most likely also an issue.
Naturally, Bailey has encountered just about anything and everything you can imagine — and more — when it comes to taking New Yorkers where they need to go.
“We’ve had a lot of weird passengers. I mean it’s New York City,” he laughs. “We had a guy in a rabbit suit. This huge guy came in wearing a rabbit suit from head to toe. Refused to play, kept calling me baby and eventually he just got out.”
The host can rattle off a number of questionable, hilarious and rude experiences with NYC passengers over the years, but says his comedic background helps him brush off the negative.
“A thick skin helps. I’ve been doing stand-up comedy for 20 years and if anything gives you a thick skin, that does so that helps,” he explains. “I can kind of roll with it when people are not very nice … or just weird.”
At this point, Bailey is used to sitting behind the wheel and maneuvering traffic while reading out trivia questions (fed to him through an audio piece for safety). And while New Yorkers may scout out the famous cab, many passengers and street shout-out helpers still shy away from the chance to win big bucks.
“Just because they know it’s the show, doesn’t mean they’re going to come and help,” he says. “I think they’re afraid of looking stupid.”
A fear of looking stupid is understandable. There’s a heat like you’ve never felt before sitting in Bailey’s hot seat.
“Cash Cab” will return to Discovery in time for Shark Week, on Friday at 7 p.m.