Before the 37th annual Daytime Emmys this summer, comedian Ben Bailey and his Discovery Channel game show "Cash Cab" were like the cool kid at the party who somehow never went home with the girl.
Yet in June, Bailey and "Cash Cab," which puts New York City taxi passengers on the spot as spontaneous quiz show contestants, finally bested "Jeopardy!," "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?," "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right."
"I had no expectations of winning. I'd lost three years in a row," Bailey says. "Every year it's been the same. People say, 'I think you're definitely going to win.'"
Bailey didn't expect all of this. "I just auditioned. I actually say in my act that no one ever plans on being a game show host. It just happens to you. I always liked game shows, not that I was a huge fan. I was a comedian. That just happened also," says Bailey. He took the stage only after he was mistaken for a comedian by a booker at the comedy club where he was answering phones.
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"That's my advice to the young people," he cracks. "Just sit back."
Bailey performs standup Sunday at McGlohon Theatre. He originally moved to Los Angeles from his native New Jersey to "be a movie star." He has an upcoming part in "30 Rock" and hopes to add more action and drama to his resume. (At 6 feet 6 with chiseled looks and a shaved head, he should be a natural.) For now, "Cash Cab" is giving him plenty of material.
"Pretty much everybody plays, even people that are in a hurry. Last week we had a couple PR girls blow off a meeting with Tommy Motolla because they were in the Cash Cab. The lights in the cab kept screwing up so the game took forever," he says. "They lost, but I went in with them and explained why they were late."
Another time a woman from Cleveland burst into tears when Bailey announced she'd unknowingly stepped into a game show. "She had a job interview and she'd been taken to the wrong neighborhood by another cabbie."
Then there's the danger that comes from conducting a TV show while navigating NYC traffic. "We've had several close calls. Two guys that park the cab at the end of the shooting day and one of the tech guys have crashed the cab. Minor crashes. Fender benders," adds Bailey, who attended driving school and renews his license through continuing ed classes like any other cabbie. "I still have a perfect record."