Stand-up comedian Ben Bailey will be appearing at Bay Street Theatre on July 16 at 8 p.m., in a show featuring all brand new material. The show is a part of Bay Street’s Comedy Club series.
Oddly enough, Ben Bailey and I went to school together. We were in the same graduating class, hung out with the same crowd, got into trouble with the same cops. We shared the same restless boredom of being teenagers in suburban New Jersey, the kind of place where you would walk two miles in the sweltering summer heat to get to the Mall, and while at the Mall you spent your time looking at stuff that you didn’t have any money to buy, just for something to do.
By the way, I don’t bring up my connection to Ben Bailey in order to bask in reflected glory. You probably know that Bailey is a brilliant stand-up comic, with several Comedy Central specials under his belt. If you don’t recognize him from those, you may have seen him in his role as host of “Cash Cab”, the clever quiz show that took place in a NYC taxi.
No, I’m not trying to brag about knowing someone famous (this is the Hamptons, after all). I just wanted to pass along some very important advice: never try to interview a childhood friend! It does not work!
I was on the phone with Ben for over an hour, and we spent most of that time talking about all the stuff we used to get up to. It was highly entertaining, but of precious little use for this article. Unless, of course, you want to hear about our time at band camp. Shaving cream wars anyone?
Despite my failure to get much pertinent information out of our interview, I can recount from public sources the outlines of Bailey’s career as an entertainer. Without question, “Cash Cab” is the show that put him on the map. On “Cash Cab,” Bailey drives a minivan taxi tricked out with flashing lights, picks up unsuspecting passengers, and tests their knowledge while taking them to their destination. The concept for the show originated on British television, and the American version with Bailey as the host began airing on the Discovery Channel in 2005. The show garnered Bailey two Daytime Emmy awards for Outstanding Game Show Host. And while it was recently announced that “Cash Cab” will cease production after seven years, the show will certainly live on in reruns.
Bailey’s turn on “Cash Cab” came after a long period of honing his stand-up comedy act. He had initially moved to L.A. to look for acting work, but things were slow. So he got a job answering phones at the Comedy Store, and managed to impress some of the comedians working there. One of those comedians invited him to do a slot on a show. Initially, he said no, but the next day he figured, “what have I got to lose?” Thus began Bailey’s stand-up career. This was back in December of 1993.
“I got a couple of laughs, and I was hooked,” recalled Bailey.
His comedy has evolved over the years. Bailey is possessed of a deep, resonant voice – in fact, he does some voiceover work, narrating the show “Smash Lab.” Prior to “Cash Cab,” Bailey had developed a stand-up persona where his voice sounded kind of like a radio advertisement. Think those satirical Budweiser ads that pretended to honor “Great American Heroes” who performed rather unglamorous, mundane tasks, and you get the idea. The success of “Cash Cab” forced him to change his stand-up voice.
“It really worked for me, but people who knew me from the show were like ‘Why’s he talking like that.’ It confused them, and they wouldn’t laugh.” Like any artist, Bailey had to adapt, and his persona and comedy have changed.
In addition to touring with his new show, Bailey is busy with a variety of projects. He just wrapped up filming a role in an upcoming movie, he is busy pushing a sit-com that he’d like to pilot, a new game show is in the works, and a new comedy special. He still lives in New Jersey, just a few towns over from where we grew up.
Tickets for Ben’s Bay Street Show can be purchased at the Bay Street Theater box office, or go online: www.baystreet.org