Interview: Cash Cab’s Ben Bailey

Ben Bailey may be best known as the Discovery Channel’s trivia-dispensing cabbie in Cash Cab, but most people don’t realize that he’s also a stand-up comedian and gadget hound. Ben told us about the tech behind Cash Cab, his adoration for the iPhone, and why he’s a persistent self Googler.

Digital Trends (DT): How do they fit all of those cameras into the cash cab without anybody noticing before you hit the lights?

They’re all lipstick cameras. They’re mounted in ideal spots, and there’s lights and things that sort of cover them. People do spot them, though. People get in and go “Look, there’s a camera right here!” And stare into it.

Ben Bailry(DT): Do contestants ever try to cheat with Internet-enabled phones like BlackBerries and iPhones?

We’ve had a couple situations where we thought they were trying to [cheat] and told them that they weren’t allowed to Google anything. If anything, the most likely area that people would cheat in is on the mobile shoutouts. People call their friends and their parents – people who are sitting at home – and nine times out of 10 somebody who gets one of these calls is going to be sitting in front of a computer. We’ve had the distinct feeling that contestants were trying to buy time so that their friends at home could Google the question.

(DT): I saw some of your stand-up comedy and you were complaining about the New York City subway. Do you ever bring any mobile entertainment with you, like an iPod?

At this point, I go nowhere without my iPhone. I use it for everything. I’ve got my calendar in it, my e-mails all go to it, I have all friends phone numbers in it, I keep my list of jokes that I’m working on in it. I mean, it’s got all my music in it. It’s the most amazing gadget I’ve ever owned, there’s no question about that.

(DT): Does that make you a Mac guy?

I have a Mac desktop, and I have two Mac laptops. I’m Mr. Mac. I was a PC user for years, and then in 2003 I guess, I did Star Search, and I made some money on it. I bought myself a Mac laptop, and since then I’ve been a Mac guy. ‘

(DT): What was it that converted you?

The one I bought was a PowerBook G4, the 12-inch, the tiny little guy. And it was just so powerful. It always worked quickly, it never had problems. I was editing a 25-minute short film on it, it had all this stuff on there, and it was no problem. Once in a while it would lock up, and I would just restart it and it would be fine.

(DT): What other kind of gadgetry have you been using lately?

I now have this thing called a SkyCaddie, which is a golf gadget. It’s a GPS system, believe it or not. I plug it into the computer, download the golf course that I’m going to play, and then no matter where I am on the course it will tell me exactly how far I am from everything: the hole, the green, bunkers, the water, the end of the fairway. It’s such an advantage at golf, it’s unbelievable.

(DT): What’s one of your favorite tech toys?

I have a thing called a Pandora’s box, which I use to play my guitar. It’s made by Korg. It just has hundreds of drum lines, baselines and effects in it. Plus you can create your own. I just plug my guitar into it, and then an amp or headphones, and I can just jam away. It’s like a concert in your head. It’s one of the favorite things I’ve ever bought.

(DT): You mentioned earlier that you have an Xbox. What kind of games are you playing on there these days?

You know, I kind of come and go with it. In so many of the games, there’s something that you have to do to move onto the next level, and it seems like I just get stuck and I can’t do it. This one game, Gears of War, I had to escape this Beserker or something. It was coming after me, and I had to find a door and get through the door to get outside and get away from it. I tried it like 100 times. I was like, “I can’t find this [freaking] door!” And then I was done. “That’s it. I’m not going to play this game anymore because it’s driving me crazy.” Then I moved onto another game I bought, Call of Duty 4. Awesome game. Same thing! There’s a part where I’m driving a Jeep, I gotta get through the part with the Jeep or I can’t move on to the next thing, and I just couldn’t do it. I haven’t played it since. It’s kind of criminal, the [Xbox] is all hooked up and sitting there, but it’s been six month since I’ve played anything on it.

I guess I’m old. When I was playing video games originally, there was a button and stick. Now there’s twelve buttons and two joysticks? How do I even make this thing work?

(DT): What kind of systems or games did you play when you were a kid?

Aw, I’m really going to sound like Old Man Winter now. Atari, the first Atari came out and I was in like seventh grade. Intellivision, ColecoVision. Odyssey. It’s pretty cool, on Xbox Live, you can play a lot of the old games. I always loved the original Atari Track & Field.

Atari and Intellivision were the big competitors. I remember one Christmas everybody got them and I didn’t get one. I was so bummed I lied and told everybody that I got Intellivision when I didn’t.

(DT): So you play the old games through Xbox Live?

I did, yea. I ended up liking the older ones better. I don’t know if that’s true, some of the newer games are great, but I just can’t do it. I’m old!

(DT): You need cheat codes, my friend.

I know, but then you’ve gotta go online and find all these cheat codes, and it’s like, “What am I doing? I want to play a video game and now I’m doing a research project.” It’s like watching a David Lynch movie.

(DT): How has the Blu-ray player been working out for you?

I have yet to watch a Blu-ray movie on it. I’m an idiot. I bought the HD attachment for the Xbox so I could play HD movies, because Netflix was doing HD-DVD movies then. Then a month and a half later, they sent me an e-mail saying “We’re pleased to announce that Netflix will be supporting Blu-Ray…” So now, I’ve gone out and bought one, and I think I’ve watched three movies from Netflix, none of which were available in Blu-ray yet.

(DT): So you’re a Netflix subscriber?

Yea, I’m all for the convenience of not having to go shopping. For anything.

(DT): Does that mean you also order a lot of other things off the Web?

Yes. Too much. There are no less than five packages in my upstairs hallway right now from Internet orders. It’s great. Plus, you can get stuff cheaper. If you’re saving money and it comes to your house, why would you do it the other way?

(DT): As a stand-up comic, do you think YouTube has had any impact on what you do, now that people can go back and watch past performances?

It has. I’ve only recently really gotten stuff up [on YouTube]. But it helps. If 60,000 people have watched one of my clips, that’s a lot of people. I have had people come up to me after shows and say, “great show, we knew you from Cash Cab, but then we heard you were playing here and watched you on YouTube and decided we would come out.”

(DT): Do you ever Google yourself?

I constantly Google myself. I want to keep up on what’s out there. I’ve already caught, in the past, two different comedy clubs advertising me when I had never even spoken to them. Then I have to call, they go, “Oh I don’t know how that got there!” and take it off, but I like to keep up on what’s out there, and make sure there’s nothing inaccurate. People have so much spare time to do crazy [stuff] on the Internet, that you never know what they’re going to put on it. So I keep an eye on it.

(DT): Do you ever hop in on discussions?

That I haven’t done. I try not to read comments about the show or about my standup, because it doesn’t seem to make sense. It’s like walking into something you don’t really need to walk into. I did though, just last week, read some reviews on YouTube, and I was pleasantly rewarded because they were all good. There were 82 in this one clip, and they were all positive. Some people are shocked because they watch Cash Cab, then they watch my stand up, and I’m like “F this, F that,” and they’re like, “Oh my god! The Cash Cab guy is swearing!”

(DT): The YouTube audience is pretty brutal.

Yea, I know they are. That’s why I kind of don’t read the stuff. I’m going to sit at home and get pissed off about what some kid who I’ve never even met thinks about my standup? Why? I’m on a self-prescribed anger management plan: Don’t read anything that you don’t have to that might piss you off.

(DT): Is there anything else you wanted to mention?

I’m doing voiceover for a new show on Discovery called Smash Lab. There’s some pretty techie stuff on there. Last season it wasn’t my voice, but this season it is. It just started on Tuesday night.

(DT): So now you and Mike Rowe both have shows on Discovery, but also do voiceovers on other shows.

That’s right. I’m coming for him. I’m taking him out.

(DT): You both seem like pretty big guys. In a fight, who do you think would win?

I’ll kick his ass. I’ll hurt him.

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