In the spring and early summer of 2005, the Discovery Channel was casting for a new kind of game show. The tentatively-titled Cash Cab was intended to be a typical trivia show, but its setting — inside of a New York City yellow cab — promised something more casual and fun. Hundreds of actors and comedians went out for the role of the cab’s host/driver, and after a rigorous series of auditions, the Discovery Channel found their man.
At first, though, that man wasn’t comedian Ben Bailey.
While Bailey would go on to win multiple Emmys for his hosting duties on Cash Cab, he wasn’t the network’s first choice to host the show. Instead, actor, writer and comedian Edward Crawford won the part, and even signed the papers to host the entire first season. But when his background check came back, an incident from when he was 19 would cause the Discovery Channel to rescind the offer, sending his life into a tailspin.
What he didn’t know back then, however, was that the only way to process his life’s greatest missed opportunity was to put the pedal to the metal and drive on.
Newburgh, New York — 1993
It was May of 1993. I was 19 years old and still living in my hometown of Newburgh, New York. Me and my friend were drinking Meister Brau beers at his house and we wanted to go to McDonald’s, but I’d had one too many, so he said he’d drive my Jeep. Once we got in, though, he told me that he couldn’t drive stick, so I got in the driver’s seat and drove the three miles to McDonald’s with the Meister Braus between our legs.
When we got there, both of us were giving the person at the drive-thru a hard time — flirting with her and goofing around. She must have called the police, because the next thing I knew, there was a trooper behind me at the drive-thru. Then I started driving and the trooper followed me for a while. He pulled me over right in front of my elementary school. He brought me out, gave me a sobriety test and it came up 0.08, which is right at the legal limit. Then he told me I was under arrest for “driving while ability impaired” (DWAI), a step down from a real-deal DUI.
I was still living at home at the time, and to put it lightly, it didn’t go over well with my parents. I felt like I really disappointed them, which is the main reason why I never drank and drove ever again. Still, I didn’t think this event would haunt me years later. I paid the $300 fine and that seemed to be the end of it.
New York City — 2005
I moved to the city to become an actor in 1994. I worked mostly at delis and pizzerias, but I also worked as a cab driver for a year. I was doing open mics as a stand-up, and I got little gigs here and there. The biggest of these was a movie named Down to the Bone, where I played Vera Farmiga’s drug dealer. It won at Sundance in 2004, and I got an agent out of that movie.
I heard about the Cash Cab audition via Backstage in the spring of 2005. Right in the breakdown, it called for a clean license, but it had been 12 years since my DWAI, so I thought it would be okay. It was an open call, and the first audition was like American Idol — it was packed with people.
In the room, they wanted you to improvise like you were driving a cab and quizzing people. They didn’t tell you much about the show, they just wanted to see how personable you could be. It was completely off-the-cuff, and I played off of one of the producers. It went really well. I nailed it. They loved me.
All told, there were like, five or six auditions. For the second one, they gave me the show bible, had me take a look at it and told me to come back and improvise again. For the third one, they asked me to have the show bible memorized. For the last two auditions, I was actually driving a cab with the cameraman in the passenger seat, and a sound guy in the back with a boom mic. It went really well, and I remember leaving that last audition and turning to the producer and saying, “I can do this.” And he said to me, “I know you can, they love you.”
A couple of days after that last audition — it was Friday, July 29th — I was on the Metro North train and I got a phone call saying to check my email. When I got home, there it was: a contract with the Discovery Channel to host 40 episodes of Cash Cab, and with the possibility of hosting as many as 80 episodes.
The next 10 days were a whirlwind. I was supposed to start filming on Monday, August 8th, because they needed to get eight episodes in the can right away. I signed papers, submitted a background check and they gave me a Discovery Channel phone and books to study for a new cab license. I passed the test two days later in Long Island City.
My world started changing right away, and it felt amazing. One of the producers told me that he was going to take me to a Mets game, and I was interviewed by my hometown newspaper. I wasn’t going to be making a lot of money, but suddenly, I was going to be making a couple grand a week, and it would have been more and more had it continued on. So I told my roommate, “I’m out!” and made plans to sign a lease for a bigger apartment. It’s pretty amazing how much your life can change in one week when you think you’ve got your own TV show.
In those 10 days, I did think about the DWAI here and there. I’d get little fits of anxiety about it, and then I’d say, “Nah, it was 12 years ago.” I even thought that if they did find out, maybe they liked me so much that they’d let it slide. After all, I’d beaten out so many other actors and comedians for this — it was hundreds of people.
For the most part, though, I kept it out of my head, and went on feeling like I was at the top of the world. All was going fine, but then I got a call Sunday night before shooting began. It was from one of the producers. “Eddie, we have a little problem,” he said. “Did you get a DUI in 1993?”
“Yeah,” I told him. And he said, “Why didn’t you tell anybody?” I said, “Because it was 12 years ago. I didn’t hurt anybody. I just got pulled over and paid the fine. I didn’t even lose my license.” Then we got into it a little bit. He said, “We asked you 15 times if you had a clean license.” And he was right. They did. They asked me 15 times, and I lied every single time.
It was a tough conversation, and he was obviously annoyed, but at the end, he said to me, “Don’t worry. We’ll figure this out. Just be here tomorrow morning.”
The next morning, I thought we had it figured out, but that wasn’t the case. First, I got there late because the train was late, and then I ran into the room with a round table consisting of the producers, my agent and a couple of suits. It went very quickly. They thanked me. They said I was very talented, and they wished me luck on my future endeavors. They said they were sorry, but they couldn’t have a driver with a record. I was speechless — completely speechless. I was heartbroken.
My agent came outside with me, and we got into an argument. He said to me, “Why didn’t you tell me about this?” I said, “Because it was 12 years ago, and I had one beer over the minimum.” Then he yelled at me, “It’s not about how many beers you had! It’s a driving show!” He finally said, “Good luck,” and walked away. He dropped me then and there. I still remember yelling at him as he walked away down 6th Avenue.
Over the next couple of days, I tried to see if I could do anything about it, but I couldn’t. I spoke to the head of talent and tried to explain that it was 12 years ago, but he said it was too late. I also kept getting phone calls from them asking for their phone back, but for some stupid reason, I thought that maybe if I still had the phone, maybe I had a chance of coming back. Alas, that wouldn’t prove to be the case.
Worse yet, I had to back out of signing that lease, and my roommate had already found someone, so I had nowhere to go. In two weeks, I went from getting my own TV show to moving back into my parent’s house, right back into my childhood bedroom.
Newburgh, New York — 2005
It was tough going back to my hometown after all that. I started delivering pizzas again, and the pizzeria had that article on the wall that the paper had written about me. I couldn’t even look at it. It had been big news for the people who knew me, and one guy I delivered pizzas to even asked me, “What happened, did you buy the pizzeria?” I had to tell him that the game show wasn’t going to happen.
I held on to that anger for a while. I got self-destructive and drank more than I should have. I never drove drunk again — and that wasn’t even because of Cash Cab — I learned my lesson on that the first time around. I wasn’t taking care of myself, though, and I’ve had Lyme disease since 1995, which can be made a lot worse if you don’t take care of yourself. I was also getting into fights with people. I’ve always had a hair-trigger temper, and it was made a lot worse now that I had a chip on my shoulder.
I couldn’t get any acting work either. I would commute down to the city for auditions, but I couldn’t get anything for a while. I thought it was because they somehow knew about the Cash Cab thing, but really it was because I had such a bad attitude at the time that no one wanted to hire me.
I tried getting back into stand-up a bit, and there was this club downtown where the owner told me I could have time onstage if I barked on the street to get people to come to the show. I did that a few times, and then one night, I’m on MacDougal Street, telling people to come to the show and they asked me, “Who’s on the lineup?” I hadn’t looked down at the sandwich board yet, and when I did, it read, “Cash Cab’s Ben Bailey.”
I excused myself and then went back to the club. I told the owner, “Look, I was supposed to be that guy. I have nothing against him, but I can’t sell tickets for him.” He understood, and when I was leaving, I heard a voice say, “Eddie!” I turned around, and it was Ben Bailey. He asked me to stick around for his set, which I did. Afterwards, we talked. I remember he told me, “I know it’s heartbreaking, but remember this, Eddie: You booked it, and nobody can take that away from you.” It was really inspiring. I’ve never seen Ben again, but I really do like him. I’ll never forget what he told me.
All along, people were telling me that I had to put it behind me, but it never stuck until I met this guy in 2007. I don’t want to share his name because I don’t know if he’d want me to, but he’s a well-known show business guy. He told me, “You need to do something to find some healing. Make a movie or something like that. Put this energy into a better place. Maybe it’ll be cathartic for you.”
After that, my attitude finally started to turn around. I turned my attention to writing, and I made three short films over the next few years. I eventually moved back to the city, and I finally started getting work again. I got a guest spot on Blue Bloods, and I was in a movie called King Cobra with James Franco and Christian Slater. I also decided to write a screenplay about everything that happened with Cash Cab. It took a few years, but I finally filmed it last November.
It was tough to relive the whole experience again. There were times where I felt like I was having flashbacks, but overall, it was really cathartic. I made my character’s whole arc about him eventually taking responsibility for himself after lashing out at people and blaming everyone else. That’s really how I got through it in real life — I finally accepted responsibility and moved forward.
Yeah, sometimes it’s still tough to talk about, and yeah, my life would be totally different had it worked out. But I do think I’m stronger for it.