Behind the wheel with Jimmy Failla, NYC cabbie turned comedian and dad

in Non-Fiction by

Sure, your dad did a lot for you. But new dad Jimmy Failla has gone above and beyond the call of duty in terms of providing for his child. By day, Failla dodges traffic as a New York City cab driver. By night, he wrangles hecklers as an up-and coming stand-up comic. And all along he’s soaked up advice from his customers about what it means to be a grownup—and a father.

That advice—along with everything you need to know about being a cab-driving comedian with a child on the way—is laid out in Fallia’s new book, Follow That Car! A Cabbie’s Guide to Conquering Fears, Achieving Dreams, and Finding a Public Restroom, available in bookstores now.

Recently, Failla talked about life under his many hats in a BookTrib Q&A.

BT:  Cab-driving, stand-up comedy, fatherhood (and not to mention, writing a book about it all)—this is a pretty full, seemingly round-the-clock life. How do you compartmentalize it all? In other words, how do you keep all these things from colliding in your brain?

JF: In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t keep them from colliding because there’s so much overlap that each activity is always fueling a different one. Taxi passengers become life lessons for my kid, which become jokes for the audience, and maybe even a chapter in my book. It’s all one big, raucous symphony that plays on loop. That’s my life: a symphony that lacks health insurance.

jimmy1 BOOKTRIB: What is it about driving a cab in New York City that uniquely prepares you for being a stand-up comic?

 Jimmy Failla: For starters, I would say the lack of adequate pay, because starting out in comedy requires a strong affinity for cat food. In terms of honing an act, the diversity of the clientele is a great joke-writing weapon. You’re constantly interacting with people from every ethnic background and socio-economic class. Those interactions make it a lot easier to package your ideas in the broadest possible sense. Also, the unpredictable nature of the job translates very well to live performance because it gets you used to handling adversity. Hecklers and drink-dropping waitresses have nothing on pant-less passengers and beer-drinking goats.

BT:  I’ve often thought that driving in Manhattan was like gladiatorial combat, but in a kind of sporting way. For example, in a city like Boston, I feel other drivers are actually trying to kill you. In New York, though, someone might flip you the bird, but more out of legitimate tribute to how effectively and completely you just cut them off. What are your views on this? How would you describe your relationship with the drivers with whom you share the roads of New York?

JF: I was just having this conversation with my brother who is an NYPD cop! We were marveling at how little road rage you actually see in New York. I think it’s because people expect you to drive like a maniac so they don’t have an emotional investment in it. If anything, people get mad at you when you don’t run the red light or barrel through the crosswalk.

Your analysis is spot on. New York driving is a healthy competition. And that’s why New York is the only city where you signal after you’ve already made it into the next lane. Anywhere else, if you wanna go left, you put on your blinker like “hey, I’m going left.” But if you do that here, they block you. So instead you have to go left and then you put on your blinker like, “ha-ha, screw you, I made it!”

BT: For the benefit of your fellow cab drivers, what should we passengers NOT do when we get into a cab? Should we try to engage the driver in small talk? Should we embrace the awkward silence? What are the “dos and don’ts” for the New York City cab passenger?

 JF: Do: Bring hand sanitizer. In the average 60 hour week, I see four people having sex, three people throwing up, one person urinating, and ZERO people vacuuming.

Don’t: Bother with a seatbelt. The way we’re about to drive, a seatbelt can’t help you anyway.

JimmyFailla_Lincoln_AndyEngel_6_24_12-300x225Do: Talk to us about anything you want, however depraved or ill-intended.

Don’t: Expect us to keep quiet about if we get a book deal.

BT: You’re driving your cab in the city  and you can pick up literally anyone in the world as a fare. Who would it be, and what would you talk to him or her about?

JF: I think my ultimate fare would be Fat Elvis, because we share a spiritual kinship when it comes to food. Talking food with passengers is far and away my favorite driving pastime, and I’m sure Fat Elvis would have some strong opinions on the cronut and all of these killer fried-chicken places that are popping up everywhere. The only downside to Fat Elvis is that his outfits would seem tame compared to the dudes that usually hail me in Chelsea.

BT: Driving a cab in New York City and stand-up comedy seem to be two high-risk, high-pressure jobs. What would you tell a child of yours who wanted to follow in your footsteps? What advice would you give?

JF: I’d tell my kid to absolutely go for it, because, as Dennis Hopper told me in my cab, life pays a lot better in the long run if you follow your passions and be yourself. As far as advice goes, I’d tell him the same thing for both professions: be as efficient as you can with your time and avoid bachelorette parties at all costs. They’ll turn your whole life into a nightmare.

BT: What was the weirdest parenting advice you got from a passenger?

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JF: Well, you asked, so here goes (and this is pretty weird, so don’t say I didn’t warn you): I drove a woman to La Guardia, and she told me that in matters of discipline, emotional pain was a stronger deterrent than physical pain. For that reason, she said that whenever my son got in trouble I should take my wife into a separate room and pretend to beat her. When finished, I should explain that it was his fault. Her belief was that the guilt of causing the mommy beating would weigh on him more than a spanking. My belief is that this woman will never win any parenting awards.

Michael Ruscoe is a writer, teacher, and musician living in Southern Connecticut. He is the author of the novel, "From the Stray Cat Files: You’ll Do Anything," the anthology, "Baseball: A Treasury of Art and Literature," and numerous educational texts. An instructor at Southern Connecticut State University, Ruscoe is also lead singer and songwriter for the indie band Save the Androids! In his spare time he earns karma for his next life by ardently following the New York Mets. The proud father of two children, Ruscoe also cares for and supports a pair of goldfish, who, in all honesty, are not very good conversationalists.

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