Richard Hammond’s introduction to driving a Yellow Cab in Manhattan turned out not to involve driving at all.
The British TV star and John McDonagh, the veteran New York cabbie who was going to help Hammond launch his hack career, watched their Crown Victoria overheat as they inched across the Williamsburg Bridge.
So they pushed the cab into Manhattan, a scene TV viewers can watch Monday night at 10 on “Crash Course,” the BBC America show in which Hammond plunges into “iconic American jobs.”
McDonagh says the scene was even more interesting in person.
“We were in the bike lane,” he says, “and I hate bike lanes. I hate bikers. It’s the hottest day of the summer. We’re swearing at them, they’re swearing at us.”
You know, good television.
Finally they abandon the cab and walk three blocks to Katz’s deli, where McDonagh orders Hammond a pastrami on rye.
“He’d never heard of Katz’s,” says McDonagh, which leveled the playing field, because McDonagh admits that before he got a call from “Crash Course,” he had never heard of Hammond.
“Later I found out ‘Top Gear’ is the most popular show in the world,” says McDonagh (Hammond is one of the co-hosts). “When we got into Katz’s, I couldn’t believe it. There must have been a hundred people who came up to him. Before we left they took his picture and put it on the celebrity wall, between Dom DeLuise and Buster Poindexter.”
After the cab was fixed, McDonagh sent Hammond on his own. He took a net loss for his two days, but McDonagh says he could have a future in Manhattan cab driving if he decides to give up TV stardom.
“He’s a good driver,” says McDonagh. “He drives racing cars. His biggest problem in Manhattan is that you can’t go over 30 miles an hour.”
Hammond also tries his hand in Monday’s episode as a standup comedian in the Gotham Comedy Club — and as it happens, McDonagh does comedy himself.
McDonagh will perform Monday night at 9 at Rocky Sullivan’s, 34 Van Dyke St. in Red Hook, as a warmup to “Crash Course.”
McDonagh also co-hosts “Radio Free Eireann” Saturday, 1-2 p.m. on WBAI (99.5 FM) — and he says his advocacy of a united Ireland on that show cost him his own shot at a high-profile TV gig.
“Another cabbie and I, a Jewish guy, were set for ‘Amazing Race,’ ” he says. “Then at the last minute someone heard about the show and we were told we were off.
“It’s too bad, because we couldn’t have lost — the Chosen People and the luck of the Irish.”
As long as the race didn’t go across the Williamsburg Bridge.