Political activist, comedian, actor … and cab driver?
John McDonagh is the true embodiment of the New York hustle. And his one-man show, “Off the Meter, On the Record” is a comedic testament to his 40-year career as a cab driver.
And McDonagh is ready to testify all about it between Feb. 8 and Feb. 11, when he comes to the An Beal Bocht Café on 445 W. 238th St.
McDonagh was born and raised in Queens to Irish parents who immigrated here to escape discrimination. Now with a family of his own raising three girls, McDonagh tested some of his stories from his cab-driving days at bars, eventually developing into a sturdy play under the direction of Ciarán O’Reilly, founder of The Irish Repertory Theatre.
“He developed a bunch of stories into something smooth that had a thread going through it.” McDonagh said.
He tells those stories not just with words, but with a lot of help with visual aides like videotapes and newspaper clippings.
“People enjoy it and it’s fun,” McDonagh said. “I brought down two friends, told them if it’s no good you have to tell me, and they gave me two thumbs up.”
One of his first audiences came courtesy of David Rothenberg, founder of the Fortune Society, a social rehabilitation program for formerly incarcerated prisoners, gave McDonagh one of his first audiences. The feedback from those performances helped McDonagh shape his show, he said.
Through his very own life, McDonagh paints how he experienced the evolution of New York City before his eyes. The days of hailing cabs from the street and being captive audience to drivers are gone, replaced with car-hailing apps like Lyft and Uber —applications McDonagh, like many cab drivers, is not a fan of.
Through his play, McDonagh allows people an opportunity to experience the city from one of its most reliable and authentic sources.
“There’s no deep meaning to this, it’s about taking them though this journey,” he said.
“In this show, you get to see the city changing. Back then, cab drivers had no AC, no radio, and in August at the end of my shift, I’d be drenched in sweat.”
McDonagh illustrates the array of individuals he’s experienced during his years. He has met people ranging from New York City’s elite to the slums. And in most situations, the outcomes were not always pleasant.
“Almost every story you get involved in, it’s going to end in disaster,” McDonagh joked.
He could have been referencing the time he was dragged off of live television for sharing his opinion on the Iraq war, or when producers refused to cast him on the competition reality show “The Amazing Race” because of his record of activism.
“I was always involved in the struggles going on because I identified with it,” McDonagh said.
In 2004, he started a movement called “Cabbies Against Bush,” a campaign protesting President George W. Bush at the height of military action in the Middle East. As a Vietnam war veteran, McDonagh felt strongly about his military positions.
This “cabtivist,” however, is just getting started. McDonagh just finished shooting for “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” on Comedy Central. And then there’s next weekend’s show at An Beal Bocht, where tickets are sold online.
The key to this cab driver’s success?
“Hang out with really good friends that tell you whether it’s working,” McDonagh said. “You have to surround yourself with positive people. You’ll never get anywhere with negative people.”
For tickets to “Off the Meter, On the Record,” visit tinyurl.com/OffTheMeter.