Is peace in Ireland worth a potential million-dollar reality TV prize?  Depends on who you ask. Irish American New York City cab driver/playwright/radio host/comedian John McDonagh has his own thoughts on the matter, as he recalls in this story from when he almost hit the big time.

For those of you who don’t know, "The Amazing Race" is the biggest reality show in the United States. It's not just cable.  This is on CBS after 60 Minutes every Sunday.

The premise of the show is that they have 10 pairs of people who go around the world in 30 days, and the last pair standing wins a million dollars.  

And one day, I got an email from "The Amazing Race", saying they are looking for cab drivers. The only problem was, they were looking for pairs of people.

They would have a mother and daughter, pizza makers, plumbers – but people who knew each other.

As a cab driver, you don’t have a co-pilot.  You don’t hang out much with other cab drivers – you do your 12-hour shift and go home.

So, I got back to the garage. One of my best friends at the garage is Seth Goldman, and I thought he would be perfect.

It was like a scene out of "The Honeymooners".  I was Ralph Kramden. He was Ed Norton.

“Listen Seth, our ship has come in. We’re going to win this million dollars!  We gotta do this.”

Seth says, “Let's do it.”

Seth Goldman.

Seth Goldman.

So what you had to do was a three-minute video to send out to Los Angeles.  We go downtown and we’re at a graffiti-filled wall (because we wanted to look urban), and me and Seth are standing there.

I say, “How are we gonna lose this thing? We have the luck of the Irish and the chosen people. We’re going to win the million dollars.”

So Seth looks into the camera and says, “Listen. I’m the only Jew in New York with no ambition. I gotta win this thing.”

We sent it off to California.

Within days, a contract lands. A hundred pages.

We are looking at it. It was unbelievable.

It said that if you sign up for this, we own the right to your voice.  We own the right to your image. We own the right to t-shirts, mugs. Everything.  On every platform and platforms that have yet to be invented.

We showed it to an entertainment lawyer we knew.  She drinks Guinness at Rocky Sullivan’s and that was the only qualification that mattered to us.

She’s looking at it and she’s saying, “Listen, boys.  If you are signing this, you are signing away your lives.”

And I looked at her and said, “We’re cab drivers! We don't have lives to sign away.”

So of course, we signed it. Sent it off.

Within a few days, we had tickets to Los Angeles for seven days. This is it! Our ship has come in.

Seth and I talk about it. We are going to go to some Irish bars. Take some tours. We are going to have a great time.

We fly out to Los Angeles and the hotel is in the LAX Complex.

We take a shuttle bus and we’re walking into the hotel and someone comes up to us and says, “You’re the cab drivers?”

God, is it that obvious?

She takes us to the front desk to check us in, but she checks us in under a phony name.

So, we say, all right, but we’re still not really getting it.  She takes us up to our rooms and sits us down:  “For the next seven days, you are going to stay in this room until you get a phone call to leave.

“You’re caught speaking to anyone in the halls, the dining room or the elevator – even to the maids come into change the sheets – you will be sent home.

“You are not allowed to leave this room. Do not make any phone calls. Don’t tell anyone where you are. Stay in this room.”

Me and Seth are saying, “This isn’t turning out the way we thought.”

So, every day you would get a phone call: Go to room 301.

And you’d go out.  You didn’t talk to anyone.  We didn’t know who to talk to.

So we’d go, and there would be a psychiatrist who wanted to see how sane you are.  We’d sit there and talk to her and then right back to the room.

Maybe you’d go to lunch and someone from "The Amazing Race" would sit with you at the table so you wouldn’t talk to anyone.  Then, back to the room.

Another phone call and you’d be sent to take an aptitude test to see if you are somewhat literate.

And then, once a day, you would meet with the CBS executives.  We'd go to a room where there would be 15 or 20 of them.

They would pepper you with questions and ask for cabby stories.

So we’d tell them cabby stories, and Seth has a story he likes to tell.

Seth was born and raised in Brooklyn and in his house, his father would play the soundtrack of the 2,000-year-old man, Mel Brooks. 

In his house, Mel Brooks was the King of the Jews.  It doesn’t get any better than Mel Brooks.

And as fate would have it, Seth picked up Brooks at one stage to bring him to the theater where The Producers were playing.

Seth tells the story about talking to Brooks and both growing up in Brooklyn.  And then they talk about better bagels in New York over Los Angeles. And how they both married goyem. It's a hilarious story.

We came out of there and one of the producers came up and said, “God, I love that ethnic stuff.  Seth, next when we go back in there, if you could Jew it up a bit like you just did, that would be great!”

Now I know what you are saying. In New York that is anti-Semitic.

This is Los Angeles. Apparently it's how they speak in Los Angeles.

So Seth says, “Sure, I can do that.”

We go back to our room and we are waiting, and the next day we get the phone call from the CBS executives.

Now you think you know a guy.  Seth and me. We went to Cyclone games, Mets games at Shea.  We had pints of Guinness at our favorite Irish bars.

I looked at Seth as he morphed into a combination of Shecky Green and Jackie Mason: “Oy!!! Oi veh! Oi!!”

And I’m looking at him. I say, “Seth, what’s goin’ on?”  Just realizing that Yiddish is his first language.

As soon as we got into the meeting with the executives he starts.  “You’re all schmucks and putzes, and this meeting is a shanda!”

And I’m thinking, I better get on this ethnic bandwagon.  “Begorrah! Begorrah! The top of the mornin’ to ya ! O Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling.”

I looked like I walked off the set of The Quiet Man.  And Seth looked like he left a shtetl in Russia.

And they were looking at us and saying, “This is great!”

Now we had become caricatures of caricatures. So we go back to our room. Everyone loves us.

The days are going by.  I'm getting more bored.

Seth is getting more Jewish. We get a phone call: Come to suite 101. 

So we get down to suite 101.  We open up the door and we are looking.

Television lights hit us, people with clipboards. The place is packed. 

And they go, “We are now going to do an episode of 'The Amazing Race'.”

And it finally dawned on us: We had never watched "The Amazing Race."

We didn’t know anything about it except you went around the world, and in our head we had already spent the million dollars.

Oh my God!

So they hand Seth an envelope. He couldn’t open it. He’s shaking.

I open it up and read and it gives you instructions that have double meanings. So we are running around.

Cameras are following us and we are bouncing off each other and walls, and you had to do everything at a certain time, and there was a puzzle with the pieces this big and we couldn’t put the puzzle together and when we got out of there I said, “That’s it Seth, we’re out of here.”

The casting director finally comes up to us and says, “What are you guys doing?”

“We know we screwed up. Send us back to New York.”

“We never had cab drivers on 'The Amazing Race' before.”

I say, “Now you know why. Send us home. Cut your losses. We’ll call it quits.” She asks, “How is it you couldn’t do the puzzle?”

I don’t know.

“That’s the logo for 'The Amazing Race',” she says.

I reply, “This is how little we knew about that.”

She calls someone over, one of these ones (snaps fingers). “Get them every episode of 'The Amazing Race'.”

And for the next 24 hours, we went up to our room and watched every episode of "The Amazing Race."

Now we were experts.  They loved us.

Day six comes.  They take our passports away.

The passports are now going to the embassies in Los Angeles to be stamped with the visas of the countries you are going to.

And they don’t give you back the passports because God forbid, I should see that I am going to Borneo and I could call up my friends in Borneo to ask for help. So they hold onto the passports.

Then we are going to see a doctor.  And we are getting a medical exam and he’s giving us vaccinations for Ebola, Zika, and Hepatitis A B C D E F.  

Hell! Shoot us up. What do we care? We’re going around the world. We thought this is great!

We are having one last meeting with the CBS executives. Everybody is on a high note.  They are high-fiving us.

So we’re sitting there, telling stories.  We are getting ready to go and, almost like a scene out of Columbo, I was getting up out of the seat and one of CBS executives says, “Listen, John, would it be correct that you were quoted in The New York Times about the Irish peace process?”

Well, I have been doing a weekly show on WBAI called "Radio Free" Ireland for close to 40 years.  In 1998, when the Irish Good Friday Agreement was signed, we had a New York Times reporter come down to the studio to get the reaction of the Irish community, and that’s what he wrote about it. 

I say, “That’s right.”

And he says, “I want to hear what you have to say.”

And I reply, “What?  Am I here as a cab driver? Do I have to give you a history of Ireland?”

So me and him start going at each other and people are sweating.  The New York attitude that got me out to Los Angeles was now sending me back to New York.

We’re sitting there and the interview finally ends and we get up and I say, “Well, that didn’t go very well.”

And Seth, ever the optimist says, “Speed bump, don’t worry about it.”

“That’s definitely more than a speed bump,” I said.

Day seven comes.

Seth and me get on the plane. We fly back to New York. Within two or three hours we are hearing from people.

When we signed the contract, they asked for five references. Well, all five references were called and they asked general questions: “Does he beat his wife?  Does he kick the dog? Does he own a gun? Does he shoot heroin?”

Just general all-American-type questions. Of course, we had fun with those.

One of the references called me and said, “I'm hearing things. What did you do in LA?"

I said we didn’t do anything.

He says, “We are getting telephone calls from the same people asking what Irish organizations do you belong to?”

And even Seth says, “This does not look good”.

A couple of days later I get a call from CBS.  We’re told they would not be using me or Seth for The Amazing Race, and they would be mailing back our passports. 

And that is how the Irish peace process cost me a million dollars.

* This story is from John McDonagh's play Off the Meter which is heading to the Irish American Heritage Museum in Albany, New York on Saturday, March 25. He also told this story at a Moth open mike and was picked for its story slam at the music hall in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.