When they aren't filming the international super hit Top Gear, hosts Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond take some time to work on their own projects. In Hammond's case, it seems those projects involve putting himself through immense levels of stress for Crash Course, his program for BBC America where he has a matter of days to master some of the most intense jobs in America.
He just seems to enjoy a good challenge. And he got one when I joined him in an unairconditioned Manhattan taxi on a blistering July day.
This is our exclusive behind-the-scenes look at The Hamster's new show.
(Full Disclosure: BBC America wanted me to meet Richard so badly that they invited me to ride in a cab with Richard around Manhattan while he filmed the next season of Crash Course. I found out via email while drunk at a party that I was meeting him the next day. I decided right then that I'd wear pants to work.)
Last season, Crash Course saw Hammond taking on some of the toughest machine based jobs in all of the United States. But this time they open it up to iconic jobs all across the land. The scene where I meet up with Richard couldn't have expressed that "iconic" part better if they tried.
It is a Thursday afternoon outside of the legendary Katz's Deli (get the pastrami) just across town from Jalopnik World Headquarters. The film crew is milling about and Richard is relaxing in the back of an SUV. I speak to a couple of the members of the crew, and they cannot believe how well known Richard is.
"The owners of Katz's know who he is, I've never even heard of him" John McDonagh, the cab driver showing Richard the ropes tells me. "They even had him sign a picture to put on the wall. That means they're going to take down some poor Jewish comedian."
After about fifteen minutes of sweating to death in the hot sun, Hammond emerges from the back of the Escalade and walks over to us. He's a short guy, but he isn't a midget like Clarkson makes him out to be. He's also jovial and super nice.
We then hop into the cab that will be our chariot for the day… and immediately run into a problem. It's about 100 degrees outside and the air conditioner in the cab is broken. Oh, and a meter maid is giving us a ticket.
Richard has just arrived in New York from a stint as a Texas cowboy and a Hollywood stunt man. "It tested my horse riding abilities to the limit, all one horsepower. I loved it, it was amazing," Richard tells me.
For his stuntman job, he tells me that he "got thrown off a bridge, set on fire, flipped a car. It was really, genuinely exciting." And while that all sounds scary (Richard is pretty terrified of heights), the activity that he participated in the night before our cab ride was even worse.
He was a stand up comedian at the Gotham Comedy Club.
It was terrifying. Like, really scary. The producers are intrinsically evil. When we planned this season, we decided to broaden it out to include all workplaces across the states and get to know a whole bunch of people. The producers asked 'what stuff are you scared of?' because that makes good TV. I'm not good with heights, so they made me a stuntman. But the whole time I was thinking 'don't make me a comic' because you're more exposed, more vulnerable.I didn't mention it, but one of the producers did. And I left a pause, which was long enough to tell them that I'm terrified of it.
I ask Richard why there is the fear, because he broadcasts to millions of people on Top Gear each week. Does the lack of an ensemble to work with make him a little nervous? The short answer is no. "I've done this job for 24 years, I didn't have those two fat old goats with me the whole time, Jesus. This is a comfortable environment, I've done this job. I know how to work a camera, but a standup, it's tough. But in the end, I loved it."
But right now, we're in the taxi for his next challenge. Richard has had a short stint driving at this point, but he was supposed to have more time this morning. The first cab broke down on the Brooklyn Bridge and had to be pushed off. Not a good start.
This cab isn't much better, other than the broken air conditioning, it has a totally knackered suspension and the weather stripping is actually falling off around the doors. But we ignore this and carry on chatting. Talking to Richard isn't like talking to a celebrity, it's just like talking to one of your friends about cars, which is what the conversation soon devolves into.
We get into Richard's personal car and bike collection. He sold his Suzuki Hayabusa and bought a Kawasaki ZZR1400 (the ZX-14R in America), the most powerful bike in the world. "It makes the Hayabusa look like a moped." He tells me he's now up to 15 cars, and, in a bombshell, hates the new Porsche 911, the 991 generation. "I don't like it, I can't stand it. I don't like the electric steering. It's less of a 911, it'll appeal to a broader audience." So he immediately bought a black Porsche 911 Carrera GTS instead.
He also says the Fiat 500 TwinAir is amazing. He made the quickest run ever from London to his house in it, just because he has to keep the momentum and speed up. He's even gotten one for his wife.
At this point, Richard jumps out of the passenger seat and takes the wheel of the cab. He might be a country boy, but "even I can roughly navigate New York thanks to the grid system."
Richard tells me he likes America, unlike James and Jeremy. "They're the worst people in the world to come to America with because they're so bitter and riddled with neuroses," Richard says. "They can't possibly imagine that there might be another nation which is fun to be in and full of nice people."
We drive for a few blocks, but the traffic is just unbearable, so we pull off the West Side Highway to go our separate ways. Richard still has a lot of filming to do and needs to start picking up passengers.
Ironically, we pulled off onto Clarkson Street.
I jokingly ask Richard to take a picture under the street sign, to which he smiles and replies that he "doesn't want to give that oaf any publicity of any type."
Richard Hammond's Crash Course premieres tonight at 10 PM ET/PT on BBC America where Richard is a Hollywood stuntman.
Photo Credits: BBC America