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So What Do You Do, Joy Behar, Co-host of The View?

The longtime View co-host dishes on colleagues past and present

By Diane Clehane - October 17, 2007
As the sole surviving original co-host (except for boss and mother hen Barbara Walters) of ABC's chatfest The View, Joy Behar has handled more than her share of 'hot topics.' While Star, Rosie, and Elizabeth made headlines with their feuds and shoot from the lip, take-no-prisoners style, Behar has remained happily -- and smartly -- above the fray. The former school teacher-turned-standup comedian knows a good gig when she sees one, but she hasn't given up her first love -- standup comedy. ("It's what I do.") Her route from answering phones at Good Morning America to a seat at the table alongside Barbara and the guests at "the cocktail party du jour" was a circuitous one. Behar survived her share of personal and professional meltdowns before finding her footing on stage doing standup and moonlighting on one of daytime's most enduring and compulsively watchable shows. These days, she spends her mornings at ABC and many of her evenings on stage (this month she's headlining a benefit every Tuesday night for God's Love We Deliver at the Zipper Theatre). Over a post-show lunch of Jenny Craig pizza, Behar served up some tasty dish about what it's taken to outlast her former co-hosts over the past decade and why she'll never give up her night job.

Name: Joy Behar
Position: Co-host of The View
Resume: Joined The View in 1997 as part of the daytime chat fest's original team of cohorts after Barbara Walters saw her perform at Milton Berle's 89th birthday party. ("She was impressed even though she'd never heard of me.") Prior to joining the show, Behar was performing standup comedy at legendary clubs including Caroline's and Catch A Rising Star in New York City. Before breaking into the business, the comedian had various stints that included teaching grade school English and answering phones at Good Morning America. She is the author of several books including the best sellers Joy Shtick or What is the Existential Vacuum and Does it Come with Attachments? and the children's book Sheetzucacapoopoo: My Kind of Dog. Her latest, When You Need A Lift (Crown) was published last month.
Birthdate: October 7 ("That's it")
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Education: Queens College BA in English, State University of New York/Stony Brook MA in English education.
Marital status: "I've been with Steve [Janowitz] for 25 years." One daughter, Eve, from first marriage.
First section of the Sunday Times: "I read the front page. I just sort of scan it. Then I go to the Op-Ed page, the editorials, and the letters. Then I go to the arts section.
Favorite television show: "It sounds too elitist when I answer this but I basically watch The Situation Room on CNN. I Tivo it. I watch it every day. I like the format. I like everything about it. It never disappoints me."
Guilty pleasure: "Massage, manicure, pedicure. The whole bit."

You are the only original member of The View -- besides Barbara Walters -- still standing. What's the secret to your longevity?
I recognize that it's just television. It's a show, it's not personal. I've said this before -- I feel as though I'm at a revolving cocktail party and I basically stay the same and different people move around me. That's my attitude. Plus, I have my real life. I have a very strong real life. I have a lot of friends and I think that's why. I'm not sure that other people couldn't say the same thing, but they're not here. [Laughs]

The show has evolved in its 10 years. It's changed a lot in terms of tone -- it's certainly become a lot more controversial. How do you think you've evolved?
I think I'm calmer about it. I don't like the cross-talk and now I open my mouth about it -- "One at a time." I've become more bossy. [Laughs] I've also become more political over the years -- which I've always been. In the sixties and seventies I marched against the Vietnam War. My ex-husband and I were always very concerned about the country and the way it was going, so it's a natural thing for me. Since it's election year coming up, I'm going to be there.

Have you decided who you're endorsing?
Not yet. I like Hillary but I'm afraid of her hawkiskness, to tell you the truth. In that regard, I like Ron Paul better. Even though he's a staunch conservative. He's against Roe v. Wade, I think. I'm not even sure about that. He's a libertarian so how can he be against that? He could personally be against abortion but that doesn't mean he'd want to change the law. He's the only one who speaks the truth from that party. With the other party, they're all playing around right now and I don't know who to believe.

Let's go back to the politics of The View. During that now infamous final dust up between Rosie and Elizabeth you said on-air, "Who's directing this show?" and were clearly annoyed about what was going on. Did you say anything to the powers that be afterwards?
I was in a minimal position at that point. It was so crazy that day that they didn't even pay attention to me, which is fine. [Laughs] I was a minor player. I was, in the moment, saying, "How come this is going on for so long?" It was so acrimonious. When I've seen it, it was not pretty. I never watch the show after I do it because I'm there already. I happened to catch [that show] a couple of times and I just thought it was nasty business.

Were you ever concerned that all the negative publicity surrounding the show was overshadowing it?
Yeah. Sometimes I did think that.

Did you talk to Barbara or [executive producer] Bill Geddie about that?
No. It doesn't work like that around here.

So what did you think?
[The controversy] became the show and the ratings were up. You can't argue with success. It was like the cocktail party du jour and it just went. That was the way it was. When [Rosie] left, now it's this party. We're having a different kind of thing. I think this is calmer. This is as much fun as last year. It's just a different kind of fun.

What's the vibe on the set now with Whoopi and Sherri?
It's a much calmer vibe. It's not as dangerous, I guess. But to me, it's exciting anyway because Whoopi is a very bright girl. She's got good politics and both of us are interested in trying to get people to listen to the things we say about what we read and see.

Did you read Rosie's book?
I haven't read it. I went to her art show yesterday. She has all these wacky paintings that she's done that are very interesting. She's a talented girl. She's very smart. All I know are these little dribs and drabs from the press. I haven't gotten around to it. I've been trying to avoid it so I don't have to comment on it. But, I can comment on what I know about it.

It's been widely reported that in it she says Barbara is 'tired' and says something about it being time for her to retire. Were you surprised by that?
I was surprised. Mike Wallace is 89 and he's not retiring. People should retire when they want to retire. She's entitled to say whatever she wants -- it's a free country -- but I don't happen to agree with it.

What was it like having Meredith come back for a visit last week? I know you're good friends.
We really are good friends. It was nice to see her again.

How do you think she's done at Today?
She's doing so well. When she went over there I said to them, "You'll never have any diva moments with this girl." She doesn't act out. She's not crazy. She doesn't act like a big star. She's very self-effacing and generous. I miss her.

So let's talk about your new book When You Need a Lift. Where did the idea come from?
They [Crown] came to me with the idea of people sharing their stories about how they get out of a bad mood since I'm a comedian and my whole raison d'etre is to make people laugh. That's where the idea came from. I sent a letter out to a lot of people -- some people responded and some didn't. The ones who responded that we liked we put in the book.

Jay Leno told me he makes a lot of money from The Tonight Show but he doesn't spend any of it. The only thing he spends is his stand up money.

Most people don't know a lot about you prior to you joining The View. You started your television career as a receptionist at Good Morning America. What were your goals at the time?
I had tried a lot of different things. I was an employment counselor. I worked at a mental hospital. I taught English to different grades in different places. I had done a lot of those kinds of jobs. I was qualified to teach English in a high school but I saw that wasn't working for me. You always have in the back of your mind the thing you wanted to do when you were 10 years old. I was a funny kid. I wanted to be an actress of some sort. Standup comedy was always in the back of my mind because I was funny at parties -- and I thought, "I could do this." But it was extremely daunting. So I went into television because the lighting director [at Good Morning America] was a family member and got me this gig as a receptionist. I was thinking "I guess I'll be a producer or something." I wasn't cut out to be a producer, either. I did get a promotion at one point to be a producer at Good Morning America and then I said, "I don't want this job. I want to be a receptionist again." [Laughs] Then I went back to being a receptionist and I got fired because it was clear it really was not happening. I was a receptionist with a master's degree, so I was a little bitter.

After I was fired, I had also had a near death experience -- an ectopic pregnancy, which really went awry during that period. I also got divorced. I was really on the edge. All of this happened in three years [1979-1981]. I was really like, "What am I going to do now?" After I got over the shock of why my life was in such shambles, I started to get on stage. I started to work in [standup comedy] and I was on stage constantly.

Where was your first show? What was that like?
I started down in the Village at a place called Comedy U. because on Thursday nights they had a female night. I started to bond with the other women comedians and we were trying to support each other. The audiences were different from the uptown male audiences. It was a little bit easier to break in. From there, I started to get better and better until I was able to get into Catch a Rising Star.

It sounds as if even with your gig on The View you still consider stand up your primary "job."
Jay Leno told me he makes a lot of money from The Tonight Show but he doesn't spend any of it. He puts it all in the bank. The only thing he spends is his stand up money because he knows he'll always be able to work as a comedian and that's the money that he lives on. Stand up comics always have that. We always have that in the back of our minds and in our back pockets. It's what we really do.

Has the experience of doing standup changed for you since you've become so well known from The View?
More people know me so they come to party with a kind of savviness about me. They know, for example, they're not going to hear me say wonderful things about President Bush. They're also interested in me as a person, so it's much easier when you're at that point in your career rather than having to win them over.

So what does the future hold for you at The View? How long are you planning on staying there?
I don't know. I never know. I always think, "We won't last much longer" -- and then we're on for 10 years. I have two more years on this contract and we'll see what happens.

What's your dream job?
This one. [Laughs]

What's your average day like on The View?
I wake up in the morning and I read the paper. That's the first thing that I do. I read The New York Times every day and I read The Week on Friday. It's very important to read. And I read The Nation. Those keep me informed.

What about Web sites?
I'm going to start doing more. I'm trying to read Huffington Post a little more. My main preparation is watching The Situation Room and reading the papers. And, of course, there's pop culture to deal with. We get research in the morning. I try to follow Britney and all the rest of them and try to have my own take on the situation. That's basically it.

What do you consider your greatest success?
Besides my daughter? My daughter has turned out to be very strong. Everyone loves her. She's a divine person. She's very solid and has real values. She's not a phony. She's doesn't go with the crowd. She has a mind of her own. She's it as far as my accomplishments are concerned.

What would you say has been your biggest disappointment?
[Pauses]. Oh God...I'm not really disappointed by too much.

Looking back, how would you say you've gotten to where you are?
Desperation. [Laughs] And an innate ability to do what I do. They say the definition of talent is something that comes easy to you. Yakking comes easy to me. [Laughs] No one in my family ever told me to shut up.

Do you have a motto?
My mother used to say, "Don't spit up in the air, it comes back in your face." My father used to say, "People who live in glass houses should dress in the cellar." I try to live by those mottos.

Diane Clehane is a contributing editor to FishbowlNY and TVNewser. She writes the Lunch at Michael's column.

[This article has been edited for length and clarity.]

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