Joy Behar: Left Front Center

Comedian, talk show host Joy Behar The View comic standup CBS

From her perch on "The View," where she voices her opinions about everything - politics, fashion and, yes, infidelity - one thing is clear:

Joy Behar likes to talk.

"I love a conversation," she said. "I don't think there's anything more great and more fabulous than a conversation. So if I can just keep having conversations and getting paid to do them, I'm a happy woman."

And, at age 67, Behar is really happy. She's added an evening roost, a talk show all her own, on the cable news channel HLN.

So on Monday through Friday, from late morning to prime time, Behar is talking . . . and talking . . .

"I am busy. I'm busy. I like to be busy," she said. "What else is there to do in life but be busy?"

She's even come up with a new term for herself:

"I'm a fundit," Behar said. "Bill Maher is a fundit. Lewis Black is a fundit. People who have a tremendous interest in politics and social issues, and use it in the stand-up, also."

But being a "fundit" doesn't mean it's all fun and games. Her unabashed liberal opinions often lead to some heated debates with her "View" co-hosts, especially with the politically conservative Elisabeth Hasselbeck.

Where did her liberal streak come from?

"It comes from being smart!" she laughed.

"What would Elisabeth say to that?" asked Mitchell.

"Listen, I have my prejudices, you know, too. I think that people who are liberal are more open-minded. That's all. I just believe that.

"You know, you can argue with that all you want - you can say, 'Oh, conservative people are open-minded,' and I don't agree with that. I don't."

While Behar is the first to admit she's a comic and not a legitimate journalist, in 2008 as then-presidential candidate John McCain discovered when he appeared on "The View," Behar wasn't shy about asking him some tough questions:

"So I said to him, 'You know those are lies, John. Why do you say you approve them?' Well, apparently, the "L" word had not been used before. And, you know, if I wasn't on Medicare, I would say it was out of the mouths of babes!" she laughed.

The "McCain vs. Behar" exchange made news, catching the attention of New York Times columnist Frank Rich:

"Barbara Walters and Joy Behar called him on several falsehoods, including his endlessly repeated fantasy that Palin opposed earmarks for Alaska. Behar used the word 'lies' to his face. The McCains are so used to deference from 'the filter' that Cindy McCain later complained that 'The View' picked 'our bones clean.' In our news culture, Behar, a stand-up comic by profession, looms as the new Edward R. Murrow." (NY Times, 9/21/08)

"I don't consider myself a legitimate journalist, by any means. I'm a comic," Behar said.

Nonetheless, although she called the column's comparison to Edward R. Murrow "a bit much," she admitted that she has it framed. "Well, listen, you don't called Edward R. Murrow every day!"

Behar believes her political perspective comes from her Italian-American family.

"There was one in-law who loved Mussolini," she laughed, "but, you know, we thought he was an idiot. I make fun of him in my act, in my show. But no, they were very open minded. I never heard racist talk, homophobic talk, nothing like that. It was a very unusual family, I guess."

The only child of Rose, a sewing machine operator, and Louis, a truck driver, Josephine Victoria Occhiuto was raised in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

Touring the old neighborhood with Behar, Mitchell asked if it brought back memories from back in the day.

"'Memories ….' " she sang, 'like the mozzarella of my mind . . . '"

"What about this neighborhood made you who you are? What's the one thing you took out of this neighborhood?"

"Well, you can feel the grit, can't you? You feel the grit of it. It's like a real New York experience," she said.

And those gritty New York experiences laid the groundwork for Behar's comic sensibility, with some encouragement from her relatives.

"I'd be at a wake as a kid, like a little five year old kid, and I would just sit there and listen to the conversations," Behar recalled. "And they sounded absurd to me as a little kid. They'd be like, 'He looks good.' No, he doesn't look good, I'd think to myself. What are they saying? One time somebody said, 'He looks just like himself.' And I thought,Well, who should he look like?

"And I'd start making fun of everybody at the wake and what they were saying, and the way so-and-so acted at the casket, and I'd have them all laughing."

"Oh my gosh, they were okay with that?" Mitchell asked.

"Yeah! Now some families might not have been okay with that. They might have said, 'That's so disrespectful. You shouldn't do that.' But not mine! They were perfectly happy to go along with the gallows humor of it."

Behar flirted with the idea of becoming an actress, but after college graduation, she got married, became a mother, and tried her hand at many different jobs.

"I used to teach English to high school dropouts in a tough, tough neighborhood - kind of kids who go to jail because they set fire to their parents. Then they would send them to me to teach them the difference between 'who' and 'whom.'

"Did you like it?"

"Sometimes I did. Sometimes. I like teaching the dropouts. The ones I just made fun of? They were my best students. I love them."

But at age 40, after divorcing her husband of 16 years, Behar came to a realization . . .

"I thought, 'Uh oh. Now you've tried everything, and nothing is working for you.' And so I tried to do stand-up at that point, 'cause I knew I was meant to do it. I just didn't have the guts to do it before that."

"People people think I'm Jewish. I'm Italian. I got a call the other day, 'Happy Hannukah.' I said, 'Mom, I'm not Jewish!"

"You know, she did pretty well pretty fast," said daughter Eve, who was 11 when her mother went from schoolteacher to stand-up.

"I think once she made the decision, she said, 'This is it. I'm going for it.'"

And in 1997, when Barbara Walters was looking for co-hosts for a new show called "The View," it was Behar's sense of humor that caught her eye.

"It's very difficult, especially for female comedians," Walters told Mitchell. "It's very hard to make a place for yourself. And Joy was relatively late in doing that. I think the talent was there. And I think the opportunity to do a program like 'The View' changed her life."

"Did you have any idea that it would be on this long, that it would have this type of longevity?" asked Mitchell.

"No. Do you know what they say? The show must go off!" she laughed. "And 'The View' stayed on."

And one of the on-going topics on 'The View' is whether marriage is on the horizon for Behar and Steve Janowitz, a retired teacher, whom she refers to as her "spousal equivalent." They've been together for 27 years.

"He's a little younger than me. I got him just when he was, like, young enough to enjoy an older woman. A cougar! And now we're just going into our dotage together, I guess. But he and I, we might, we might, I can't say for sure."

What Joy Behar can say for sure is that on her journey from Brooklyn to stand up to television host, she's saved the best for last.

"Life begins at 60," Mitchell said.

"It really began at 40 for me, in many ways," Behar said. "It was, like, everything opened up to me. I completed my analysis. And I started to blossom in a certain way. And it's been fun ever since."


For more info:
"The View" (ABC)
"The Joy Behar Show" (CNN)
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