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Joy Behar -- Standing Up Laughing

04/15/2013 07:15 am ET | Updated Jun 15, 2013

Joy Behar is leaving The View. Maybe you heard. One of two original co-hosts left standing, Behar has no second thoughts about parting ways with the couch she has occupied since 1997 with Barbara Walters and the various other co-hosts who have come and gone over the years. The talk show host/stand-up comedienne has had quite the run on the daytime talk show -- 16 years -- and now it's time for 'Joy.'

Behar spent some time with The Huffington Post to talk about her first love: stand-up comedy; the lean years -- life before The View; what she's doing next... and she told us who she had to apologize to on air that pissed her off.

If you're almost 40 and you want to pursue a career that is 180 degrees from your current job, if you need to overcome fear of failure or you want to be a stand-up comedian when you grow up, you'll love this interview.

You're leaving The View. Say it ain't so because you may just be my favorite host on the show. Please don't tell the others I said that!

(Laughs) That's so sweet. You know people stop me and say they'll miss me, but I've been there for 16 years, and it's like 'enough already!'

Did you wake up from a bad dream and just decide you wanted to leave the show?

No, I just wanted to change things around. I've been doing these talk shows forever and sitting with other women where I'm a member of a panel, but then I got my own show twice: my HLN show and my show on Current TV where I'm the host of my own show, and I really like that better. So if I get another one where I am the host, then I will probably take it. But if I don't, then I will pursue other avenues. You know I started out as a stand-up comic.

Yes, I remember seeing you years ago doing stand-up on TV. I thought you were hilarious, and then you kind of just disappeared until I saw you on The View. Did you stop doing stand-up?

I'm not sure which shows you're thinking of. I was on Merv Griffin one time, and I also did The Steve Allen Comedy Hour back in the early, early 80s. I got those gigs and then you had to work your way into the industry more. Steve Allen was particularly good to me. He discovered me as a comedienne when I was working as a receptionist at Good Morning America.

How did he discover you when you were working as a receptionist? Now that's a stroke of luck!

(Laughs) Well, first of all, I was a high school English teacher. But I wanted to get into television production, and the only way you get into a show is to start somewhere. So I started as a receptionist. And then they offered me a producer's job, and I wasn't interested. I really wanted to do my comedy. One day I was asked to substitute for one of the writers on the show. I called up Steve Allen to find out his New Year's resolution. And I called up Frank Zappa. Both of them were very interesting but Steve Allen was particularly lively and great on the phone, and I actually made him laugh. He said to me, 'You know what? You're too funny for that job.' And I said, 'Well, I'm a comedienne, and I want to start doing stand-up.' He said, 'Can you send me a tape?' It took me awhile to get the guts up to send him a tape but I finally did. When I spoke to him again, he said, 'I laughed out loud.'

What tape did you send him?

It was an audio tape of me doing a character from my old neighborhood in Brooklyn of an Italian woman giving news in the neighborhood. It went like: 'Former bodyguard, Carmine Russo, has become a faith healer. There's not a cripple left in the neighborhood since Carmine has been pronouncing his miraculous words: 'Walk or I'll break both your legs.' And he said, 'If I had a show, I would put you on the show.' But I remained on GMA and moonlighted with my comedy. Then he had a show, and he put me on his show.

How did you get fired from GMA and were you upset?

I was devastated, but I actually expected it. I wasn't really doing the job. I would take these long lunch hours and go see a shrink. (Laughs) I wasn't really paying attention. So they fired me.

Then I was devastated by the fact that I was a single parent and had no money. My ex-husband was a professor and he didn't have any money, so none of us had money. And there I was almost 40 years old with a daughter so I just decided to throw my hat into the ring. I started to do standup as many places as I could. I really paid my dues. I was doing sets at $10, $20-a-set in the city to hone my act. I would go on jobs in New Jersey for 50 bucks that would take me into the depths of Jersey on the Turnpike. At that time, comedy was very popular so they were turning bowling alleys into comedy clubs. This is the kind of dues I was paying. It all worked out because I became good at what I was doing. I became a good stand-up. I made a very good living at it.

Around 1987 I got a show on Lifetime called Way Off Broadway. I was the host. It was in the early stages of Lifetime, and they didn't keep me on the air even though we had incredible shows, and I had great guests. It was one of those experiences where you realize that TV is very difficult to stay on the air. I always say, 'You know what they say? The show must go off.' (Laughs)

How did Barbara Walters discover you for The View?

Barbara saw me at a benefit for Milton Berle at the Waldorf Astoria. I was doing stand-up. I had had a radio show already. I had a couple of TV things. I was getting popular. I had an HBO special in 1989. She didn't know who I was but she did see me there. She was curious about me. A few months later, she was casting for The View and my name came up. So that's how the whole thing kind of came together.

Did you turn cartwheels when you got that gig?

I was happy for the following reasons: It was in New York. I mean it wasn't like the most high-paying job. I would have done better in a sitcom, believe me. For the amount of time that you have to put into for these shows, it's relentless. It's every day. You really don't make the kind of money that you make on a sitcom. And I was sort of poised to get a sitcom at that point. I had been to L.A. a few times. I made a pilot in Los Angeles that didn't get picked up... stuff like that was happening. So this job I took because it was in New York City. It allowed me to be myself, which I enjoy -- be funny every day. Plus Barbara was an iconic figure so I thought this show would not be a dumb daytime show, so that's why I took it.

You recently said on the show 'I've had to apologize for things and I'm still pissed about it'. What were you talking about?

(Laughs) I had to apologize when the Tiger Woods incident was going on and Rachel Uchitel was in the middle of it, and I made the joke: 'U-ka-tell she's a hooker.' Based on her name: U-chi-tel... get it? And I got a 'cease and desist' [letter] requesting an apology from Gloria Allred that Miss Uchitel was not a hooker. Well it was just a joke. I mean I didn't know what she really was so I apologized for that because otherwise I was going to be in the middle of some kind of a lawsuit I thought. And then, another time I called Sharron Angle a bitch. She was running these ads [in Nevada] against immigrants that were just horrifying to me. And I did say, 'Come to the Bronx, bitch, and we'll take care of you up there,' -- or something like that. And I had to apologize to her. My apology was so half-hearted that everybody could see through it. I was like: 'I apologize, my use of the word bitch distracted from the real issues of what she's doing in Nevada.' So that was the apology.

As a comedienne you say things that are funny about people because that's what you do. Do a lot of people take offense or not so many?

No. You know what? I get away with a lot. I think people see that I don't have a mean streak except sometimes it gets right-winged politicians. I'm like Mother Teresa compared to, let's say, Bill Maher.

Or Joan Rivers.

I'm a little bit easier on people than they are maybe but I admire them for being that audacious. As I get older I get more audacious. And I will continue to be more and more because at this point, I always say: 'So what, who cares?'

How do you like it when Fred Armisen on SNL does his Joy Behar takeoff saying 'So what, who cares?' Funny?

Fred has been on The View a few times. I think it's quite funny. Armisen has captured my twitches and my attitude. Although I look forward to the day when I will be impersonated by a woman.

After you leave The View, do you plan to do stand-up again?

Yes, I'm booked in May at the Morristown Playhouse in Jersey, and I'm booked in Tarrytown in the fall. I could be working as a stand-up quite a bit now but I want to take some time. I'm working on a couple of projects. I'm working on a play which I can't talk too much about. I'm also working on putting together a stand-up one-person type of show which has video and movies and a lot of pictures from what I've been through in the past 50 years.

How did you cope with bombing on stage in the beginning?

It's traumatic. My theory about it is, when you're first starting it is very difficult. Let me break it into percentages. Let's say 33 1/3 percent of your act is material; another 33 1/3 is persona -- who you are on stage; and the other 33 1/3 percent is confidence. Those are the elements that are required of a stand-up. Now the one thing you may be really lacking in the beginning is confidence. When I got on stage for the first time, I had material and I had a persona, but I didn't have confidence. It was petrifying to be up there. I always say that people in the audience have clothes on and you're up there naked. So you have to have your jokes, your material clothe you in a way. You have to go out there with a helmet.

How do you build that confidence when you don't have it to begin with?

The only way that I was able to do it was because I was really on the balls of my ass. I had no money. I had no prospects. I had to put aside my fear and my ego and just plunge into this industry. As I said, I was at bowling alleys in New Jersey so even though they were awful, every time I got up -- and I was compelled to do it because I needed the money -- I learned something. And the more stage time I had, the better I got and the more confidence I got.

After you made it big in the business, was there anyone from your past who you wanted to say to: 'How do you like me now?'

Oh, yes, of course. When I was in high school there was a teacher... in my senior year of high school, I wrote, produced, directed and emceed an entire senior frolic, and we made fun of the teachers, we made up songs, and this one teacher said to me: 'Well, anybody can make fun of the teachers! Big deal!' She destroyed me for about 10 years. There were many years I would think about her and how she slowed me down.

People can mess with your mind.

Yes, people can mess with your head so I was not confident at the time. When I was in my 20s there were very few women doing this. Joan Rivers was out there plugging away, and it looked very hard to do. And it is. It didn't occur to me that I could actually do it until I was older. I was always hilarious at parties.

I enjoyed The Joy Behar Show on HLN. You had great guests and topics. What happened?

They changed it at some point. I had to start dealing with the Casey Anthony cases, all that bullshit. I hated it. I was like: I don't care about her. So that's what happened over there.

How are things different now with Joy Behar: Say Anything on Current TV in terms of creative control for you?

On Say Anything, I have total freedom to do whatever subject I want. I don't think I will ever have that again on television.

Never mind who The View is thinking of replacing you with, who would be your top three candidates to fill your role?

Replace moi? They're all dead. Golda Meir comes to mind. She was so focused on what she had to do that she had no idea that she looked exactly like Lyndon Johnson.

Who makes you laugh out loud?

Marijuana. But it also makes me hungry so I avoid it. I rely on Mel Brooks.

You were with Steve Janowitz for 29 years before you married him. Now that you have the marriage certificate, has the romance faded into the sunset?

Au contraire, mon amie. The sex never stops.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

Funniest Comedians Over 50