PJoy Behar has many problems, and this is the one that’s been getting scandalously little attention. Joy Behar is an awful driver. A person sitting in the back of her SUV to, say, drive a short distance on flat roads, will get nauseated, which will significantly impede that person’s ability to carry out such journalistic duties as noticing whether Behar stops and starts so much because in two months she’ll be 80 and her reaction time has slowed, or because she doesn’t care how she makes people feel.
The ViewThe co-host is willing to do yard-sale shopping in her neighborhood, the wealthy Hamptons. According to the publicist, Behar loves going yard-sale shopping. But she doesn’t seem that thrilled. Our group is among the first people to reach a small spread in Sag Harbor. The homeowners seem a little puzzled that this pile of trash in their garage had somehow attracted an actor. Behar doesn’t linger and keeps her sunglasses on. “Do I know you?” someone asks. “I don’t know,” says Behar in that voice. “Was it that night in Paris?” It’s a perfect answer; everyone laughs, and yet it’s abundantly clear the conversation is over.
Behar relaxes and leans back on a stroller. “Is this doll for sale?” she asks, before doing a pretend double take. “Oh. It’s a baby.” There is an appreciative titter from the parents, and one gets the sense that this is a line that will be repeated at birthday parties for years to come. If the parents do not like Trump, then there will likely be Fox News headlines. Joy Behar Disses Infant!
Joy Behar, The View’s studio host on May 20, 2022.
Peter Fisher at TIME
Finding a compelling and amusing thing to say on demand and without offending anybody is a high-wire act, and Behar has been walking that tightrope on camera now for 25 years, more or less successfully—although often less. Lindsey Granger, who is a Black gun-rights advocate and was our guest host, received this message just days following the yard-sale. The View that U.S. gun laws would change “once Black people get guns.”
Critics flooded in as if there had been an opening to the drawbridge. “I think Joy Behar is just ridiculous,” Byron Donalds, a Representative from Florida’s 19th District, said to Fox News Digital on June 10. “What she said is a lie,” former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich told Sean Hannity. Some conservative pundits have called her racist or ignorant. They pointed out that 25% of African Americans are gun owners and this number is growing. This led to progressive media pointing out that guns ownership by whites exceeds that of any other race. A grandmother hailing from Brooklyn ignited another argument.
Behar insists that her comments were never meant to provoke. “I just say what I say,” she says over takeout Caesar salad in her comfortable but not very lavish Manhattan apartment. “And then they’re upset with me. I’m their favorite target over at Breitbart and Fox.”
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Her attackers have plenty of material to go on if she just says what she said. Former Vice President Mike Pence could be mentally ill, because he claimed Jesus spoke with him. She accused Republicans of being “against babies” over the formula shortage. She called GOP Representative Lauren Boebert’s Christmas photo (which featured children with guns) “obscene.”
She also says things that can upset her friends. When Carl Nassib, the first openly gay NFL player became active, she made a joke. One nurse was mocked for using a stethoscope. Even she has her blackface story. In her youth Behar went to a Halloween party as what she calls “a beautiful African woman.”
“For me, it was like, ‘Look at how pretty I can look as a woman dressed like this,’” she says. “It wasn’t anything close to blackface. It was bronzer which I used in combination with my curly natural hair. And the Black community had my back because they understand what blackface is.” She adds that a Black producer was the first to put the photo on the air 20 years ago. “And then all of a sudden, that picture became verboten.”
After the interview The View’s publicist, who earns every dollar just looking out for Behar (let alone co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg, Sunny Hostin, and Sara Haines), sent me a follow-up comment from Behar. “I would never do that now. I understand it’s offensive.”
There is enough material on both sides to support a campaign against Behar. And yet she occupies the same catbird seat she has for almost 2½ decades. Her contract was renewed in May. The ViewFor a reported $3million a year, it leads ratings for daytime talk show shows for three more years. Goldberg was forced to stop hosting The View for a couple of weeks for saying the Holocaust “was not about race,” but Behar has mostly remained immune to any punishment beyond offering regular apologies, some of which, she has openly admitted, she doesn’t mean.
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Meghan McCain, the most recent conservative host, has cited Behar’s cutting remarks as one reason she left the show. Alyssa Farah, a former Trump Administration spokesperson, has been reportedly chosen to take the seat in the rightmost chair. ViewThis was not confirmed by spokesperson. Behar is the One Who Must Not Be Cancelled in an era where most TV-watching women find their television opportunities shrinking after age 45. “The View needs her more than she needs to do it,” says Ramin Setoodeh, co–editor in chief of VarietyAuthor of a book on the series. Ladies Who Punch “because she’s such an established brand. She has been a fixture on daytime television almost as long as Regis Philbin or Oprah Winfrey.”
Some conservatives may find this offensive.It is hypocrisy to claim that Behar has been cancelled yet. This could be evidence that Behar has a role to play in today’s media landscape. Behar’s age, inability to be understood, and willingness to offend make her an excellent dartboard in today’s rowdy political dive. Conservatives use her to incite outrage and traffic, while progressives like Behar refuse to grant any points.
One of the reasons the darts don’t score is that Behar, unlike, for instance, Ronan Farrow or Anderson Cooper, took the hard way up. Josephine Occhiuto, a Brooklyn native, was raised in a walk-up apartment building. To cool down her pillow, she used to put it in the refrigerator during the summer. “And then in the winter,” she says, “you were freezing because the heat never made it up to the fifth floor.” Her mother operated a sewing machine in a local shop and her father drove a truck for Coca-Cola.
What the family lacked in resources, it made up for in affection—and eccentricity. “My mother used to say, ‘Make sure you sweep the house thoroughly or you’ll marry a bald man,’” says Behar. Her father was a gambler—a habit he couldn’t afford. He could afford it, so his daughter played blackjack and craps at Atlantic City. His grandmother lived on the second floor, as did two other aunts. The only child in the family, she was often called upon to entertain them. “I cannot say that I had a dysfunctional family,” she says. “I’m more like Mel Brooks, who basically said of his family that they were crazy about me, and I just wanted to get more of that.”
Joy Behar, 1991 Comedy Documentary Wisecracks.
In her family, she was the first one to graduate from college. Before long, she had a son and was married to a teacher of high school English. What she enjoyed most was working with students Who’d had an entanglement with law enforcement. “Kids would get out of prison after setting their parents on fire,” she would later joke, “and they would be sent to me to learn the difference between who whom.”
An encounter with death from an unplanned pregnancy led her to realize that she only had one chance at achieving what she desired. That was an audience. Newly divorced from Joseph Behar, she began to do stand-up in the early ’80s, when no venue would book more than one female comic per night. “Stand-up comedy, especially for a woman in those days, was a particularly suicidal occupation,” says Behar. “I did some garbage-y gigs for, you know, a hundred bucks, where I had to drive to the bowels of New Jersey. I’d get lost on the Jersey Turnpike.” She had inconsistent success, but it taught her a lot, including how to handle people who don’t like you and how to keep going when jokes don’t land. It was a surprise reward.
“You have a power when you have that microphone,” she says. “People don’t like it. They don’t like it that I’m a powerful person on The View saying things that they don’t like, but I’m sorry, that is where I’m at. I’m a powerful person on The ViewAs a comedian, I was powerful. Too bad.”
This is one of the cleaner options. gigs Behar scored was Milton Berle’s 89th birthday. The woman spoke out about the difficulties of attracting men. Salman Rushdie was under a fatwa and had married three times, but women still couldn’t get guys. Behar had been dating Steve Janowitz (a middle-school math teacher), who she later married and is, like her mother, somewhat bald. Barbara Walters was the first guest. Behar was 54 when she decided to try it.
Behar was hired to be the comic relief—she did Monica Lewinsky jokes—but during the Bush Administration, she started to develop a more articulated political position. “Her persona in our culture has evolved as politics have evolved,” says Setoodeh. “She didn’t start out as a polarizing figure or even a political figure. She was the comedian.”
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One of the keys to Behar’s longevity is that she takes nothing personally. Behar has seen two of her own television shows cancelled, and even been fired. The ViewIn 2013. “I was glad to be fired,” she says. “I basically was sick of the show at that point for some reason, I don’t even remember why.” According to Setoodeh, while the also-fired Elisabeth Hasselbeck wept, Behar was blasé, and offered to leave that day.
“She doesn’t hold a grudge,” says Hostin, adding, “I think because she doesn’t remember what happened the day before.” Her co-hosts often remind her of a recent insult leveled against her and she just shrugs it off. “That’s how she’s been able to deal with this show. She just leaves it at the table and then moves on for another day.”
Joy Behar, Betty White, and The London Hotel in West Hollywood (Calif.) on January 2, 2013.
To 2015 The View’s ratings were slipping, Trump was running for President, and a new slate of producers were handed the reins. Behar was invited back. “I just knew that we needed to get back into the cultural conversation,” says Hilary Estey McLoughlin, the executive producer who championed her return. “And I knew she was going to be the person who could actually do that. She’s always been the person who says what the audience is thinking but is afraid to say.” Thus began the feud between Trump and Behar, who had been on good enough terms that in 2003, in one of his 18 pre-presidential appearances on The ViewHe allowed her to pull his hair. He also used it to make his famous joke about Ivanka.
Behar had been to Trump’s second wedding; she’d had Melania on her HLN show to tout her line of jewelry (and echo her husband’s false claims about Barack Obama’s birth certificate). Goldberg has also stated that Trump was her friend. Trump, the candidate, was not someone Goldberg or Behar knew. They did all they could to cover the story. Ratings rose. Behar received less negative attention.
Goldberg was also subject to criticism, although the public’s attacks were softened by her status as a well-known celebrity. Behar appeared to have come from nowhere despite all her years in the broadcasting industry. Yet, she was able to offer opinions like they were valuable, even though it took her many years to get on the air.
As Behar’s mockery ofTrump gained momentum, and her detractors followed suit. Facebook now has a dozen pages against Behar, most of which are small. She is a constant presence in stories on Fox News’ digital outlet, and they sit atop a viper’s nest of comments. Kid Rock made a clip in which he gestures at her with an offensive gesture. Kayleigh McEnany (former White House spokesperson) compared the President with her in May. “Biden sounds a lot like Joy Behar,” she said on the Fox News show Outnumbered. “It’s never a good thing to sound like Joyless Behar.”
Behar professes to be indifferent to the invective: “I don’t go looking to see what they say about what I say.” Mostly, she claims, she’s trying to land a joke. Humor can be both funny and serious. “Because she’s funny, she’s more threatening,” says Susie Essman, who came up on the New York City comedy circuit with Behar. “Not only can she give her opinion, but she can zing, and when you can zing, it’s more powerful.” Funny, moreover, is in the eye of the beholder: “If you don’t hear any laughter,” said right-leaning comedian Greg Gutfeld recently during a show with no studio audience, “just pretend you’re watching Joy Behar do stand-up.”
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It probably doesn’t help her image among her male detractors that Behar fits the mold of other reputed scolds—mothers-in-law, ex-wives, librarians, grandmothers, grammar-correcting English teachers, female surgeons general. Her voice has been referred to as “a fine Italian whine,” but also “a decent paint remover.”
But ultimately, say Behar and her co-hosts, she’s untouchable, because she means well. “This whole idea of canceling people for what they say, I’d say the answer to that is, What was your intention?” says Behar. “Everything that I got into trouble for was not intentional.”
On the nurses: “I didn’t understand what I was saying, to tell you the truth, right? That’s the thing about the show, it could be an accident in the moment, you’re looking at something, you say something, and then it’s taken completely out of context.” Everybody, she contends, knows she’s pro-nurses. On Pence: “I had no intention of denigrating anyone’s religion. I was talking about—that was almost a joke.” After sponsors began to pull out of the show, she apologized to him, ex-Catholic to ex-Catholic. “He understood what I was doing,” she says.
It’s demonstrably true that Behar is unguarded. In the course of a post-show interview, she is happy to talk about having Botox and fillers, the fact that she’s started drooling, a weeklong diet that did nothing, that she has been in therapy since high school, and her hopes that her husband still “gropes me a little bit.” She’ll even talk money. Someone stopped her recently on the street and said that she was a socialist, and hated the rich. “So, I’m not a socialist,” she says. “I own a couple of houses.”
One of our Facebook PagesJoy Behar, the Worst Television Show, has 85 fans. It is hosted by Joshua Maroney (a 43-year old oil-refinery worker hailing from Smackover Ark). Maroney has not voted, even for Trump. The View’s key demographic, but he often works night shifts, so he’s home during the day and catches the show. Maroney doesn’t post much, but he says he gets “thousands” of messages from like-minded folks.
Behar first irked Maroney—and this may sound familiar—by running her mouth. “She straight said I was ignorant because of where I lived,” he says. “And she didn’t say it like once for a 30-second blip. For months, she repeated it. Ich wohne [in the South] so I must not be educated.” But as he talks, it becomes clear his beef is not really with Behar. He estimates he’s lost 26 friends to suicide. He takes 16 or 17 pills a day after “getting rolled up twice in Afghanistan.” His memory is jumbled after three concussions. His right hand doesn’t work well, and he thinks “it would be nice if I can go less than 200 miles from my house to a psychiatrist, which I’ve asked for numerous times.”
Joy Behar. Sunny Hostin. Meghan McCain. Season 21. The ViewIn 2018.
Heidi Gutman—Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty Images
Behar is the repository for Maroney’s frustration, because of the different returns their labor and skills have generated, not just in income—though there is that—but in their ability to get heard, to get people to care about the issues each considers important. He acknowledges that this is not Behar’s fault, but thinks she should care more. “It’s the out-of-touch part that bothers me.”
Being the scapegoat for America’s most pernicious difficulties is quite a lot for a comedian to carry. Being able to opine authoritatively on subjects as wide-ranging as how to fix America (abolish the Electoral College), who makes the best TV (the Brits), and how to appear on a talk show (don’t hog the ball) is quite a lot to expect of a woman on the cusp of her ninth decade. And being funny on live TV in an era when it’s possible to get slapped in the face for a misplaced joke is not for the faint-hearted.
But Behar doesn’t seem to mind. “I’m sort of on extra time now. I don’t have to work. I don’t have to be on television. I don’t have to have the microphone. They want to give it to me, I’ll take it.” She’s heard all the insults. She doesn’t care what you say about her looks or her jokes or her opinions. Behar is legitimately a bad driver—even her husband thinks so. It’s not that she doesn’t care about how people feel; she just doesn’t care about how they feelAbout her. As we leave the yard sale, I ask if she will miss the fame when inevitably she can’t be on The View anymore. “Not really,” she shrugs. “You know what they say—the show must go off.”
—With reporting by Julia Zorthian
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