Almost 20 years ago, Joy Behar walked into my writing class at the Writer’s Voice. Not long after, Barbara Walters tapped her to be one of the original panel members of the legendary newswoman’s groundbreaking daytime talk show, The View. Instantly her life changed forever. Since then, the Brooklyn native, Stony Brook grad and longtime Long Island resident has enjoyed a stellar career both on and off television that has spanned more than three decades. Behar and I met at The Smith, a restaurant across from Lincoln Center, just a few blocks from the ABC studio where, after a two-year hiatus which saw her take the helm of her own talk show on CNN, she is back on The View.
Long Island Pulse: Your ties to Long Island go way back, don’t they?
Behar: After I got married we moved out to Long Island, to Centereach, off Exit 60 on the Long Island Expressway. It could best be described as a below-working-class neighborhood. I think my closest neighbors were living in a shack. I might as well have been living on a cattle ranch in Montana. My husband was earning his doctorate in sociology at Stony Brook and I was a stay-at-home mom going a little crazy. Now I have a house in the Hamptons and believe me, it’s a lot different from when I was bringing up my daughter in that rented house in Centereach. I love the Hamptons. It’s beautiful and we have a great social life there. I don’t go to the beach but I like knowing it’s there.
Pulse: How did you get started in show biz?
Behar: One of the reasons was because I needed the money. I had tried all the other conventional jobs. I was a teacher. I worked in a mental hospital. I was an employment counselor. I was a receptionist at Good Morning America. I was a producer. I was a sales girl. I did all those things and none of them worked. I started doing stand-up and my life changed when I was performing at the Friar’s Club and Barbara Walters happened to be in the audience. She liked what she saw and thought I’d be perfect for The View. But once I found the right job…I didn’t feel insecure about where my next dime was coming from.
Pulse: After getting on The View, you suddenly had access to a lot of money. How did it change you?
Behar: I’m the same person, with or without money. I was always willing to quit any job and didn’t worry about not having the money. I always thought I could get another job…[Money] allows me to go shopping, to be in a supermarket or a store and not have to worry, “Is this on sale or not on sale?” If I want it, I can buy it. But I don’t have a lot of needs or wants. If I feel like going on a vacation I have the money to do it—I’m taking a cruise this year and treating my family. I bought my house in East Hampton. If I feel like giving someone an expensive gift, I can. But it hasn’t changed me as a person. I still have writer’s block. I still have to be in a class in order to write something. I still feel like I can’t tolerate too much isolation. I still worry about terrorism. I still worry about everybody’s health. It doesn’t change any of that.
Pulse: Does it change people’s reaction to you?
Behar: It’s not the money that changes people’s reaction as much as it is that I’m on television. I still have the same friends, some of whom I’ve had since college. Suzy Essman is one of my best friends and we’ve been comediennes together for more than 30 years. I met my husband Steve when I was broke, even though he didn’t know it. I would hate to think anybody would be with me just because of my money or my fame. What a horrible thing! But look, I’m not Donald Trump.
Pulse: Speaking of The Donald, there seems to be a wave of fear in this country that’s opened the door for someone like him. How do you feel about that?
Behar: I feel like the GOP has closed their eyes to the insidious racism in this country. Trump was behind the Birther Movement the minute Barack Obama was in office. Then he went after the Mexicans. Then Carly Fiorina’s looks. Then the Muslims. He’s always looking for a scapegoat. But the irony is his constituency will never reap the benefits from his administration. Do you really think that if you’re bigoted against Muslims and you don’t let them into the country, it’s going to help your pocketbook? The guy’s going to cut taxes on the one percent, which he’s part of. He’s not going to help you. He’s going to cut child services and Medicare and Medicaid…he appeals to the worst in people. The trick is to do what Pope Francis is doing: bring out the good in people. Trump’s not the only one, by the way. If Cruz and Rubio have their way a woman won’t be able to get an abortion, even if she’s been raped. What kind of thinking is that? That’s evil. That’s being against the people.
Pulse: So what’s good?
Behar: I think [raising the minimum wage is] a good idea because consumerism stimulates the economy. When people have more money to spend, they buy things. And that’s what capitalism is all about. These people who say it’s not a good idea, well I would question their commitment to capitalism.
Pulse: What about legalizing marijuana? That’s an opportunity for consumerism.
Behar: I don’t like it. I think kids are tuned out as it is. They’ve got ADD, they don’t do their homework, they’re not listening. Smoking pot makes you read the same sentence over and over again. And it makes you fat! We already have a childhood obesity problem and a literacy problem. I would not make it more easily accessible, though I would certainly allow medicinal marijuana.
Pulse: Where do you think our body politic is these days? Did a movement like Occupy Wall Street even have an effect?
Behar: It reminded me of the 60s and 70s when we used to actually protest. We didn’t just watch it on TV. I’m not sure OWS did any good, although I think Bernie Sanders came out of that. He’s a player now and so maybe he began to feel empowered because of it. I don’t think he’s going to win but he has raised our consciousness about economic inequality.
Pulse: You said you worry about terrorism, any thoughts about ISIS?
Behar: I think President Obama is right not to play into their hands. They want boots on the ground. Remember, there are men and women in those boots. They’d like to start a war on their territory and he’s resisting it. I hear a lot of bellicose voices on the other side saying, “Oh, we’ve got to go in there.” Meanwhile, not one of them has served in the military. What I worry about is that the next president will listen to those bellicose voices and do something stupid and make it worse. We need someone in office who has a clear head.
Pulse: Ok, so who’s going to win the election? Any predictions?
Behar: There’s a phrase my aunt used to have me type over and over again when she was teaching me how to type. “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party.” It’s the opposite now. Now is the time for all good men to not come to the aid of the Republican Party. On the Democratic side, I think Hillary will prevail and we’ll get her and Bill. I’ll take that and thank you very much.
Pulse: What’s your biggest fear for 2016?
Behar: I’m afraid this trend of vilifying other people is going to continue. It’s like a cancer and I don’t think it’s going away. But the good news is we have the First Amendment. Bad speech is counteracted by good speech, and people are speaking out. I do my best.
Pulse: Any personal goals?
Behar: I’ve started writing 10-minute plays and I think they’re pretty funny. The latest one I’m working on is about a couple in a Paris hotel confronting his adultery. Very juicy. My goal is to write enough so I can have an evening of 10-minute plays. I love writing them because they’re like a puzzle. You have to have the same elements you have in a three-act play, but you have to do it in 10 minutes. That appeals to my comedic brain.