The unmistakable voice of Joy Behar, tinged with a New York accent and moving with the stop-and-go momentum of a Manhattan yellow cab, comes on the phone.
She’s bringing her stand-up show to town Saturday, but she’s trying to figure out the best way to get here.
“Is there a train that goes from Buffalo to New York?” she asked.
There is, you tell her. But it can be a long trip, especially if there are any delays.
“How long does it take, like 10 hours or something?” Behar asked. “Ay ay ay. Too long. I was going to do it because sometimes when I’m on the train it gives me a chance to write.”
Behar, at 71, is honing lots of new material nowadays. After 16 seasons as a co-host on ABC’s “The View,” she’s returning to her stand-up comedy roots. That makes captive travel time a good opportunity to get things done.
“But 10 hours on the train is too much,” she said. “My husband will never put up with it.”
A moment later, she added, “They really should fix things like that in this country.”
You know where this conversation is headed.
Well, you tell her, the politicians – Democrats, at least – were working on a high-speed rail line that would span upstate. That would have helped speed up her ride. But, ironically, progress has been slow.
This is easy bait for Behar.
“It doesn’t take priority over tax cuts,” she said.
Aha! There it is: The left-leaning Behar voice reveals the blunt Behar opinion, the one that, had it happened on “The View,” may have incited conservative co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck to spar back.
But that’s in Behar’s past. After a lengthy run that began as one of show creator Barbara Walters’ original co-hosts in 1997, Behar left “The View” in August 2013. That same month, her second show (“Joy Behar: Say Anything!”) was canceled when its network, Current TV, was sold and switched formats. (Before that, Behar also hosted a show for a couple of seasons on CNN’s HLN network.)
So Behar entered the fall with considerably more open time than she had had in years.
“I like it,” she said. “I feel free, I feel creative. I don’t feel constrained by this regular job every day.”
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. There’s pressure to create. Pressure to perform. And there’s a smidge of trepidation that greets Behar before every stand-up performance, which didn’t happen to her on “The View” or any other TV show.
“When you do stand-up, you’re alone up there,” she said. “You’re in charge. I’m fine once I hit it. But before, I’m like, ‘Am I going to remember what I’m going to say? Is it going to be OK?’ ”
Deep inside, she knows it will be. Behar has done this before.
A native of Brooklyn, Behar earned her English education degree from SUNY Stony Brook in 1966 and spent the next several years teaching. At 35, she pulled a career switch, doing stand-up comedy part time and coupling those evening gigs with a daytime job as an assistant at “Good Morning America.”
That didn’t work. Her heart wasn’t into the “GMA” job, and she got fired.
Behar often has said that, for her, “life began at 40.” That was the year she divorced her first husband (she married longtime companion Steve Janowitz in 2011) and embarked full force into comedy, knowing she had to make it work to support her daughter, Eve.
“It was like, ‘OK, girl, you better just try it now,’ ” she said. “I did try it. I got on stage and I was funny. People liked it, and I just kept going.”
Through her 40s and early 50s, Behar’s stand-up star rose. In the mid-1990s, Barbara Walters saw Behar do a routine and thought the comic would be a perfect fit for Walter’s new show, one shaped around a panel of women who debate timely topics and interview newsmakers.
Behar’s role on “The View” made her famous. But it also pulled her away from straight-up comedy.
“If I did stand-up once a month, I was lucky,” Behar said. “And then you start to get a little bit rusty.”
As she gets back into the routine, Behar said, her friend Jay Leno has been one of her major supporters.
“He’s like a coach,” said Behar, who caught up with Leno in the last several months as a guest on “The Tonight Show.” “In the summer he said to me, ‘Listen, you have to get on stage now and just work it.’ He said to me the other day, ‘You light up when you do it. Why don’t you just do it?’ ”
And so she is, with a wealth of material spanning politics (“a little bit”), women’s issues and of course, her time on “The View.”
“She has years of stories about interviewing Barack Obama, and arguing with Elisabeth Hasselbeck,” said pop culture expert Robert Thompson, a Syracuse University professor. “Comics are known for their observations of everyday life. Her everyday life was intensely filled with celebrities and drama. That will be a great advantage to her.”
One thing you’ll hear little to nothing about in Behar’s routine is her daughter or grandson, which is understandable but a shame. (Years ago, Eve pleaded with her mom: “Do not talk about me!”) As Behar chats on the phone, her 3-year-old grandson Luca is in the house and has quite the comic streak, too.
“He’s so funny, this kid,” Behar said. “He’s got a big head of curls. He’s like a little Harpo Marx kid, you know?”
At various points, Behar excused herself to talk to him:
“Luca! Hey, what happened? You ripped your pants?”
“Yes, jump on the bed, go ahead!”
Back on the phone, Behar talked about her love for being a grandma.
“Oh, my God,” she added. “I just worry about him when I’m dead.”
“This world,” she explained. “This climate change thing is starting to scare me and upset me, you know? Now that it’s getting hit in the Bible Belt, maybe they’ll start thinking about this. It’s not just … whatever they carry on about.”
Climate change. Conservatism. Years on must-see TV.
Yeah, Joy Behar has no shortage of material indeed.