Prospect Park

Joy Of Brooklyn: Joy Behar inducted into Welcome Back to Brooklyn Walk of Fame

Comedian and Talk Show Host Earns Well-Deserved Spot on Celebrity Path at Brooklyn Botanic Garden

June 22, 2016 By John Alexander Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Joy Behar. Photo courtesy of ABC/Heidi Gutman

Multi-talented renaissance woman Joy Behar is this year’s inductee to the Celebrity Path at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The initiation will serve as the highlight of the “Welcome Back to Brooklyn” celebration.  The event is presented by Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and the One Brooklyn Fund, and culminates with a dinner on June 26 at Prospect Park honoring Behar.  Behar will join an impressive list of past honorees, including Jackie Robinson, Woody Allen, Joan Rivers, Louis Gossett Jr., Jimmy Smits, Eubie Blake, Barry Manilow, Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand. The legendary Brooklynites are honored for their distinguished work in entertainment, sports, media and the arts.

Josephina Victoria Occhiuto (Behar’s birth name) was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on Oct. 7, 1942 to a devout Catholic family of Italian descent.  Her mother, Rose, was a seamstress, and her father, Gino, was a truck driver for Coca-Cola. Behar earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Queens College, followed by a master’s degree in English from Stony Brook University. From the late 1960s to the early 1970s, she taught English at Lindenhurst Senior High School in Lindenhurst, N.Y.

In the 1980s, Behar left teaching to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.  She has enjoyed great success performing standup comedy and appearing in movies, theater and on television; she has written best-selling books and currently serves as co-host on the popular ABC talk show “The View.” Behar is smart, witty, candid and, as anyone who has seen her standup or watched her on “The View” knows, quite outspoken. There appears to be no end to her talents, and despite her busy schedule, she made time to talk to the Brooklyn Eagle about her vast accomplishments, upcoming projects and her Brooklyn roots.

Brooklyn Eagle: First, congratulations on being the honoree of the Welcome Back to Brooklyn Celebrity Walk of Fame. Being from Williamsburg, you must be amazed by the changes in the neighborhood over the years.

Joy Behar: Oh yeah, I always say that. You know, I used to hang out at a mozzarella store and that was what went on in my neighborhood when I was a kid. Now, I don’t even know if I would be a comedian if I grew up there. I’d probably be some kind of performance artist, you know, or maybe just own a bakery or something. It seems like it’s a whole different place now.

In my day, the characters there were hilarious — between the bookies, women hanging out the windows and hanging their clothes and talking to each other across the courtyards — you always had a lot of comedy material. I don’t know if it’s true anymore.

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Eagle: How long did you live in Williamsburg, and what prompted a nice Catholic Italian girl like you to pursue a career in comedy?

JB: Oh, that’s a long story. I don’t have time to go into that story, but suffice it to say, I was a funny kid. I tried everything: to be a teacher, then I had a kid, and decided to finally throw myself into it — and I did it. It’s a long story. I used to do a solo show about that exact point.

Eagle: A lot of people don’t know that you have a master’s degree in English and that you taught English at Lindenhurst Senior High School on Long Island.

JB: Yeah, I also taught on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and in Providence, Rhode Island.

Eagle: You pursued teaching for a while, then.

JB: Well, I only stayed a year in each school because I kept moving. My husband at the time was teaching at Rhode Island College, so I was there for a year or two, and then we moved to Long Island and I was at Lindenhurst High School.  And then we moved back to New York, and I taught on the Lower East Side. Basically, because I moved around so much, I could never last more than two years in any school.

Eagle: Then you found your true calling, and you gave up teaching for a receptionist position at “Good Morning America.”

JB [laughing]: My true calling was not to become a receptionist at “Good Morning America.”

Eagle:  No, I know. Your true calling was comedy. That’s a very big move. And you have had a very successful career in comedy.

JB: Yes, what you’ve said is all true. I did want to pursue a career in comedy. And I did get the opportunity to perform standup comedy at Caroline’s and Catch a Rising Star.

Eagle: You worked with Peter Falk (“Columbo”) on the movie “Cookie.” Any interesting stories from that film?

JB: No, I had a very small part in some movies, but that particular one was really small. I met Dianne Wiest on that movie, and that was the highlight of it for me. Basically, when I did Woody Allen’s “Manhattan Murder Mystery” back in the early ’90s, I became very good friends with Alan Alda as a result of that movie. Plus, that was at a time when Woody Allen was in the middle of his Soon Yi scandal, so it was an interesting time to be around Woody Allen.

Eagle: That was a great movie to be a part of.

JB: Yes, it was.

Eagle: You also appeared in one of my favorite TV shows, “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” from 1989-1990.

JB: Yes, I did that, and I’ve done a lot of television. I just finished working on the new Woody Allen mini-series that’s going to be airing on Amazon.com in August.

Eagle: I was going to ask you about that. Is there anything you can tell us about it?

JB: Well, all I know is that it seems to be about the ’60s. When you work with Woody Allen, he only gives you the pages that you need to see, so you never really get to see the whole script. So I don’t know what it’s about. The reason he does that is for exactly what we are doing now — because if I knew what it was, I would tell you, you would write about it, and then he would get pissed off. So that’s why he keeps everybody in the dark. I just know that it takes place in the ’60s.

Eagle: You have won so many awards over the years, including three MAC awards [Manhattan Association of Cabarets & Clubs], a Cable Ace award and a 2000 GLAAD award for excellence in media. Since 1997, you’ve been an integral part of the “The View.” In 2009, you and your co-hosts on “The View” won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show, after being nominated for 11. That must have been quite rewarding, considering you had been a part of the panel for 12 years by then.

JB: I was there since the very beginning. And I’m here at the very end [laughs]. No, no, now I’m here.  

Eagle: You opted to leave the show in 2013, although you continued to guest host. No doubt the show isn’t the same without you. You and Whoopi have such a great dynamic. What brought you back as a regular co-host in 2015?

JB: I just took a two-year “hi-anus” [laughs], as we like to call it. I came back basically because one particular person asked me to come back and said that it was going to be more of a political conversation show. And I am very interested in politics. They said it was going to be a smart show, so I said I was interested to come back.  And there was a whole new regime doing it, so I thought I would give it a shot.

Eagle: You have also performed in theater productions including “The Food Chain,” which earned you rave reviews, and the critically acclaimed “The Vagina Monologues.” And last year, you wrote and performed solo in “Me, My Mouth and I.”  How does performing in a play differ from doing standup comedy in clubs?

JB: It’s very different. Number one, you have material when you do standup, but you also have room to go in any direction that you want to go. Nobody’s there to wait for your cue, so you have much more freedom when you do standup than when you’re doing a play. There’s no lighting cues, there’s no sound cues; basically, you’re just up there talking, and that’s the difference. It’s completely freer, much freer.

With a play, you have to worry about other actors because you’re in a dance with them.  When you do standup alone, it’s just you and the audience. That’s why it’s more dangerous, and that’s why it’s scarier, because you’re all by yourself, and you’re sort of flying without a net. In theater, you do have a bit of a net because you have other people around you. In standup you can be yourself; you’re not playing a character.

Eagle: Besides your work in standup comedy, television, radio and theater, you are also a successful author, having written the books “Joy Shtick—Or What is the Existential Vacuum and Does It Come with Attachments?” and “When You Need a Lift but Don’t Want to Eat Chocolate, Pay a Shrink, or Drink a Bottle of Gin.”  What great, long titles. Will you continue writing?

JB: Yeah, I think I will. I’ve got another book in me. I don’t know what it’s going to be about yet. I’m trying to figure that out. There’s a lot of different things I can focus on. I was thinking of putting it out on Facebook or Twitter, and asking people for their ideas. Other people have done that; I think I may try that.

Eagle: You have also written children’s books “Sheetzu Caca Poopoo: My Kind of Dog,” and its sequel “Sheetzu Caca Poopoo 2: Max Goes to the Dogs.” How did that come about?

JB [laughs]: No, I’m done with the “Sheetzu Caca Poopoo.” That’s it.

Eagle: I know you have a daughter and grandson. Any of them ready to follow in your footsteps in comedy and entertainment?

JB: Well, my grandson is only 5, but he’s already showing signs of being a comedian. My daughter is an artist, so she’s not interested in comedy. So we’ll see what my grandson pulls out of his hat. He’s a funny kid.

Eagle: You’ve said that you were “aroused” by Sen. Bernie Sanders. But you still wanted him to pull out of the race for Hillary.  Would you like to see Bernie get a post in the new Clinton administration, and do you think he would take it?

JB: No, I don’t think he would be right, but I think he should have a say. He is a senator from Vermont, and he’s doing a great job up there. I don’t think they’d like to lose him in Vermont, but I definitely think he should have a lot of input in the platform of the Democratic convention. And I think that’s what’s going to happen.  There are a lot of people who really wanted him.

Eagle: Loaded question: Regarding the upcoming presidential election, any words of advice you would like to impart for, or about, the two potential candidates?

JB: Well, to me, for the Brooklyn Eagle, for this article, I’d like to say that people in Brooklyn are too smart to vote for a charlatan, which is what Trump is.  Especially when you have a highly qualified woman running, who is flawed, I’ll give you that, she’s not perfect, but then no one is. The best presidents that we have had in this country have been flawed. Having flaws is different from somebody who is totally inept, unqualified and incompetent.

I come from a blue collar family, from a working-class neighborhood, and any working class person who votes for Trump needs to rethink what he’s thinking. This is not a candidate who is out to help the working man or woman. This is a candidate who has outstanding bills that he has not paid to carpenters, dishwashers, plumbers — working people. He owes them money. His casinos have gone bankrupt and he hasn’t paid them. He has 3,500 outstanding lawsuits because he doesn’t pay his bills. I don’t understand how any blue collar, working-class person could vote for him.

My father was a truck driver for Coca Cola, and if he were here today, I would be telling him the exact thing. People in Brooklyn know better; that’s all I have to say.  You know that in the primaries, the only borough that did not vote for Trump was Manhattan, and he lives in Manhattan. The people who know him the best did not vote for him. I’m sure Brooklyn will come through for the right candidate.

Eagle: One last question — I have to ask, what are some of your favorite restaurants or landmarks you would recommend to someone visiting Brooklyn for the first time?

JB: I love Bamonte’s Italian restaurant in Williamsburg. My family still goes there. You know, I went to junior high school in Greenpoint.

As far as places, I used to go to Ebbets Field as a kid to watch the Dodgers play. I think it was a big mistake for the Dodgers to move out of Brooklyn. To this day, I still don’t understand it. I was a sports fan when I was a kid and it broke my heart when they moved. Oh, and I love the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I love BAM! They always have some great stuff going on down there. And I love the Barclays Center. I’m thinking of buying tickets for Barbra Streisand.

Eagle: Another Brooklyn girl who’s done pretty well.

JB: Yes, a lot of talented people come from Brooklyn. A lot.

 

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