A Stand-Up Life
By: P.K. Greenfield
Joy Behar won an Emmy Award for co-hosting on ABC’s and Barbara Walter’s juggernaut, “The View”. Joy has performed in theater, hosted her own TV talk shows, has done countless radio interviews, written a book and has a couple of movies under her belt with such notable and quotables as Woody Allen and Nora Ephron. She was recently seen in “Lipshtick” at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. What else is there for her? Apparently there are more aspirations, opportunities and life lessons. I met up with Joy to hear about her successful but tumultuous experiences and to find out what could possibly be next. Buckle up!
MM: How did you get involved in Lipshtick?
JB: “They asked me.”
MM: Who are they?
JB: “Someone called my manager and I said yes.That’s usually how it works.” [She laughs.] My suspicion tells me that her BFF, Susie Essman, was on the other end of one of those calls. Susie is best known for her role as the cheeky Susie Greene on HBO’s, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, she too is part of the Lipshtick headliners. The rotation also includes some of the most acclaimed female comedians to grab the mic, take the stage and control a room: Lisa Lampanelli, Jennifer Coolidge, Whitney Cummings, Loni Love…
MM: What inspired your current material?
JB: “Life experience. I mean, comedy is subjective and every audience is different. If I did the same act in Amish country, por ejemplo, I’m not sure it would really go over. It depends on the audience and connection and set. I’ll adlib when I have to.”
MM: If you didn’t choose entertainment and comedy, what career path would you have taken?
JB: “I would have been a shrink.”
MM: I know that you have a master’s degree and studied English, psychology too?
JB: “Yes, I was an English teacher and I had my master’s degree. I was just about to go for the training in psychoanalysis, but I decided not to go for it. I had a bit of a crisis and it changed my life completely. I chose to do comedy. It was the right decision.” The “bit of a crisis” she mentions was that she almost died from a personal medical situation.
MM: Tell me about the people in your family that made you laugh.
JB: “Are you kidding? I made them laugh. The women in an Italian family are funny but I don’t think they always know it. I grew up in Brooklyn, in Williamsburg. Back then it wasn’t this hippy-dippy, yuppy-duppy neighborhood with overpriced rents. It was basically a shtetl for Italians. We had characters on every corner and I would impersonate them and make everybody laugh.”
MM: How do comedians treat other comedians?
JB: “Well, hopefully with respect and you should never steal a comedian’s material. In the old days, the business was different.” Imagine a day without cellphone cameras and social media. People like Milton Berle were notorious for stealing other people’s material. Other comedians would say, ‘It’s like you hit my kids.’ We take it quite seriously.”
MM: If you were stranded on an island with one other person, whom would you pick: Rosie, Barbara or Whoopi?
JB: “Mel Brooks!”
JB: “I just want someone that I really admire. Someone who is very funny and a man…like, that could save me from the sharks. Although I know some women could do that too,” [she laughs].
MM: How has comedy changed in your lifetime?
JB: “(Mel) Brooks and (Woody) Allen came up around the same time and they have different styles, Mel is a little sillier and Woody is more cerebral. But both of them are highly quotable.
MM: You are one of the few entertainers who has done film, TV, radio, theater and stand-up. Can you talk about each experience?
JB: “You can separate them between the live audience and the camera; that would be the biggest difference between all of them. So, like… stand-up is you don’t have a script but you kind of have a script, but it’s your script that you wrote and you can do whatever you want with it. With movies, there is a lot of downtime there, it takes a lot of time and I found myself sitting and waiting for hours. That doesn’t really thrill me. I like the live performing the best. “ And then again, when I was on “The View”, there was an audience, but when I had other talk shows there wasn’t an audience and I liked that also. I guess it’s because you can shmooze with people and not worry about the crowd. I prefer the live interaction.”
MM: What advice do you have for a young person pursuing a career in stand-up comedy?
JB: “First of all decide if you are really funny — that’s my first piece of advice. If nobody’s laughing when you are at parties then forget about it. Some people have this idea in their head that they’re funny but you need to have a little bit of proof. And then, if you want to try it, you should get on stage at open mic nights continuously. Get as many sets as possible. Just keep doing it until the humiliation of failure, which will happen to you.
MM: Tell me a secret?
JB: Well… I recently decided to have my hair keratined. I love it! I get a facial every four to six weeks; I believe in Botox. I also avoid the sun at all costs to preserve my skin. These are my tips that I have not shared before.
MM: Where do you go from here? What other projects are you working on?
JB: “You’ll have to come and see my one-woman show, “Me, My Mouth and I.” It’s an autobiographical show about my chosen path — it’s a comedy not a tragedy. It’s basically about my journey from where I started out to where I am now. It talks about some of the obstacles that I encountered to where I am today — I got fired many times, of course, it wasn’t always easy and yes, I had several setbacks so I talk about them in the show. But I share these challenges as funny situations.
MM: Are you performing this month?
JB: “We are still working on it, but I have two scheduled dates for the moment. I am going to be in Stamford Connecticut at the Stamford Theatre in September and I will also be in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in October. I hope to bring the show to New York.”
MM: My last question is difficult, but I have to ask…
JB: It’s about Robin Williams.
MM: Yes, I’m sorry. Can you talk about this?
JB: “I had him on my show, on HLN and he’s been on “The View”, I’ve had many encounters with him. I tell you… the guy was brilliant with the most facile mind in comedy. But it’s interesting that his hero was Jonathan Winters who was also troubled — the same brilliant mind and he too had bouts with mental illness. I went to see Robin in a play on Broadway, “Bengal Tiger”, and after the show, he asked the audience to contribute to the actor’s fund and so I got up on stage and gave him a check for $500. And so… I said to him to him, here is my check but I want you to come on my show on HLN, and he did. He fulfilled his promise. He was not a jerk, he was a good guy and tried to help people. He gave a lot of money to help people and helped his best friend, Christopher Reeve, during that hard and terrible, terrible time that that man had. Robin was a good person and it just hurts us. You understand?”
MM: I do.