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Theater & art

Behar enjoys the view from a comic’s perch

Behar will get back to comedy Tuesday when she headlines the “Funny Women . . . Serious Business” benefit luncheon for Rosie’s Place, a Boston nonprofit that assists poor and homeless women, at the Hynes Convention Center.

Donna Svennevik/ABC via AP/FIle

Behar will get back to comedy Tuesday when she headlines the “Funny Women . . . Serious Business” benefit luncheon for Rosie’s Place, a Boston nonprofit that assists poor and homeless women, at the Hynes Convention Center.

Joy Behar said goodbye to “The View” in August, capping a 16-year run as a cohost of ABC’s morning talk show. She’d had plenty of memorable moments along the way, some of them controversial, as when she and fellow cohost Whoopi Goldberg walked out on an interview with Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly. The show gave her a much higher profile as a stand-up comedian, but it also prevented her from getting out and practicing her craft as much as she’d like.

She’ll get back to comedy Tuesday when she headlines the “Funny Women . . . Serious Business” benefit luncheon for Rosie’s Place, a Boston nonprofit that assists poor and homeless women, at the Hynes Convention Center. Susan Wornick of WCVB-TV will emcee, with other local anchorwomen participating. The luncheon is sold out.

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Though she had been a stand-up comedian for roughly 17 years before joining the original cast of “The View” in 1997, Behar remembers wondering if her TV audience even knew about her history. “I used to ask [cohost] Sherri Shepherd, ‘Does anyone realize I’m a comedian?’ ” Shepherd assured her that people knew, but Behar realizes people see her as a television personality first.

“I spent a lot of years onstage, and I did a lot of sets. And then when ‘The View’ came around I did headline sets everywhere,” she says. “But it was once a month, maybe, as opposed to six a night. It’s a whole other world.”

Playing live now is almost like starting fresh, and though she is enjoying her time off, Behar is eager to knock the rust off. “That’s how you build your act, that’s how you build confidence, that’s how you build your persona,” she says. “That’s the key, to get onstage.”

But at 71, she is no newbie, and she has a lot to talk about. “One of the advantages to being my age is I have a backlog of information,” she says. “I’ve lived this life.”

She had already lived an eventful life by the time she started her career in stand-up comedy. She was an English teacher on Long Island in her 30s, raising a child on her own, and her health had been threatened by an ectopic pregnancy. She had to make a change, and decided it was either going to be as a stand-up comedian or therapist.

‘I had my 16-year run. I think that that’s enough of one show. I’d rather not go into my dotage on the show. I’d have other things I’d like to do.’

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“I had to do it,” she says. “I had no choice at that point. I was desperate to work. I had to do something with my life at that point. I was a high school English teacher, I got divorced, I had a near-death experience.”

Behar worked her way up through the ranks in the early ’80s as a brassy observational comic. Sometimes she dealt with bookers who wouldn’t put more than one female comic on what was typically a three-person bill. “I would ask a booker, ‘Why don’t you book two women and a guy or three women?’,” she remembers. They would invariably tell her it was better for her to be the only woman on the bill. “I didn’t see that it was better for me.”

She fondly remembers a performance at the now-defunct Catch a Rising Star in Harvard Square. “I remember just killing in that club,” she said. “I thought, it’s not about gender, it’s about [the] audience and how they respond to smart. If they like smart, that helps.”

Behar has no regrets about leaving “The View” and still occasionally visits with her former cohosts. “I had my 16-year run,” she says. “I think that that’s enough of one show. I’d rather not go into my dotage on the show. I’d have other things I’d like to do.”

Having time on her hands is a luxury, she says, and she’s lucky to be able to explore what she wants to do next, whether that’s acting or even painting. She says she has other appearances in the works but no other stand-up dates on her schedule at the moment; she’s not a fan of traveling.

She has joined some writing groups to work on her storytelling, and eventually she’d like to do a one-woman show — “which is more a stand-up show but with a title, basically,” she says with a laugh. A one-woman show, which she would workshop in New York City, would allow her to stay in one place. And it would suit her style as a comic.

“I started out telling stories about how I grew up,” she says. “How they used to take me to the cemetery when I was a kid and say we were going on vacation. There’s a lot of autobiographical material in the show already. So I’m expanding a lot of that, and then I’m adding maybe some visuals. Slides and movies and stuff like that. So it becomes more of a show. That, basically, is what I’m going to start working on, and I hope I can get that together.”

Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at nick@nickzaino.com.
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