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Originally published Monday, November 10, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Joy Behar relishes her "View"

"The View" co-star Joy Behar relishes the platform the ABC chat show provides and says "we have coffee klatch moments ... but we are a well-informed panel."

The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa

On TV

"The View"

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This election season, Joy Behar became a human lightning rod.

The comedian/commentator drew the ire of John McCain's wife, Cindy, who complained publicly to supporters that Behar and some of her co-hosts on ABC's "The View" "picked our bones clean" with tough questions put to the Republican presidential nominee.

McCain's campaign ads even claimed that Behar "lies" about how many houses the Arizona senator and his wife own.

Behar's scathing and unrelenting attacks on GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's qualifications and statements sparked a series of clashes with fellow "View" co-host and McCain/Palin supporter Elizabeth Hasselbeck, who joined Palin on the campaign trail. After one recent on-air donnybrook, executive producer and co-host Barbara Walters called the anger "deplorable," adding, "I cannot wait for this all to be over."

Behar also became a frequent target of Justin McCarthy and newsbusters.org, a Web site sponsored by the Media Research Center, whose self-described purpose is "exposing and neutralizing liberal media bias."

All this fury and indignation does not faze Behar. "The minute you open your mouth on TV, someone is not going to like what you are saying," she says from the New York City studios of "The View."

Behar does take issue, however, with descriptions of "The View" as a coffee klatch, or its dust-ups as politically charged catfighting.

"We're very well-informed," she says of herself and co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg, Sherri Shepherd, Walters and Hasselbeck. "We have coffee klatch moments — today, for example, we talked about cats and husbands' snoring — but we are a well-informed panel. We read every newspaper we can and watch every news show."

So, has she detected any standoffishness from audiences at stand-up comedy shows because of her unabashed political stance?

"I don't think so," replies Behar. "People who come to my shows know what the grenade looks like that they're falling on."

Though she is loath to give away any of her act, Behar says she covers "the election, personal stuff, family background and women's things."

Behar writes "a lot" of her material with her companion of 26 years, retired mathematics teacher Steven Janowitz. "He's a Jewish jock," she says, "and very clever. We have similar politics. We yell at the TV together. We're turned on by each other's misery."

Despite the longevity of the relationship, Behar, who was married to Joe Behar, a college professor, from 1965 to 1981, says "there's no point" in tying the knot. "You can have affection and love and still not want to be married.

"Marriage is a younger person's thing," adds Behar, 65. "Although with the economy tanking, I might have to do it, if just for the Social Security checks."

What does it take to stay together as long as Behar and Janowitz have? "Laziness," Behar replies.

Behar was born Josephina Victoria Occhiuto in Brooklyn. Her dad was a truck driver, her mom a seamstress. She doesn't remember anyone in her immediate family discussing politics, although one of her grandfathers was "very political. He would start political arguments. He was always writing letters. He wrote so many letters to FDR that the FBI investigated. They found he was harmless."

Behar learned about politics "through a natural evolution." While she was a student at Queens College, where she earned a degree in sociology, "I became interested in things I'd never known about before. ... I marched against the Vietnam War, along with my husband, in Washington, D.C."

She began doing stand-up comedy in 1983, after working in sales, doing employment counseling, being a secretary for "Good Morning America" and teaching high school.

Behar appeared in a number of films including, "Cookie," "This Is My Life" and Woody Allen's "Manhattan Murder Mystery." She is the author of a book of humorous essays and stories called "Joy Shtick — Or What is the Existential Vacuum and Does It Come with Attachments?" and a children's book, "Sheetzucacapoopoo: My Kind of Dog."

But Behar is best-known for her work on "The View." She was part of the original cast when the show debuted in August 1997, having been picked as a co-host after Walters saw her perform at Milton Berle's 89th birthday party.

Behar still relishes the platform the show provides. "Now the political climate is so interesting," she says. "President Bush has created such divisiveness in this country, you can't help but take sides."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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