Banter With the Beast

Joy Behar on her Comeback Talk Show on Current TV

The View cohost tells Lloyd Grove about her new show on Current TV, getting canceled by CNN, why she likes Ann Coulter, and why she doesn't really hope Romney's house burns down.

Cindy Ord / Getty Images

“I’m back!” Joy Behar tells me.

The regular cohost on daytime television’s The View is getting her own talk show this September on Al Gore’s liberal-leaning Current TV—her second chance at anchoring her own interview program.

“This channel is being very, very nice to me,” she says. “They love having me, and it’s nice to be wanted, frankly.”

It was always a head-scratcher as to why Behar’s well-regarded talk show on Headline News—which the Hollywood Reporter, for one, called “a critical ratings-driver” for CNN’s sister network—was canceled last November after only two years.

“I’m not really sure why, to tell you the truth,” says the 69-year-old redhead, who is subbing this week for the vacationing Eliot Spitzer, a Current anchor and yet another refugee from the beleaguered CNN universe. “I do know that they told me I was the second-highest-rated show on the network. But they didn’t really give me a good reason,” Behar says. “I’m still trying to figure it out—maybe because you look at that network [HLN] and I didn’t really fit in. They were going more towards missing children and crime and things like that, and my show was actually too much fun.”

Behar spent time with the former governor at the Current studios last Thursday—avoiding mentioning to him, of course, that she had put him in her standup comedy act, via a rather obscene parody of the Gilligan’s Island theme song.

“He’s kinda funny,” she says about her fellow host, who resigned the governorship after The New York Times exposed his penchant for patronizing prostitutes. “I don’t think he’s that uptight about the whole scandal. I don’t think he wants to talk about it exactly, but he seems to be able to joke about it a little bit. He’s not a stupid guy. He’s very bright, very intelligent, and he’s a smart politician too. It’s unfortunate that he can’t be in politics right now. Maybe he’ll come back.”

Behar, who forged a comedy career after starting out as a high school English teacher on Long Island, says she received a congratulatory email from the former vice president but nowhere near the same rich deal that Keith Olbermann enjoyed before his gig at Current detonated last March in dysfunction and recrimination.

“Are you kidding? I don’t even know what that was about. There was something crazy about that deal,” Behar says about Olbermann’s arrangement, which reportedly included an equity stake in Current plus a 5-year contract at $10 million a year. “Those kinds of millions? Forget about it. That’s ridiculous. Please. I’m not even in that ballpark.”

Behar adds that she’s looking forward to reaching the progressive, if admittedly small, audience that Current commands. “I like the idea that I’m gonna be among people who agree with me to a large extent—the people who are watching,” she says. “Of course the haters will be watching too.”

One can only hope. Just this past week, the right-wing blogosphere erupted in a blaze of vitriol after Republican nominee-designate Mitt Romney suggested that federal tax money for firefighters, along with teachers and cops, be cut, and Behar wondered what Romney would do if one of his houses caught fire. "Joy Behar Wants to See Romney's House Burn Down," was the headline on the Drudge Report.

“Oh, they’re idiots! I didn’t say that,” Behar tells me. “My point was, who’s he gonna call [if fire-fighting resources are curtailed]? Anybody with half a brain knows that.” Her actual quote, in an interview with Mediaite, was: “I’d like to see his house burn, one of his million houses burning down, who is he going to call, the Mormon fire patrol?”

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Behar says she normally pays no attention to the anger in cyberspace her comments tend to provoke. “I don’t read most of the stuff that comes in,” she says. “I do know [the Romney remark] was on Fox Business Channel on Lou Dobbs’s show … They have nothing else to talk about but me? Come on!”

It’s hardly surprising that Behar is a staunch supporter of President Obama—even to the point of praising his comedy chops at Washington banquets and such—and is deeply suspicious of the former Massachusetts governor who was once an ideological moderate.

“Obama seems so much more real to me and so much more grounded—and a man who believes what he’s saying,” she insists. “I don’t believe that Romney believes what he’s saying half the time. I think he says what they tell him to say or what he thinks is gonna get him to win. And that, to me, is not presidential. Talk about a flip-flopper! This guy is beyond a flip-flopper. This is political bipolar disorder.”

As with her HLN show, Behar wants to have fun, to be sure, but also to venture beyond the liberal-Democrat echo chamber. “I’d like to get some opposition,” she says. “I used to have Ann Coulter on the show all the time. I like her. I had great conservations with her, and she liked to come on my show. I would love to have her back.”

Behar says there’s no trick to hosting an interesting show. “You have to be awake and alert and listen,” she says. “It’s like anything else that has high stakes. It’s like acting in a certain way. You listen and you respond. That’s my secret: I’m a good listener. I’m a very curious person and I like to ask questions. I like to be challenged and I like to challenge people. I like to be informed. I want to know. I’m a nosy thing.”