Joy Behar does not want people to know this – but she is a punim. A sweetie pie. A doll face. And a damn good story teller. In Me, My Mouth and I, now at the Cherry Lane Theatre, she is holding court and wrapping us around her little pinky with a show that is part autobiography and part telling-it-like-it-is.
Even if you don’t know her well – or at all – and I count myself among that choice number, you will get what she is about. Behar is happy to tell you everything, short of her bra size – but that may be because she just doesn’t have a joke about it yet. Like Joan Rivers, Behar opens her big mouth and waits to see what will fly out. Unlike Rivers, she does it without a hint of bitter or frantic.
She notes that her career on The View lasted 16 years, and that she is no longer a chippie – the guys who hit on her now are the types that offer reverse mortgages on TV. She had a great run on the show, and intimidated all sorts and conditions of folks. Some simply stayed away. Others huffed themselves off the stage. John McCain, she notes, was tortured by the Viet Cong and later forgave them. Forgive The View? I don’t think so. And, of course, there is the iconic phot of Barbara Walters’ hand over Behar’s mouth.
So how did Behar end up with a mouth that makes grown men tremble? She gives us the lowdown.
Behar was born in Williamsburg – an Italian family surrounded by Hassidic Jews. Summers were spent sitting on the stoop, and a visit to the country meant going to the cemetery for a picnic. It was like a carnival everywhere she looked, and she soon learned that entertaining would get her kudos from her family. Not her parents so much, who she calls “The Depressives,” but from everyone else – especially her Aunt Rose. Aunt Rose was her savior and mentor. The two adored one another all their lives.
Because Behar was born in the 1940’s, when she came up there were not a lot of options for women. They went to college to get their “MRS Degree.” And that was that. So Behar hopped on that wagon, not enthusiastically, and ended up in Sayerville – you go east on the LIE and when you get Lithuania, make a left – which was sort of like being on the moon. She was alone with a child and a mildly interesting husband and has the pictures to show us what a low point that was. She even had an episode of Bell’s Pallsy. Eventually she began to take matters into her own hands. She got therapy from a woman who was everything everyone else wasn’t – nurturing, supportive and warm. The therapist encouraged her to take acting classes – off exit 39 so she was moving closer to New York.
Not long after that, they did move back to Brooklyn where Behar got a job teaching English to delinquents – WHOM do you want to kill, not WHO do you want to kill. She started writing comedy with her friend Jane and created a character named Sadie Catalano. It was 1975, the first year of Saturday Night Live, and Behar paid attention to the name of the talent coordinator, John Head, listed in the credits at the end of the show. The next day she called NBC, was transferred to Mr. Head, did the bit over the phone and was invited in to do it in person. She never made it to the show, but suddenly things were possible.
Until everything went South. Her marriage ended. She was 40, a single mother, and frustrated that she was not living the life of Elayne Boosler. Hadn’t she killed them when she was four and dancing on table tops in Willilamsburg? What was wrong???
She moved on.
The next job was as a receptionist for ABC’s Good Morning America. By now she had the bug and was performing standup in places all over town. Once her current boyfriend, now husband, got on board he drove her to her gigs all over the tri-state area. It was hard work. Really, really hard work.
She kept on keeping on.
A research job that put her in touch with Steve Allen got her a spot on his show. An ectopic pregnancy sidelined her. She was fired from ABC. Got a radio gig on the same station as Rush Limbaugh. Made fun of him to retaliate for his attacking Gloria Steinem. Fired again.
She moved on.
Did a gig for Milton Berle’s 89th birthday. Barbara W in the audience. Hired for The View. That job has ended.
She moves on.
All the while Behar is telling us these stories she is tossing out one liners, but her real skill shines when she sticks to a storyline and makes it pop. Her rendition of the tale of Lorena Bobbitt is laser sharp, observant, and has the best line of the entire night.
As the show comes to a close the material wanders off the track with a lot of time spent unnecessarily on Catherine Deneuve – a woman with an extraordinary life who has a passel of regrets. Behar has no director for this show, and at this point in the evening the need for one becomes clear. She could use a set of eyes as skilled as her own to shape her tale and refine her content.
That being said, Behar takes it home by bringing up her Aunt Rose again and compares her to Deneuve. Aunt Rose never had kids, had a very ordinary life and a very ordinary husband, and not one regret. You have to live on purpose to have no regrets Behar tells us underneath the jokes. Behar has done that and continues to. This is one of those “overnight success stories” that took decades of working and working and working. She never gave up. She never sat out one inning. This is a story of persistence, determination, faith and grit.
The fact that our story teller is one seriously honest and funny woman, who is wise from experience and wants everyone in on every joke, is an added bonus. Long may she wave.
Me, My Mouth and I written and performed by Joy Behar
Presented by the Cherry Lane Theatre, under the direction of Angelina Fiordellisi, in association with Steve Janowitz. Scheduled through December 21, ME, MY MOUTH AND I will perform Thursdays through Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Exceptions : added performances on Nov. 12 and 26; no performances Nov. 9 or Nov. 27). Tickets are $50 on Thursdays and Sundays at $60 on Fridays and Saturdays. For ticket purchases, call 212 352 3101 or visit www.cherrylanetheatre.org
This year Cherry Lane Theatre celebrates is 90th anniversary as one of the nation’s leading theaters dedicated to the development and production of new work.