On a cold Thursday afternoon in Manhattan, Joy Behar is taping an interview with financial expert Suze Orman. “It’s a disgrace,” Behar says of the fact that Orman and longtime partner Kathy Travis can’t legally marry. “I mean, what kind of bullshit is that?” she continues off-camera during a break, sipping Diet Coke through a lipstick-smudged straw. Later, while chatting with guest Joan Rivers about their mutual love of Bette Davis, Behar exclaims, “We’re like a gay man’s wet dream!”
It’s just another day on the set of The Joy Behar Show, which debuted last September on HLN, CNN’s sister network. Never one to hide from a hot gay topic — she memorably criticized the Ukrainian government for not letting Elton John adopt an HIV-positive orphan in a post on CNN.com — Behar devoted one of her first shows to a discussion on the National Equality March and President Obama’s promises to the gay community with special guests Bryan Batt and Dan Savage. She is also nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for an episode about gays and the Mormon Church that featured ex-Mormon Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black.
“I see myself as an ally of the gay community for sure, but not an extraordinary ally,” says the outspoken 67-year-old host and New York Times best-selling author (Joy Shtick: Or What Is the Existential Vacuum and Does It Come With Attachments?) from behind her desk in a windowless office at Time Warner Center that’s as modest as she is. “It’s not like I’m on some kind of a mission; it’s just the way my brain works.” For example, it was the former full-time comic’s idea to assemble a panel of gay comedians to discuss the perks of coming out to family over the holidays. “I’m always interested in what people haven’t thought about before, and the average straight person hasn’t thought about the pain involved in coming out to your parents and the difficulties of being a gay kid in a straight world. My philosophy is that parents should be asking their kids, ‘Are you gay?’ When the boy’s playing with dolls and the girl’s playing with trucks, a light should go off in your head and you should ask the question when it’s the appropriate time.”
It’s strong opinions like this that make The Joy Behar Show appointment gay television and her an atypical host. “I was impartial when I used to sit in for Larry King on his show, but HLN wants me to be myself, which is more entertaining,” explains Behar, who once famously wondered aloud if Janet Napolitano was a lesbian. “That's what sets my show apart, but my show's not necessarily a news show. I don't think people really want to know how Anderson Cooper feels about a topic, and if I ever found out Wolf Blitzer was a Republican, I might be disappointed. But I’m not a political pundit. I’m an entertainer first, so my main concern is that the audience is awake. As a stand-up, I wanted the audience to laugh but also have something to take away and think about. That’s how I approach this show too.”