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Joy Behar’s Big Break

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“Hey Bruce!” Joy Behar calls out to Bruce Willis, who is strolling down Columbus Avenue, chatting on his cell phone. “How are you, kid?” Behar has just finished taping The View at ABC’s nearby studios, and she’s in full TV makeup. Willis, dressed in a tight T-shirt and jeans, looks at her blankly. “It’s Joy Behar!”

Willis gives her one of his sly half-grins and says, “Yeah,” pumps her hand once, and trucks along.

“He doesn’t know who I am,” Behar says. “He’s even been on The View—and yet he goes ‘Yeah.’ ”

Behar’s never been easy to ignore—when she was a kid, her mother sent her off to school saying, “Good luck today with that mouth of yours”—and is about to get harder. Starting September 29, the 65-year-old comedian, who’s been on The View since 1997, will be hosting a 9 p.m. talk show on HLN (formerly CNN Headline News), going head-to-head with Sean Hannity, Rachel Maddow, and Larry King, whom she’s been sitting in for.

So she’s no longer vying to replace him? “Larry’s not going anywhere,” Behar says, settling into a banquette at Nick & Toni’s Café for a tomato salad and a Diet Coke. “He’s ensconced. My agents at the William Morris office, before I dumped them, were saying, ‘No, we can’t get you your own show.’ And then the minute I got rid of them and hired a manager, I got my own show. You do the math.”

She’s preoccupied with booking guests. She’s already signed up Rudy Giuliani, whom she describes as “the kind of Republican I can talk to—he’s rational, and he gives you an answer.” She’s asked Lily Tomlin. But her top “get” would be Sarah Palin, with her talk about the “real America.” “It’s insulting to men like my father, who fought in World War II, whom she doesn’t think are real Americans because we don’t agree with her.”

But what about when the guests don’t agree with Behar? During the campaign, she tried to goad John McCain into saying he approved campaign ads that she said were “lies” about Obama. “Look, it’s not that I’m contentious; I’m uncompromising. I’m friendly, but I can’t let things go unchallenged. And I intend to give my opinions quite profusely. I might even have to interrupt myself.”

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