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Melissa McCarthy Wins Over Any Room

Whether in a supporting role or the headliner, from being ‘SNL’ host to an interview subject, the ‘Life of the Party’ star’s cosmic level of funny cannot be denied

Melissa McCarthy Universal Studios/Ringer illustration

In 2012, Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd starred in a movie called This Is 40. It’s about a married couple (Debbie and Pete) who, as they each turn 40, begin to feel overwhelmed by the strain of the lives they’ve built for themselves. It’s fun and funny, which makes sense because Mann and Rudd are top-tier when it comes to being fun and funny. But the best scene from it was one that wasn’t powered by them. And it wasn’t even in the actual movie. It was powered by Melissa McCarthy, and it was included in the end credits as part of a blooper reel.

In the scene, McCarthy, who has a small role as the upset mother of a boy, sits in a principal’s office at the school both her son and Mann and Rudd’s daughter attend. They’re there because she wants the principal to discipline Mann and Rudd for the things they’ve said to her and her son in the days prior.

(Her son was saying mean things to Mann and Rudd’s daughter on the internet. In response, Mann approached the boy at school and told him, among other things, “I will fuck you up.” When McCarthy confronted Rudd about Mann’s behavior, he responded equally aggressively.)

(The best part was that Rudd told her if her son posted another mean message on the internet to his daughter, he was going to hit the boy with his car.)

(FYI, both Mann’s actions and Rudd’s actions are acceptable responses to someone bullying your child in school.)

So they’re all sitting in the principal’s office and McCarthy is explaining to the principal what Mann and Rudd did. Mann and Rudd steadily deny the claims, and when they do, McCarthy, extremely frustrated with the situation, just loses it. She starts missiling ad-libbed insult after ad-libbed insult after ad-libbed insult at them, each more vicious and biting and ridiculous than the last. When she feels the room starting to crack, McCarthy goes in even harder, her reign of fire spraying out wide enough to also char the principal. After a bit, nobody but McCarthy can keep from laughing, and when McCarthy gets them there, she presses even more, so much so that, beyond just Mann and Rudd and the principal, you begin to hear the people off screen trying to hold their laughter in, too.

Universal Pictures

This GIF is from right before the end of the scene. McCarthy is laying into the principal, hollering about how she’s an asshole and everyone hates her haircut and how if she were married to the principal, she’d kill herself, too, just like the principal’s husband probably did. Seconds later, with everyone but McCarthy broken and the room in chaos, a man behind the cameras shouts, “Cut!” There’s an eruption of laughter from everybody, and McCarthy, finally allowing herself to break character, puts her head down on the principal’s desk and starts laughing, too.

A proper version of the scene made it into the movie, and it’s for sure funny in and of itself. But the blooper version is the one that, even all these years later, still feels cosmically good, and the clearest evidence that McCarthy is capable of reaching a level of funny that’s reserved for only the most gifted humans.

Every interview with Melissa McCarthy follows the same sort of path. The interviewer will begin asking questions; McCarthy will, as soon as the questions begin coming in, devote the entirety of her mammoth charm into disarming them; and then, just minutes later, the interviewer will be giggling alongside her, insta-best friends. They talk about her upbringing, and how her Midwestern roots have simultaneously kept her firmly planted into the dirt of the earth and also possessed of the resolve to navigate the treachery of Hollywood, and how she met her husband (comedian Ben Falcone), and how years of hustling led to what, looking back at it now, seems like an obvious and inevitable stardom.

The best example is the feature that CBS ran on her in 2015, four years after her breakout, Oscar-nominated role in Bridesmaids. (The nomination made her the only actress ever to be nominated for an Oscar in a role in which a person poops in a sink.) (Beyond Bridesmaids, McCarthy had put together a string of enjoyable movie appearances, both in a supporting and starring capacity, including This Is 40 in 2012, Identity Thief and The Heat in 2013, Tammy in 2014, and Spy, perhaps her all-around funniest movie, in 2015, which is why CBS was celebrating her.) In the feature, McCarthy is interviewed by herself, then Falcone is interviewed by himself, and then both of them are interviewed together. By the time the interviewer got around to having them both together, he was clearly and entirely smitten. You can see it in just three seconds of the video below, where he makes a joke to her and Falcone that (I’m assuming) he spent hours rehearsing.

“Shockingly, you’re nothing like the people you play in Tammy,” he jokes, referencing how Falcone, who plays her boss at a fast-food restaurant, fires her as the two berate each other. As soon as he finishes his last word, he guffaws, smiling at himself as he leans in a bit, his arms swinging back and forth like a kid who’s just been given a giant lollipop. It’s great, and exactly the kind of response McCarthy seems to draw out of most anyone who talks to her for more than five seconds.

My personal favorite Melissa McCarthy individual moment happened in 2013 when she hosted SNL for the second time. She performed in several sketches that night, the most exciting of which was “Honey Baked Ham Bake-Off.”

In it, she played Jean Carrera, a wholesome mom-ish character who had lost the Honey Baked Ham Bake-Off several years in a row and was eager to win that year’s contest.

(McCarthy is great at any number of acting situations —there’s a 2007 movie called The Nines where she plays three different characters, each different than the other, and it’s really a very great thing to watch if only to see her bounce between the roles— but she’s at her most lethal when she gets to play a wholesome mom-ish character that she can lean in and out of embarrassing moments with.) (In her new movie, Life of the Party, which opens wide Friday, she plays a divorced mom who goes back to college.)

In the SNL scene, she played Jean Carrera, a wholesome mom-ish character who had lost the Honey Baked Ham Bake-Off several years in a row and was eager to win that year’s contest. She mentions that the people judging the hams in the year prior told her that the reason that she kept losing was because of “presentation.” So that’s when she disappears off stage and then two men dressed as pigs come walking out carrying a tiny trampoline and “Are You Ready for This” starts playing.

She comes zipping out, jumps off the trampoline, and as the song plays and her and the man-pigs behind her set off on a choreographed dance, we find out that she’s dubbed the song with her voice so that every few seconds the word “ham” can be heard (she lip-syncs it every time). The song transitions to Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” (which also has “ham” dubbed into it), and McCarthy keeps dancing, her movements fluid and hilarious. She reaches into the chest of one of the man-pigs, pulls out an actual slice of ham, pantomimes a lasso with it, then throws it off the stage. The song transitions a final time, this time to MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This,” and by this point the “ham” thing is happening at a higher and higher frequency and it’s become just about the funniest thing of all.

She pretends to pick up a shotgun, shoots at the man-pigs (a shotgun sound effect is heard), the man-pigs fall down with their feet up in the air like how animals do in cartoons when they die, and she jaunts over and then pretends to tie their feet. There’s one final “ham,” then she poses for a picture, her elbows on her feet, her fists under her chin. Confetti falls from the sky.

It sounds ridiculous when you read through the description, which makes sense, because it was ridiculous as it was happening. (There aren’t any good versions of it on the internet, but you can watch this one, if you’d like. It’s a video that someone shot of the scene with their phone and then uploaded it to Vimeo.) The whole scene was just this very weird, very unexpected, very silly thing, and she skated through it perfectly, her magnetism somehow holding the bizarreness of everything together.

There are, I would guess, somewhere around 100 million McCarthy moments like that; ones when she took all of everything and turned it on its head just because she could, in the way that only she can. Because, same as before: It’s a thing reserved for only the most gifted humans.