Melissa McCarthy’s Success: Will it Change Hollywood?

by Debbie Stoller
Last week, Entertainment Weekly released a comedy-centric issue, and used Melissa McCarthy as their cover girl with the headline “The New Queen of Comedy.”

McCarthy’s coronation isn’t all that surprising to her adoring fans, given the comedienne’s Emmy-winning performance in Mike & Molly, as well as her part in Bridesmaids‘s box office success.  However, we can’t deny the true and unexpected significance of McCarthy’s new recognition, and what it all means in the grander scheme of things for women in comedy.

The comedy genre as a whole is one that hasn’t been given quite as much credence as, say, drama for the past several decades.  You’d be hard-pressed to find an all-out slapstick romp or gross-out flick nominated for an Oscar, no matter how hilarious and genius it is, and it seems that whenever comedic actors and actresses feel they aren’t being taken seriously they turn to out-of-character roles in tear-jerkers and the like.

bridesmaids-trailer2But suddenly all you read about in magazines and newspapers these days is comedy; more specifically, women in comedy.  What’s more, the discussion has evolved in just a few months, going from basic questions like “Are women funny?” and “What does it mean to be funny?” to “Where do we go from here?” and “Where have you ladies been all our lives?”

The answer to that last question is simple: we’ve been here all along, waiting for audiences to wake up and take notice, to change their narrow opinions on what it takes to be a stand-out comedy genius.  And, again, Melissa McCarthy is the icon for that change, even moreso than Tina Fey or Kristen Wiig or even Jennifer Saunders.

Because, apart from talent, Hollywood takes pride in its keen eye for “beauty.”  It was never enough to have the chops if you didn’t have the hot, well-shaped loins to go with them, but, thanks to the aforementioned alienation of the genre in question, we’re starting to see new standards for shape, size, and talent that’s finally giving the comedy sisters you and I have always had faith in a chance to shine in the spotlight.

It’s strange to think that McCarthy’s recent success is considered by so many to be something of a revolution, what with Zach Galifianakis, Jack Black, and other slightly larger comedians being household names; if anything, then, the actress’s jump to fame and the subsequent conversations about body image in the media further proves that the industry is gendered, and that people are finally broadening their ideas of beauty.

enchanted-forest-022But is it important to be beautiful?  Not to suggest that the former Gilmore Girls star isn’t beautiful (I’d totally tap that), but why is there still such a focus on what McCarthy looks like and how those looks tie in with her talent?  Isn’t it enough to praise her for her unapologetic, un-made-up, “unladylike” approach to her craft?  What does it say about the industry that a woman who makes a point of not trying to fit the typical Size 000 mold is forced to be the poster child for Hollywood’s pubescence?  Shouldn’t we make more of an effort to veer away from image altogether and just enjoy the comedy?

Ultimately, yes; however, we ladies (and even certain men, in some ways) aren’t in a position to do that just yet.  There’s still a lot of work to be done in terms of breaking apart unrealistic and unfair standards, showing audiences of all genres that one’s ability to disappear behind a twig says nothing about one’s ability to make someone liz (laugh-wiz).

And, more than that, the kinds of conversations McCarthy’s career brings about pave the way for other issues, and women of other previously invisible and/or unfavored qualities, to take centre-stage.  Issues like race and sexuality, especially, nearly always follow suit once advances in feminism as a whole (which inadvertently overlooks Other-Otherness in its beginning stages) are made.

So, while I love the fact that Melissa McCarthy is finally getting the recognition she deserves, and while I wish her image weren’t such a “revolutionary event,” I have high hopes for what her cover-girlness says about where we, as an industry and a movement, are headed.


This article was written by Vickie Toro and originally posted on Comediva. Reprinted with permission.

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