Funny Girl Melissa McCarthy
Acting Was Plan B
I've heard that acting was actually plan B for you. What was plan A?
I thought I was going to do women's clothing. I'd move to New York, study at the Fashion Institute of Technology and start designing. When I got to New York I lived with my good friend, Brian Atwood, who is now a big fancy shoe designer. He made my Oscar shoes and inscribed them on the soles: "To my best friend Melissa McCarthy." They're really high. I'm only 5-foot-3. He said, "But aren't they beautiful?" And I said, "Yes, but you're trying to kill me. Please don't kill me."
Do you still have the urge to be a designer?
I'm in the early stages of designing my own clothing line. Trying to find stuff that's fashion-forward in my size is near impossible. But I have a pretty good sense of what works on me and what doesn't. And I love interior design. I've completely renovated three of my own houses -- my husband and I move a lot. Now Ben is like, "Stop making us move. Renovate somewhere else!" So I branched out. I just gutted [The Help] director Tate Taylor's bathroom. My husband said, "Oh, this is great. Go to somebody else's house and rip it apart. Tear it down to the studs!"
So how did you get into comedy?
It wasn't exactly my goal. One day Brian and I were standing in line at the grocery store and he saw an ad in the Village Voice for an open mike at a comedy club and said, "You're going to do stand-up."
What were most of your routines like? I tried to find you on YouTube but couldn't.
Yes, it was before we had to record every moment of our lives. Basically I stood up and told fantastical stories about myself. And I wore crazy outfits and big wigs, and I would tell stories about being beautiful and wealthy and tall and thin. I would just keep complimenting myself. And the compliments...uhhhh, they did not match who I was. People were like, What?! I looked so odd. But then I used to dress oddly in real life, too.
I dyed my hair blue-black and wore white Kabuki makeup and long black capes. It was just so ridiculous and fun.
Doing stand-up is a brave thing.
There's a lot of magic in it. But it can be horrible, too, when the audience is cantankerous. There's always that one guy in the audience who's had too much to drink yelling, "Take off your top!"
When you eventually moved to L.A. you joined the improv comedy troupe the Groundlings, where you met your husband, Ben. Was there an instant attraction?
Ben and I have been married seven years, but together for 12. He was one of my best friends. When we were at the Groundlings we'd all go out after a show and have a couple of beers. When other people would start to leave Ben and I would stay saying, "I'm going to have just one more beer." It was like we risked becoming raging alcoholics just to finally be like, "I really like you."
Do your kids [Georgette, 2, and Vivian, 5] have the performing gene?
The older one does not want anything to do with a camera. But they're both really funny and wild. We have big dance parties every morning. We wear out that Muppets soundtrack that I love so much. As far as what they're going to do when they grow up, it's a little early to tell, but I'll always say to them: Find what you love and what inspires you.
You seem to have that same freedom, living life on your own terms.
A lot of people like to see celebrities perfectly put together. What's more interesting to me is the woman at Walmart who's happy in her cat sweater -- someone who just doesn't follow the rules, but is like, "I love what I'm wearing. I love who I am." As I get older I hope that's me. I hope I'm the weird one in, say, a plaid jumpsuit in my 80s, just enjoying my life.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, May 2012.