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Melissa McCarthy has big talent

Actress Melissa McCarthy arrives at the 18th Annual

Actress Melissa McCarthy arrives at the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. (Jan. 29, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

How does stuff like this happen?

Melissa McCarthy -- a comedian still mostly unknown to the wide world that doesn't watch CBS sitcoms -- gets a best actress Emmy ("Mike & Molly"), and most of the world says, "Who . . . for what?" Then, last week, McCarthy earned an Oscar nomination for a supporting role in a comedy ("Bridesmaids"), and because the Motion Picture Academy barely acknowledges the existence of such a thing as a "comedy," the wide world is still asking the same thing.

In the event McCarthy wins that Oscar next month, she'll accomplish something unmatched since 1998, when Helen Hunt won an Emmy ("Mad About You") and an Oscar ("As Good as It Gets") in the same awards season.

Stuff happens this way. A farmer's daughter (hold the joke; she really is), McCarthy moved to New York from Illinois, jumped into improv, then moved to Los Angeles and joined the Groundlings, the famed improv company and Hollywood factory line for gifted actor-comedians.

SWEET AND FEARLESS Sure, McCarthy was a plus-size performer who used her figure to great comic effect, but casting agents also saw real sweetness. Sookie St. James, Lorelai's BFF on "Gilmore Girls," was born. Another "best friend" role followed (Dena, Samantha's pal on "Samantha Who?") and another still (Molly on "Mike & Molly," a comedy about the romance between two overweight people).

But while "M&M" fans see that genial, dimpled sidekick to Mike (Billy Gardell), fellow actors and her growing fan base have long seen a bodacious, fearless, versatile, physical comedian.

As "Saturday Night Live" guest host earlier this season, she played Linda, the overeager Hidden Valley dressing taste tester; Lulu, the Mae West wannabe who had trouble with stairs; and Arlene, the office worker who used balloons to demonstrate her amorous intentions toward a colleague. Each was memorable, but the last was one of the standout skits of the entire "SNL" season to date.

And, of course, there's Megan: the randy, gas-prone bridesmaid with a taste for air marshals (or one, in particular, who was played by real-life husband Ben Falcone).

So, remember that name, world. Melissa McCarthy: one of the best comic actresses working in TV and film right now. An Oscar awaits for "Bridesmaids," and more Emmys, too.

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