An Oscar nominee for her bawdy breakout role in Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy buckles up beside Susan Sarandon for big laughs in Tammy, a road-trip comedy in theaters July 2. As for the Emmy-winning Mike & Molly star’s own journey, gays and lesbians have always been along for the ride.
The Advocate: Growing up in Plainfield, Ill., what was your introduction to the LGBT community?
Melissa McCarthy: All of my friends were gay. In high school we started going to downtown Chicago clubs like Berlin, one of the best gay bars ever. I remember being undressed and then redressed by two drag queens up on a pillar, and at the end I looked like Bea Arthur. At 43, it’s still one of the greatest nights of my life.
How do you explain that connection?
It was just my world. I was a little odd, and I found them to be the most accepting group. We were a band of outsiders who went downtown and realized, “Oh, we’re all right.” There were tons of creative people doing their thing, and it was only the scared people who wanted to shut it down.
You had an Irish-Catholic upbringing. What did your parents think of your social circle?
We didn’t really talk about it, but it was never discussed as something negative. My parents are kind and accepting. Because so many of my friends were gay, it was just an accepted thing in my house. I was very lucky.
Are you already teaching those same values of acceptance to your two young children?
Well, I actually love that I don’t really have to talk about it either. Our friends at the table are gay couples, and my kids have friends with same-sex parents. It’s just a part of this next generation, so there’s no need to explain it. It’s a fantastic reality without lines or rights and wrongs. I love that my girls see no difference between those same-sex couples and the male-female couples that we hang out with. I’m more proud of that than anything.
You spoke on Conan about feeling appreciated by “lovely gay boys” when you were starting out as a stand-up comic in New York City. Can gay men take credit for discovering you?
For sure. They accepted me as a woman trying to be a man who’s trying to be a woman. I wanted to be a drag queen so badly. I’ll bet I still own more wigs than any drag queen — I love me a wig.
How many wigs are we talking about?
When I left [L.A. improv and sketch comedy troupe] the Groundlings, I had about 63. I also keep all my wigs from movies. I’ve donated a lot to Groundlings, but at any given time I probably have about 25 wigs.