You'd be hard-pressed to find a more glorious moment in comedy this year than when Melissa McCarthy French-kissed a Mylar horse balloon on Saturday Night Live. Her Oct. 1 hosting gig, which earned the show a 2 percent ratings bump over the previous weekend's premiere featuring Alec Baldwin, was the latest triumph for the 41-year-old actress, who just won an Emmy for her endearing work on Mike & Molly and who deserves an Oscar nod for her sublimely weird performance in this summer's Bridesmaids. ''When she first came out on stage to do the opening monologue, I started crying,'' says Bridesmaids director Paul Feig, who was in the audience to cheer on his friend and is writing the Judd Apatow-produced vehicle Dumb Jock for her to star in next summer. ''When somebody is so pure of heart and so truly talented, it's so thrilling when it all finally pays off. [She's] been working so hard for so long.''
What's truly marvelous about McCarthy's moment is that it's been one of many this year for smart, talented, shrewd women whose work is killing in the mainstream. We howled when McCarthy's Bridesmaids costar Maya Rudolph sank to her knees in a cloud of tulle to relieve herself. (The movie made more than $169 million and is currently the No. 1-selling DVD.) And we laughed and sighed over Tina Fey's profound ''The Mother's Prayer for Its Daughter'' in her memoir, Bossypants (a book that has spent 25 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list). We cheered the thoroughly winning debuts of the sitcoms 2 Broke Girls on CBS and New Girl on Fox. (Nearly 20 million people watched the premiere of the former, while the latter has already been picked up for a full season.)
But perhaps there's been no greater display of the gameness and breadth of our finest comedians working today than at this year's Emmys ceremony when, in a hilarious preplanned bit, nominees for best actress in a comedy Amy Poehler, Martha Plimpton, Laura Linney, Edie Falco, Fey, and McCarthy held hands on stage like breathless pageant girls. New Girl creator Liz Meriwether (also a member of the formidable ''fempire'' of Hollywood power players that includes screenwriters Diablo Cody, Lorene Scafaria, and Dana Fox) says she was moved to tears by the women's bravura display of solidarity and the spontaneous standing ovation that followed. ''It's because they're doing what they're doing that I'm able to do what I'm doing,'' says Meriwether. ''Those women, like Tina Fey, who has been opening doors and changing people's perspectives of what women can do, are so important to all of this happening right now.''