Several of this year's Academy Award nominees have more than their nod in common -- they got their start in a Los Angeles comedy theater group

By Adam B. Vary
February 17, 2012 at 12:00 PM EST

While talking at the press at the Oscar-nominee luncheon on Feb. 6, Best Supporting Actress nominee Melissa McCarthy shared her disbelief that she was even standing there. ”It makes me [think] back to my first classes at the Groundlings,” the Bridesmaids star said. ”To have this for something I love doing is kind of bananas.” But what’s really bananas is that five of this year’s Academy Award contenders — Bridesmaids‘ McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo (for Original Screenplay), and The DescendantsJim Rash and Nat Faxon (for Adapted Screenplay) — all got their start at the Groundlings. The Los Angeles comedy theater has long been a farm team for Saturday Night Live (including standouts Will Ferrell, Maya Rudolph, and Phil Hartman), and it’s also turned out stars like Lisa Kudrow, Wendi McLendon-Covey, and Paul Reubens. What is it about the Groundlings that has made them such a conduit to showbiz success? Perhaps it’s their boot-camp approach to comedy. ”There are the people who want the instant gratification of… ‘When is Lorne [Michaels] going to drop by my class and discover me?’ ” says Rash, who is still a Groundling and teaches at the theater when he’s not playing Dean Pelton on NBC’s Community. ”[But] we try to impress upon people, we’re not here to teach you how to be funny. I don’t care if any of this stuff is funny. I just want to see the story.” To that end, students go through a rigorous four-class process to build their skills in improv, performance, sketch writing, and creating distinctive characters. Select students are then invited to continue on to the next level: performing every week for at least six months in the theater’s Sunday Company. All told, it took Rash four years to become a full-fledged Groundling. With so many Academy Award nominees, is he expecting an influx of Oscar-seeking hopefuls? ”Exactly,” Rash says, laughing. ”We’re going to start a class: ‘How to Write for the Oscars’!”

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