Lynch was born July 14, 1960, and grew up in Dolton, IL, just south of Chicago. As a kid, she was obsessed with the movie "Grease" (1978), not only because she wanted to become an actress, but because she harbored a crush on both of the film's stars, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. She earned a bachelor's degree in theater from Illinois State University and went on to intensive graduate acting studies at Cornell University, where concentrated classes pushed her range beyond expectation, helping lay the groundwork for her to inhabit any character a casting director could throw at her. Returning to Chicago, Lynch performed with the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the Steppenwolf Theater Company, and that hallowed hall of comedy, Second City. Her first notoriety came when she transformed into Carol Brady for "The Real Live Brady Bunch," an indie theater phenomena that staged reenactments of actual episodes of the 1970s sitcom. Lynch toured with the quirky hit for over a year and a half, performing for months at a time in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago.
At the same time, Lynch's Chicago agent had begun snaring her small roles in features and TV. In 1993, after appearing in the Harrison Ford action flick "The Fugitive," the actress decided to relocate to L.A. to see if she could make a living onscreen. Throughout the 1990s, Lynch racked up an incredible amount of TV guest spots on every imaginable show from "Party of Five" (Fox, 1994-2000) and "News Radio" (NBC, 1995-99) to "Dharma and Greg" (ABC, 1997-2002) and "JAG" (NBC/ABC, 1995-2005). Her nearly six-foot stature, confidence, and air of no-nonsense smarts lent itself to a disproportionate number of roles as doctors, nurses and reporters, as well as office professionals on many commercials. It was during one such commercial gig that Lynch came to the attention of director Christopher Guest, idolized by comedy fans for "Spinal Tap" (1984) and "Waiting for Guffman" (1997) but less-known as a commercial director. During the Frosted Flakes spot that brought them together, Lynch was called upon to do some improvisation, leaving Guest wholly impressed with her talent. When the two ran into each other at a Hollywood eatery some time later, Guest was putting together "Best in Show," a documentary-style comedy about the competitive world of show dogs. He had an ideal role in mind for the statuesque actress.
As Christy Cummings, a "butch" lesbian dog trainer with a ditsy, collagen-injected trophy girlfriend (Jennifer Coolidge), the big screen newcomer did more than hold her own with comedy veterans like Michael McKean and Fred Willard, proving herself an able improviser. Her highly-praised performance helped steer her towards more comedy roles, though not immediately. She continued doing exhaustive guest spots on such dramas as "Judging Amy" (CBS, 1999-2005), "The West Wing" (1999-2006) and "7th Heaven" (The WB/The CW 1996-2007). In 2002, she landed her first starring TV role on ABC's short-lived medical comedy "MDs" (2002), and began a recurring role as a gay civil rights lawyer on "The L Word" (Showtime, 2002-08). It was around that time that Guest called on her again for his big screen folk music satire, A Mighty Wind (2003), in which she played a former porn star-turned-folk singer, Laurie Bohner. Again, Lynch nailed it, winning further respect because she sang and played her own guitar parts as well. She was now a bona fide featured actor in the Guest stable of comedy players.
North of 40 years old, taller than most leading men, and openly gay, Lynch beat the odds to become one of Hollywood's busiest character actresses, and her growing reputation for slightly off-kilter comedy was in growing demand on quirky shows like "Arrested Development" (Fox, 2003-06) and "Monk" (USA Network, 2002-09). She showed up more and more on the big screen as well, including appearances in the kiddie comedy Sleepover (2004) and "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" (2004). She also starred as a coked-out producer in the indie sleeper, Surviving Eden (2006) which poked fun at reality television. The same year, a play she had written and directed in 1998 called "Oh Sister, My Sister" was revived for the inauguration of the "Lesbians in Theater" program at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. Lynch was known on the circuit for the time she devoted to Power Up!, an organization aimed at supporting gay women in the entertainment industry, which, in 2005, included her on their list of "Ten Amazing Gay Women in Showbiz."
In 2005, Lynch won new fans in the multiplex demographic with her portrayal of a Michael "Doobie Brothers" McDonald-loving electronics store manager in the blockbuster sleeper comedy, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" With her hilarious take on a lecherous boss who aims to deflower her employee (Steve Carell) and "haunt his dreams," her career literally shifted into high gear. She and Fred Willard gave scene-stealing performances in Christopher Guest's For Your Consideration (2006) as a pair of tabloid entertainment TV show hosts, with Lynch giving "Entertainment Tonight" staple Mary Hart a run for her money with her perma-smile and vapid banter. She donned a grey wig to play Will Ferrell's mother in the blockbuster NASCAR comedy, "Talladega Nights" (2006), starred in the improvised comedy series "Lovespring International" (Lifetime, 2006), and was cast on the short-lived Ted Danson sitcom, "Help Me Help You" (CBS, 2006). Recurring roles on popular television shows "Boston Legal" (ABC, 2004-09) and "Two and a Half Men" (CBS, 2003- ) positioned her as one of the busiest and funniest supporting females on the screen.
Feature comedies Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007), "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" (2007) and The Rocker (2008) may not have topped critic's lists, but they kept Lynch in the spotlight and led to her being cast in leading roles on two TV comedies in 2009. In "Party Down" (Starz, 2009- ), Lynch earned praise for her portrayal of one of a group of struggling actors who work at a catering company. Her starring role on "Glee" (Fox, 2009- ) as a delightfully mean cheerleading coach and nemesis of the series' titular singing club was singled out by many critics as among the show's best performances. The role earned Lynch a much deserved Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. That same productive year, Lynch scored on the big screen with her role as Julia Child's (Meryl Streep) sister in the well-received dramedy "Julie and Julia" (2009), while also turning in lesser-seen appearances in the Nickelodeon family movie "Mr. Troop Mom" (Nickelodeon, 2009) and in the low budget chick comedy, Spring Breakdown (), starring Amy Pohler, Rachel Dratch and fellow guest repertory player, Parker Posey.
While busy throughout the year, it was her role on "Glee" that earned her the most recognition, including Golden Globe and Emmy wins in 2010 for Best Supporting Actress. Outside of "Glee," she received critical kudos, as well as an Emmy nod for guest actress, for an episode of "Two and a Half Men." Ed O'Neill, star of "Modern Family" (ABC, 2009- ) caused a minor stir when he reportedly said post-ceremony that Lynch did not deserve the Emmy for her "one-note" performance, going on to opine that his co-star and onscreen wife, Sofia Vergara, should have landed the prize instead. In the days that followed, however, O'Neill back-peddled, claiming to have said no such thing, and that he was misquoted. For her part, Lynch remained above the fray, most likely due to a lingering state of honeymoon bliss. In the spring of that year she and longtime partner psychologist Lara Embry were married in a small ceremony in Massachusetts. (The couple split in 2013, with the divorce finalized the following January.) The following year, Lynch was once again competing with Vergara, when the actresses were each nominated for a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild award in identical categories. Lynch went on to win the Golden Globe. Meanwhile, Lynch was a surprise choice to host the 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards in September 2011, particularly when she earned her second nomination for "Glee" not long after the announcement.