Actress / Comedian
Reno 911 (2003), Bridesmaids (2011), The Goldbergs (2013)
Most people were introduced to Wendi McLendon-Covey as the slutty one from Reno 911. Before that, she spent seven years sharpening her comedic knives at the Groundlings, Hollywood’s foremost improv comedy club, and in 2011 she landed the role of cynical cousin Rita in Bridesmaids. Wendi’s lewd comments and quick wit make her a force to reckon with, and while she describes herself as a “sultry sarcastinista,” her brand of humor is the key to a new era of women in comedy. She currently stars in a show called The Goldbergs, and has about 70 movies coming out in the next year. We sat her down to find out how she managed to break into the Hollywood machine without having to turd up her style with a bunch of watered down comedy.
VICE: What made you want to get into show business?
Wendi: I grew up in the age of variety shows. Flip Wilson, Carol Burnett, Donny and Marie, and Sonny and Cher—I never missed an episode. These shows had it all. Singing, dancing, and sketch comedy. One minute they’re ice-skating with pyrotechnics, the next they’re doing a scene on a gigantic set. I just couldn’t get enough. Sometimes I would play sick so I could stay home and watch Mike Douglas if he had a good guest on. From an early age I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life.
As a kid growing up in California, did you pursue acting as child?
I was a theatrical kid but my parents were overprotective. When I expressed interest in show business they shut it down. “No, no, no. You’re not doing anything like that!” I think they were afraid of me getting sucked into a heathen lifestyle. As you know, the minute you get to Hollywood people force you to take drugs! When I was still living with my parents. I did everything on the sly. I would go get pictures done in secret and submit them along with resumes, but unfortunately I didn’t get very far. It wasn’t until I left the house and got married that I got my start. It was my husband who encouraged me to go out and give it a serious try.
When did you have your first breakthrough?
I started taking classes at the Groundlings and eventually got into the company. I did that for seven years. From there I got Reno 911. Those two are very significant landmarks in my career.
Success in the film industry came to you later in life. Did you ever think you weren’t going to make it?
I did. There was one instance when I was at the Groundlings and everyone in the women’s dressing room was talking about how they had gone out for this one TV show and I hadn’t even been called. I couldn’t even get an agent. What upset me was that I wasn’t even given a chance.
A lot of people go crazy waiting for their dreams to come true. How did you get yourself through times like that?
I focused on moving forward and realized that success wasn’t something I could put on a timetable. I kept doing live shows at the Groundlings to work on my craft and remind me that I wasn’t crazy for pursuing it. Making a whole room of people laugh is the best high in the whole world.
And now you’re the star of a fancy new TV show called the Goldbergs. You play an overbearing mother who wears a bunch of gem sweaters, right?
The woman I play in The Goldbergs really exists. She lives in Florida and sent me a box of her old clothes and a bunch of video tapes to study. As soon as I saw her videos, I thought if I don’t get to play her it won’t be done right. She is the kind of woman who maybe wanted to work but didn’t get the opportunity, so now she is the CEO of her own house. Her decisions about how to run a family is just like a corporation. That is why she has no problem being mean and overbearing. She is definitely someone who will land her kids on the psychiatrist’s couch.
I became a fan of yours after seeing you as Deputy Clementine Johnson on Reno 911. What was the best part about playing a cop?
Well, it’s not the uniform. They are uncomfortable, they have no give, and wearing about 15 pounds of gear on top of that makes it nearly impossible to run. How does anyone get anything done in those things? What was enjoyable to me was that Reno 911 was filmed in a real cop station in Carson, California. Every day was live theater all around you. One time there was a prostitution bust on a hotel where all the maids were whoring out to the guests. So a bus pulls up and out come all these cute little maids in handcuffs.
After Reno 911 you played Rita in Bridesmaids where you talked about, among other things, cracking jizz blankets in half, thereby demonstrating that women can be just as raunchy as men. Do you think that film opened up more opportunities for women in comedy?
The material is out there. Bridesmaids proved that when you cast women who bring an interesting point of view to the characters it elevates the material. Its success has definitely helped to broaden the scope of casting to more women.
You have three movies coming out in the next year. The Familymoon with Adam Sandler, American Christmas Carol, and Tyler Perry’s Single Moms Club. What was it like working with Tyler Perry?
It was a lot of fun because I was working with the best women, Cocoa Brown, Zulay Henao, Nia Long, and Amy Smart. I will say this about Tyler: He works fast.
He edits while we are filming and knows exactly what he wants. He doesn’t overwork the scene or the actors. I was warned before I worked with him. They said, “You can’t swear on the set and you must be on your best behavior,” but that is completely untrue! Tyler is very genuine and sweet and I would work with him again.
You’re also going to be in another film called 10 Rules for Sleeping Around, directed by the creator of Walker, Texas Ranger. What would an episode of WTR be like if you guest starred with Chuck?
My character would be some sort of forensic expert who likes to drop into a full plank position to examine what’s happening on the ground. Although I’d be enemies with Chuck Norris, eventually we would wind up making out. Who can deny a roundhouse kick?