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Dancer to Deputy

Long Beach Press-Telegram 2007

June 21, 2007
Phillip Zonkel, Staff Writer

THE POLICE officers on “Reno 911!” take aim at the thin blue punch line.

They attempt to keep the streets safe, but mainly from themselves. The officers have accidentally – and sometimes on purpose – destroyed evidence. Once they roughed up a guy dressed in a milkshake costume who was working outside a fast-food restaurant; the cops thought he disrespected them. But Reno’s finest also have helped diffuse such calamities as an ill-tempered mime disturbing the peace. “These are small-town cops who get a little bored. Sometimes they have to stir up their own mischief to break up the monotony of the day,” says Long Beach native and resident Wendi McLendon-Covey, 37, who plays Deputy Clementine Johnson.

“Reno 911!” is an unscripted, sketch- comedy spoof of the reality series “Cops.” The Comedy Central series, which just ended its fourth season (now out on DVD), employs the same wobbling, hand-held camera movements and adds extra levity with on-camera confessions from the officers. The force also hit the big screen in “Reno 911!: Miami,” which was released on DVD Tuesday. In the film, the officers attend a law enforcement conference. Despite their celebrity status back home, these Nevada numbskulls find themselves as small, inept fish in a big pond. However, they get a chance to show off their law enforcement skills when a bioterrorism scare closes down the conference and quarantines all the attendees. The force, which returns for a fifth season on Comedy Central later this year or early next year, includes a lineup of unusual suspects: Lt. Jim Dangle (Thomas Lennon) – The squad’s fearless (and if you look close, tan-line-less) leader. He lobbied for special permission to wear his short shorts because “I’ve got to be able to move like a cheetah, a law enforcement cheetah.” Deputy James Garcia (Carlos Alazraqui) – When it comes to taking down perps, he’s not shy about the use of force, whether it’s “lethal,” or when he takes it down a notch to “excessive.” Deputy Trudy Wiegel (Kerri Kenney) – She went to the police academy when her doctors told her it’d be a good idea for her to get out of the house. She admits to being on several doctor-prescribed medications. “I have several auditory disorders that make me nervous around people and lights.” Deputy S. Jones (Cedric Yarbrough) – Cool, calm and collected. Even though every cop talks about getting “action,” Officer Jones actually does. He’s the “Billy Dee Williams” of the station house. Deputy Raineesha Williams (Niecy Nash) – Single and mother of two, she’s got class, sass and a big firearm. She’s “all that and a box of doughnuts.” Officer Travis Junior (Robert Ben Garant) – The short, dumb, silent type. He’s got a quick fuse and a lead foot. He’s the sort of cop that shoots first – and may not stick around to ask questions.

Deputy Clementine Johnson (Wendi McLendon-Covey) – A former topless showgirl-magician’s assistant, once crowned Miss Teen Whiskey Pete’s. If there’s a party in Reno, she’s the first to know, and before she shuts it down, she just might do a few “keg-stands.” McLendon-Covey’s acting starting in her early 20s. Her initial jobs were modeling assignments in print catalogs and a variety of music videos from the likes of Cracker, David Bowie and Limp Bizkit. After quitting modeling, she enrolled in acting classes at South Coast Repertory and shortly thereafter the well-known Los Angeles-based improvisational company the Groundlings. In 2002, she became a main company member. McLendon-Covey also was a cast member on the improv-comedy series “Lovespring International,” about a matchmaking service marketed to customers as an “elite Beverly Hills company,” despite its Tarzana location. Lifetime canceled the series earlier this year. Here, we interrogate “Reno 911!’s” Deputy Johnson (McLendon-Covey, in character):

Q: Had you always wanted to be a police officer?

A: No. I never, never thought I would be in law enforcement. I thought I would be a dancer forever. That’s why I droppped out of high school in the 11th grade. But, you hit your 30s and things go south. Then I thought, Why not? I saw the ad in the paper and heard it on the radio. I thought I’d look good in an uniform. I love this city, so I want to give back to the city that has given me so much.

Q: Did you have much experience with the police previous to this job? Had you ever been in the back of a squad car?

A: I’d been in the back of a squad car. I also had been in the back of a hearse. I’ve been in the back of a lot of things. I’d always had good relationships with the police, getting rides home. I’d had no problem with them. But now that I’m in law enforcement, I see how the general public has a problem with us. It’s really shocking.

Q: If you’re questioning someone and he or she is mouthing back at you, how do you deal with that?

A: I keep my poker face on. I drive away, and then I come back at night and key their car.

Q: Have you ever been caught?

A: No. It’s my word against theirs.

Q: When you’re interrogating a suspect and he says, “I didn’t do it,” or “You have the wrong person,” what do you do?

A: No one ever does anything wrong in any prison. In my mind, they’re guilty until proven innocent.

Q: How do you get a confession out of someone?

A: I use my mind powers. I practice light, light witchcraft. I’m very intuitive. I can read cards. I can read faces and muscle twitches.

Q: Have you ever used your club or a Taser to get a confession out of someone?

A: No, but I’ve used my knee in the groin. There’s nothing better.

Q: Squad cars are equipped with a video camera to record all activity inside and outside the vehicle. Have you ever turned it off?

A: I’ve never turned it off because I don’t know how, but I have put my hand in front of it.

Q: The Reno sheriff’s department went to Miami for a law enforcement convention. Then a bioterrorism scare happened. How do you spot a terrorist?

A: That’s the question of the century, isn’t it. (SPOILER ALERT!) In this case, the terrorist was the deputy mayor, the replacement mayor. Who would have thought? But you have to look at little signs like, Is he in his late 30s and living with his mom? Is he a 40-year-old virgin? Those are the terrorists, the ones who sit around in a dark, stinky bedroom thinking about how they don’t have any friends. Those people are the ones who are the real danger to society.

Q: Did you like Miami?

A: I like the fact that you could go anywhere at any time in a wet bathing suit. They had a ton of Cubans, which are just a different kind of Mexicans that I’m used to, very romantic. But look, I did not go to Miami to work. None of us did. I would have prefered to do Jell-O shots daily. I’ve been out of Nevada three times. I’ve been to Tijuana once and Lake Powell once.

Q: Do you see yourself as a role model to other female dancers who might want to be police officers?

A: I could consider myself a role model. Here’s my advice: Get your GED. Take lots of pictures so you can remember when you were young. Live like you’re going to die. Get it all out of your system and then give back. There are different types of admiration. It’s one thing to have someone shoving money in your G-string. That’s great and fun for a while. But once somebody shoves money in your gunbelt, that’s a whole new kind of respect.