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Wondercon

May 13, 2011

The bride is sweet, but before her love story ends in happily ever after, she must get through the wedding.

That’s going to be tough because her bridal party is filled with neurotic, self-absorbed losers, and the worst of all is her maid of honor, who’s more like a maid of horror and is the focus of all the attention. “Bridesmaids” could have been a sad downer of a movie, a la “Rachel Getting Married.” But this time, all the psychopathology is played for laughs.

That’s where Long Beach’s Wendi McLendon-Covey comes in. In a supporting role, she plays Rita, an unhappily married bridesmaid who’s both bitter and outspoken. Like her character, McLendon-Covey is a marriage veteran – her 15th anniversary is this year – so maybe she’s experienced some similar marital challenges. “No, absolutely no,” she said emphatically in a recent phone interview. “My marriage is very good. “A lot of stuff I took to play the character of Rita was from eavesdropping on other people,” she said. “It’s pretty sad that women would talk about their children in such a terrible way. But you know, Rita was probably a lot like the character of Becca (another bridesmaid who’s a naive newlywed) when she first got married. She probably thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to get married, and it’s going to be the greatest thing in the world, and it’s going to solve all of my problems.’ And years into it, she’s thinking, ‘This is not what I want to do with the rest of my life.’ “And anything that’s wrong in her life, she could take care of, but instead she chooses to complain about it to anyone who will listen. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people like that. You could watch any of the ‘Real Housewives’ franchises and see that.” None of this sounds funny, but the deeply unhappy characters do get themselves into a lot of “Oh no!” moments that gross-out comedies specialize in. McLendon-Covey is used to juggling comedy with more serious work. Best known for light roles such as Deputy Clementine Johnson in the television series “Reno 911!” she didn’t get into comedy until she was 27 and started taking classes at the Groundlings’ improv academy in Los Angeles. “It took me a long time to get through college because I had to work. I sold bridal rings and worked in corporate sales at a hotel near Disneyland,” she said. “Another reason it took me so long is because I didn’t know why I was going. I knew I wanted to get into the acting thing, but I was too scared, or I thought, what am I going to do, major in theater and then be unemployed? After awhile, it became like, OK, I’ve been in school long enough, what do I have the most credits towards? Liberal studies? Great! That’s my major.” She finally got her degree, with an emphasis in creative writing, when she was 30. It turned out her studies helped a lot with her improv career, she said, and she now creates and writes many of her own projects. While working in improv and moving on to television and films, she’s also keeping her hand in creative writing by working as an editor for “Reflections,” an academic publication for the helping professions, such as social workers, psychiatrists and doctors. “I’ve been doing that for 11 years,” she said enthusiastically. “These people are fighting the good fight, and this is a journal of personal reflection on the work they do. I do most of my work at home, but I can do it anywhere, on a plane or in a hotel room.” She was doing the interview from a hotel, the Trump SoHo, while she was in New York promoting “Bridesmaids.” It was the day after Osama bin Laden was killed, and an emergency alarm test briefly interrupted the conversation. “I’m thinking about bin Laden,” she said. “We did a big issue on Sept. 11 and the people in the helping professions who were there to pick up the pieces. It’s just heartbreaking to read those stories and what a toll it takes on people professionally to absorb all that grief and just step right into it and try to help people. “We’ve done issues on Hurricane Katrina and social work in Africa,” she said. “It’s an important little journal with a limited subscription base, because no one knows about it. It’s mostly for academics.” Halfway bouncing back to less serious matters, McLendon-Covey maintains that her new film is not just a chick-flick answer to “The Hangover.” And she thinks it delivers a good message. “You find out that none of us bridesmaids have it together,” she said. “We’re all messes. So if anything, the movie is saying, just like the Wilson Phillips song, you got yourself into your own mess, you can get yourself out of it.” You can’t blame her for extracting this moral. After all, she went through a lot before finally finding exactly where she wants to be, the end of the rainbow, the place she never really left: Long Beach. “I’ve always lived in Long Beach,” McLendon-Covey said. “I grew up here, I went to DeMille Junior High and Millikan. I went to Long Beach City College and Golden West College and Long Beach State. I love it here. You know what? My parents are here, my friends are here. I like the chill atmosphere. You’ve got everything that’s great about being in Southern California, but it’s affordable to live here. “I’ve got my husband and my cats, and my parents are 2 miles away. My in-laws are about 5 miles away. You can see me shopping at the local Pavilions, or maybe I’ll run into you at George’s Greek Cafe on Second Street.” To her, it’s all very normal. “Don’t get me wrong,” she said. “I love playing weirdos. It’s lots of fun. But that’s because it’s so opposite to my life.”