Leslie Jordan is a national treasure. Unique among writers, comedians and actors, he is very, very southern, with a honeyed drawl that gives away his Chattanooga upbringing. Everything that comes out of his mouth is funny.
He is pixie–short — just 4–foot–11 — and his eyes have the mischievous twinkle of a Blue Ridge leprechaun.
Jordan is also openly gay, and that fact, combined with the others, makes his comedy unique — wild and gossipy, bitchy and hilarious.
“I fell out of the womb and landed in my mama’s high heels,” he likes to say. “And I’ve been on the prance ever since.”
He’s probably best–known for his scenes with Megan Mullally’s Karen Walker in the situation comedy Will & Grace, for which he won the Best Supporting Actor Emmy in 2006. He played the very Southern, very funny, very short and very gay Beverly Leslie, whom Walker referred to as a “Keebler elf” and “a pasty pretentious eunuch,” among other things.
At 56, Jordan has been in Hollywood for a while (he’s got a small role, as the Jackson, Miss. newspaper editor, in the new film The Help). His adventures in La–La Land formed the basis of his most famous one–man show, My Trip Down the Pink Carpet, which also became a best–selling book and DVD.
He’s bringing his newest solo act to Club One Saturday, Aug. 20, with a portion of the proceeds going to Savannah Pride.
We spoke to Jordan this week (when we could get a word in edgewise). He was in Providence, R.I., where, he reports, the show was “a homo hoedown” playing to packed audiences.
The Savannah show
“Pink Carpet involves 55 light cues, and sound cues, it’s just a dog and pony show. It doesn’t travel well. The stories, however, travel. Lily Tomlin asked me ‘Are you making money?’ and I said no, not really, because it costs so much to ship the set. She said ‘Oh, honey, no no no, when you’re out on the road, you and a microphone. They’ll appreciate that. It’s the stories they want to hear – they don’t care about the music and the set.’ And I learned a really valuable lesson. Lily said to me, travel with a lavalier mic – which is the Madonna mic, because you can’t give a gay man a hand–held mic. We use our hands too much. She said ‘Travel with your mic and a turtleneck.’ And I said ‘Well, I’ll leave the turtleneck to the lesbians.’ What I’m bringing to Savannah is what we call Stories I Can’t Tell Mama. It’s a collection of some of the more off–color ones.”
“We had our big world premiere Tuesday night, with the cast, and it was the best night of my life. I think it was better than the night I won the Emmy. I mean, I was there with Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney, Mary Steenburgen, Viola Davis and Emma Stone, all these actresses. We had a screening and then we went downstairs and had fried chicken and macaroni and cheese! That may not sound like a big deal to someone in Savannah, but how often in L.A. do they serve fried chicken and macaroni and cheese? And we had a cake made out of Coca–Cola.”
“In January and February, I took Pink Carpet to the West End, and they absolutely loved it. English people love storytelling. It’s an art over there. And unlike all these ADD bitches over here, where you gotta keep their interest ‘cause they’ve been raised on MTV, over there it’s a much slower, kinder gentler audience. They’re not as raucous. But once you have ‘em, you have ‘em. And they are with you the entire time. I should live in London. It’s the closest to the Old South. Savannah has been able to maintain its charm in the Old South, but Chattanooga’s just wall–to–wall Wal–Marts. In London, people say please and thank you and so sorry, and no one blows their car horn in Piccadilly Square.”
“I’ve always been funny, but you know what? It was to keep the bullies at bay. As I got older I realized that it was in many ways my defense mechanism. The minute I’m in an uncomfortable situation, my mouth starts going. It keeps you away.
“Early on, I wanted to be a jockey, with racehorses. I had no interest in show business. I was just a little vagabond, everything I owned fit in the back of my Fiat 123 Spider, and I went from New York to Florida, wherever the horses were running. I did that until I was almost 27.
“I got tired of that, and then I went back to school. Everyone said ‘You’ve got to get your arts elective out of the way, so take that Intro to Theater class.’ First day, it hit me like a drug. I thought I was really old – 27! – too old to start anew, but I told the head of the department ‘This is what I want to do.’ Within a year I had a degree.”
“I took a bus to Hollywood. I had $1,200 sewn into my underpants – that was my mother’s idea. I’m a true, true Hollywood success story because there was no nepotism, I didn’t know anybody, I literally stepped off the bus like you see in the movies. And within a few years I was doing tons and tons of commercials. For years, I was the Pitt Printing guy. I was the elevator operator to Hamburger Hell, where you go to eat tacos. That was for Taco Bell. I made a really good living at it, and then I segued into sitcoms.
“I started writing standup as a way to showcase myself for TV and film work. My first one–man show was called Hysterical Blindness and Other Southern Tragedies That Have Plagued My Life Thus Far. It was a huge hit. It went to New York and ran off–Broadway for seven months. And that’s when I realized that I could talk about myself.
“When I was about 17 years old, and the whole gay thing really began to bog me down ... there was a lot of religion in my family, was I going to go to hell, and la la la la ... I began to journal. And when the scary monsters under the bed began that low moan, I would write. Sometimes all night long. And I have journaled, obsessively, since I was 17.”
“I’m a recovering drug addict and alcoholic, and when I got into recovery 15 years ago I realized that the main tenet of the recovery process is sharing. That you’re only as sick as your secrets. You pick someone you really trust and you tell them, and it loses its power over you. Well, I realized long before recovery that I would read aloud to someone what I’d written. And then I figured out that if I got onstage – and this where it became lucrative – and talked about my troubles in an entertaining way, people responded.
“Especially the young gay people come up and say to me, ‘You know, you told my story.’
“ 'Honey, you have a ministry. The first time someone said this to me, I was appalled. I said ‘Tammy Faye Baker has a ministry!’ But I do. I’ve lived this blessed life. I go to 45 cities a year, I get to meet people, get up onstage and be funny.
“Sometimes I walk off stage, and all I was, was funny I thought. And people will say to me ‘You made me cry. That little part about your daddy made me cry.’”
Where: Club One, 1 Jefferson St.
When: At 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20
Artist’s website: thelesliejordan.com