llustrious Emmy-winning actor and comedian Leslie Jordan will be exposing himself in a one-man extravaganza on Friday, July 5, and Saturday, July 6, at The Green Room 42 in New York City.
Recognized for some of the coolest appearances on the planet, including his role as Beverley Leslie in the hit series “Will and Grace” as well as in “The Help,” “Sordid Lives,” “The Cool Kids,” “American Horror Story” and countless others, Jordan will be sharing his life experiences as a flamboyant youth raised as a Southern Baptist as well as his unbelievable real-life stories. After arriving in West Hollywood with $1,500 in his pocket, Jordan managed to enjoy a vibrant career in film, television and theater.
Jordan has been applauded for his off-Broadway musical “Lucky Guy” and as the author and star of the HBO special “My Trip Down the Pink Carpet.” He has guest starred on everything from Fox’s “Raising Hope” to Disney’s “Shake It Up.” He remains one of the most sought-after and relevant actors on the scene.
I was completely honored to celebrate an intimate conversation with the funniest and most charming man I’ve ever spoken to. He is filled with stories, surprises, inspiration and warmth.
My first question is exactly what is it that you plan to expose?
The show was originally called, believe it or not, “Leslie Jordan Naked.” My mother called and said, “I don’t like that. I don’t like it at all,” and so I changed it to “Exposed.” What “Exposed” is, is actually I go through my one-person shows, because I’ve done so many over the years, starting with “Hysterical Blindness and Other Tragedies That Plagued My Life Thus Far.” It ran for a long time at what was called The Vandam Playhouse. It’s now the Soho Playhouse; they did a renovation. Anyway, I just went through all of those and where I was, and what the stories were. Were they true or not? How embellished were they? It presents kind of a wonderful journey of a gay man who figured out he could tell stories about his life and make a few bucks. … I don’t know if you know this or not: I was the Grand Marshal in D.C. for the Capital Pride Festival the week that horrible massacre happened down in Orlando. And when the sun came up that Sunday morning, guess where I was? In the White House on the invitation of our ex-president Barack Obama and his lovely wife. They wanted a gay presence. So there I was with the D.C. choir, the Washington Gay Men’s D.C. Choir. We were there to greet the tourists. Then they pulled me aside and said that I’ve been so giving with my time, and they asked me if I’d be willing to stay until Tuesday, and in memory of the 49 people who died, would I be willing to throw the first pitch out for the Washington Nationals against the Chicago Cubs. I thought I was gonna shit and fall back; I never held a baseball. I never held a baseball in my life.
Well, I looked right at him and said, “I’d be honored.” Of course all those queens in the choir said, “Well there’s a YouTube video in the making.” The very next day I went on television to talk about it, and there was a newscaster there whose first name was Wisdom; I don’t remember his last name. He said to me, “I coach baseball, and I’ll teach you how to pitch.” So we went there to the parking lot, and I did pretty good. You know, I’m an actor, and I’ve had a lot of movement classes. Anyway, that’s the way the show ends. It’s just exposing different stories and things.
When you first started in show business, being gay wasn’t exactly trendy. How did you get through that?
Honey, you couldn’t let people know. I had a mustache. This is what it was like. First of all, people ask me what is the secret to my success? It has nothing to do with show business. The secret to my success is that I got on the bus in 1982 with a degree in theater and went to Hollywood. Not so much for acting, but I wanted to get to West Hollywood because of my very suppressed Baptist upbringing. I wanted to go somewhere where there were queers hanging from the trees. When I landed, you know, people think that when you go to Hollywood, if it doesn’t work out then you go home. But I was home. So for the last 30, 40 years I’ve had a community.
In 1982, when I got here, it was a city that was in crisis with the AIDS epidemic. We figured out very quickly that we couldn’t rely on anybody; we had to do it ourselves. As a community, we have to come together and take care of ourselves. So there were all these years early on where you would go to the bars at night, and you would see every casting director in town. You would see producers. But during the day it was very wink, wink. We just knew. I even had both a gay manager and a gay agent. They would call me and say, “Keep your feet on the ground and your hands by your side.” They knew. What happened was over the years, as I got more comfortable with myself—and I’ve been clean and sober for 22 years. There was a lot of drinking. I think it was just a lot easier being gay if you were a little high. So I just stayed high for years. What’s the problem? You know, you become comfortable with yourself. I think the gay character has taken almost the same arc as African-American characters in television. It started with a neighbor, a best friend. Then you would have a few series regulars. Then you did kind of have gay series, to where we are now, which I kind of like, it’s not really an issue. I’m kind of gutted right now, because I had a series for a year that didn’t get enough press, but I thought it was adorable. It was called “The Cool Kids.” It was with Vicki Lawrence. Here I was playing a gay man in his 60s that was just comfortable with who he was. He won an award for most pickups on Grindr. It was about sex; I had a boyfriend. But I thought, that’s the way it should be. It should just be that we all are.
We have a mutual friend, Stan Zimmerman.
OMG, I know he thinks I went over and stole his show. He wrote the gay “Golden Girls,” and I’m doing a series where it’s for old people. I thought, though, it had nothing to do with it. But we did a wonderful reading with Bruce Vilanch. Who knew he can act? He was wonderful.
Did you watch the Tonys last night?
You talk about a wonderful night. Last night we had the only West Coast live feed of the Tonys. It was a benefit for The Actors Fund. It was to honor Lily Tomlin. I’ve worked with her a few times, and I just adore her. When Lily got her award at the Kennedy Center, she told Barack Obama that “it would’ve been better had I have been able to come in to the Kennedy Center with eight drag queen is dressed as Ernestine.” We gave her her wish last night. She was floored! She couldn’t even do her acceptance speech. It was really moving. And it was really something to add to my repertoire of stories.
I am absolutely a million percent coming down to see your show!
Oh, good. I am also on my way to P-Town to do the show as well.
Well, if you’re in New York you should come to the Fire Island Invasion.
I’m not; it’s a travel day. I’m in Atlanta, and I’m flying in on the 4th. But it seems like fun. I’ll never forget. I thought these words would never come out of my mouth. I didn’t go to Fire Island all those years I lived in New York. I don’t know why, I just never made it there. So I went to perform there, and they sent me on a boat, and put me up in a house that I couldn’t believe. And I said, “This is almost too gay.” I never thought I’d hear those words. But come see me. It’s a new venue. Do you know that venue at all?
It’s in Yotel, which is hilarious. It’s so popular, because it’s Japanese run, and the rooms are like little tiny cruise ships. I’ve tried to do Below 54; I’d love to do that. But this worked out, so we’ll see. It’s supposed to be a wonderful room. When I did “My Trip Down the Pink Carpet,” and Lily Tomlin produced it, we couldn’t find a room in New York. We were really looking for off-off-Broadway. We found a room on 46th Street. It was called The Hot Comedy Club. Well, we just took it over and made it a little pink palace. It was really a lot of fun. Lily got me on “The View.” There are very few off-off-Broadway shows that can say that they were on “The View.” I got so nervous that when they introduced us, we walked out and I started yammering, and I didn’t shut up once. Lily had not said one word. She chased me down the hall and said, “You’re going to be looking for a new producer!”
How long will you be exposing yourself?
My show comes in at 75 minutes on the dot. I did almost 44 venues with it. I never thought I would do really well all over Texas. We found this new producer, and he was straight, and I thought he wouldn’t know how to push me. So they put me in Fort Worth, Arlington, Waco and San Antonio, and I packed them in. I think it had to do with the TV show. Vicki Lawrence has been doing her two-woman show. I’m too dirty; I can’t do what she does. She does the older people circuit.