Comedic actor Leslie Jordan is best remembered internationally for his recurring role as Beverley Leslie in TV's Will & Grace (2001-2006) for which he won the coveted Emmy Award. On stage in LA, he has starred in Del Shores' Southern Baptist Sissies as Peanut and in Sordid Lives as Brother Boy - also in the film and cable TV series in the same role - to popular and critical acclaim and in his own productions of Like a Dog on Linoleum and My Walk Down the Pink Carpet. In our talk, he tells us about his newest touring Christmas show Deck Them Halls, Y'All, which will open at the Renberg Theater of the Gay and Lesbian Center in LA on December 16, as well as other future projects. Jordan is so funny, I had to really be on my guard to control my laughter; otherwise, we'd still be talking.
How are you?
Well, I'm in Atlanta, Georgia...I'm opening this weekend and it is 21 degrees. (he laughs)
Unusual for the south, isn't it?
I grew up in Chattanooga. I thought it was unusual, and I called my mom this morning who said, "This is very unusual." I was in Fort Lauderdale before that, which makes it even colder.
Tell me about the new show and all the characters you're playing.
I'm so excited. I've had two people, both my producer, who produced the original tour of My Trip Down the Pink Carpet, Dave Morgan, and my director, Mr. David Galligan, say, "This is the best thing you've ever written", probably because ... it's not about me. (he laughs) For once, I wrote something that's not about me.
And the wonderful thing is when it's not about you, you don't really have to tell the truth. You can let your imagination run.
How did it get started?
What happened was ... we are opening My Trip Down the Pink Carpet on the West End. I leave on January 16, and because Will & Grace is so popular over there, I'm opening at the Apollo Theatre which has 800 seats, between the two hottest shows in London. Priscilla Queen of the Desert is next door and on the other side there's a show based on the music of Michael Jackson called Thriller. We had planned on November and December to tour ...Pink Carpet to get it ready for London, and I finally just said, "Guys, I've done this show for years; there's nothing else to do." Plus, they were having trouble finding the right sized venue. I'm not Kathy Griffin. I can't do 1200 seat venues. I need 300, 400 something like that. Anyway, out of the blue, they just pulled the rug out from under me and said, "Well, we'll just go to London in February."
I thought, "Well, fine, but, we've got to keep the ship afloat. What am I going to do for November and December?" My booker Dave Morgan, who has a company called Reaction Marketing out in Palm Springs called me out of the blue and said, "Leslie, if you do a Christmas show, I could book you all over the place."
And I said, "Please, what would I do? Talk about baby Jesus and sing Christmas Carols? I don't have a Christmas show in me." He said, "I bet you do." Well, I had this old Christmas ornament I bought at the Cracker Barrell, these really kind of trashy restaurants all over the south. I had bought this ornament that said, Deck Them Halls, Y'All! I thought, "That's a title!"
I called Dave and said, "Well I've got a title". He said, "I'll book you into Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale and a couple of nights in Atlanta, and then we'll open at the Renberg". I said, "What are you talking about? I haven't written it". That was the best thing that could happen. I sat down and I had had this idea for a long time. I met this waitress in Dallas, Texas years ago, who was a stripper in her prime. Back in the 50s and early 60s she stripped for Jack Ruby. She had her own little Kennedy assassination theory that makes more sense than anything I've ever heard. She said to me (affects a high-pitched female voice). "Honey, you know Jack Ruby was homosexual. We all knew it. The girls knew it. You didn't talk about it. You didn't mention things like that. But, we knew what was up. He was always coming around the bars with these rough young boys, they called them his muscle." She said that when she saw Oswald, she could have sworn that was one of the boys Jack walked around with. "Honey, he went in there and shot him." I thought, "That sure beats Cuba or anything Oliver Stone's come up with." So, that was the germ of this idea and I thought, "How can I make this about Christmas?" So I come out as this old stripper. Honey, she sings, she does a bump and grind. I've got great big enormous bird seed titties, bigger than Dolly (Parton). I do these corny old burlesque songs. I hired an orchestra. I've just put a fortune into it, because I think it's something I'm going to roll out every year.
That's great! What other characters do you play besides the stripper?
It's three generations. The old stripper...she's trying to win this contest on the radio, and you tell them the worst Christmas you've ever had. She just talks and talks and then, the second character...what I do, I've got this strip music and instead of doing a strip, I change into the next character...seductively remove a wig and put on another wig and, bla.bla.bla, I'm the next character, the stripper's daughter, who's a trans-gender lesbian, who's lamenting the loss of her pussy. She misses it. It turns out that the lesbian had, through the product of a rape, a kid. She couldn't raise it, so she left, and the grandmother's raising it, the old stripper. The shining light of the family, he's a little ten-year old boy...and he's in a beautiful Christmas robe. He's had it on for four days. The choir teacher told him, he has potential (his voice goes up). He's going to sing a solo in the Christmas pageant. Anyway, it's basically three generations of this white trash family celebrating Christmas. The Orlando Sentinel gave me a glowing review, which I didn't expect because I was only there two, three days. It was a love letter, saying it's the perfect anecdote for anyone who's just sick of all that cheerfulness at Christmas.
I can't wait to see it! Since you mentioned Will & Grace... when I interviewed Megan Mullally last year, she talked about working with you on Karen the Musical, once it gets written. What's up with that?
She thought it was a bangup idea for just Beverley Leslie and Karen Walker to be loose on the Great White Way. But, when you ask someone to do a musical with you, wouldn't you ask them, "Can you sing?" It never came up. (we both laugh)
Anyway, she had the rights, but the business people stepped in and were doing another round of negotiations of the syndicated rights and they told her "You just can't do it right now". It might happen on down the road.
So, she said to me, "Honey, we know the chemistry's there. Let's you and I come up with some ideas." Her mom's been sick so we haven't gotten together, but I have an idea, which I read in the paper, this is the most hilarious thing I ever read. It was a true story in St. Louis, Missouri. A hotel accidentally booked two vastly different conventions under one roof. The Christians, like a Baptist convention, and leather queens, whose convention was called Beat Me in St. Louis. I called her and said "This is it! I'm head of the leather contingent and you're Sarah Palin. You're this white wing Christian, Anita Bryant." We just shrieked. We haven't moved beyond that, because the two of us are so busy all the time.
Who are your favorite comic actors? Anyone you idolize?
Three. Lily Tomlin, who produced my show in New York. She and Jane Wagner produced ...Pink Carpet in New York, and they're involved in the London production. When I was a kid, I had an album of Lily's and I could act out all of those characters, and my favorite was not Edith Ann or the telephone lady. She had a very obscure character called Sister Boogy Woman. She would preach at the rest homes and get the old people up and going. When I met Lily, I acted it out for her. Sister Boogy Woman.She couldn't believe that I remembered that. She was my idol. And Phyllis Diller, who came to see one of my shows. She's tiny. I didn't know that. She's my height; she's tiny, tiny, tiny. When I was a kid, I'd act out her routines with Fang and...my third one, whom I have never met, but would love to, is Carol Burnett. I would sit in front of the television as a kid... I don't know why all three, my comedic idols are ... women. You toss Bette Midler in there somewhere, and you've got it.
Do you have a Christmas wish for everybody?
I have a lot of shame, and until I got sober at 42 years of age, I had never voted. I was just a hippie. We smoked pot, we didn't vote. I didn't know a Republican from a Democrat. I didn't know anything. Never read a newspaper. In the thirteen years I've been sober, I've gotten so politically active, but you can march in the streets and carry signs all you want...but the change has got to come from within. My Christmas wish is that every young gay man and gay woman register to vote. Get out of those bars! I'm all for everybody having fun, but at least get out of the bars and vote! There's so much happening right now and it's so important. That's my Christmas wish.
A wonderful one, and be sure to visit Leslie Jordan's website:
to buy his book My Trip Down the Pink Carpet
and for info on tix to:
Deck Them Halls, Y'All! at the Renberg Theater from December 16 - 19 only!
Call: 323-860-7300 or google the Renberg Theater online!