Leslie Jordan’s full of gin and regret (not)
Leslie Jordan is a storyteller. While he’s best known for playing such characters as the adversarial Beverley Leslie on Will & Grace or the Tammy Wynette-obsessed Brother Boy in Sordid Lives, Jordan has performed several one-man shows and written a hilarious memoir, My Trip Down The Pink Carpet.
His latest one-man show, Full of Gin and Regret comes to Provincetown’s Crown & Anchor for two nights beginning July 18th. Edge’s Jim Halterman talked to the fabulously chatty Jordan while he enjoyed a few days in Los Angeles before heading back out on the road.
A free-form show
EDGE: Your latest show is titled after one of my favorite lines of yours on Will & Grace. How is this show different from your other one-man shows?
Leslie Jordan: I found out after doing all these one-man shows - my first one was in ’92 called Hysterical Blindness And Other Southern Tragedies That Have Plagues My Life Thus Far... and then I did another one called Like A Dog On Linoleum and then My Trip Down the Pink Carpet. They all had 55 light cues and we’d travel and I never could make any money and couldn’t figure it out. I talked to Lily Tomlin because I worked with her on this HBO show called 12 Miles of Bad Road, which was not picked up. Linda Bloodworth-Thomason wrote it. [Lily] said, "Just travel with a mic. If you ever land somewhere, that’s when you add the 55 light cues and sound. Trust me, you are just as funny with a mic."
What I do is more like stand-up and my stories and I kind of just wing it and I find that audiences are just as satisfied. So I told Dave Morgan, my producer, that we should put together a tour with a catchy title - it will be called Gin and Regret and it will just be free form/free flow. I just did a show at Comix and Rosie O’Donnell jumped up on stage and did 10 minutes and then Caroline Rhea came out and did 20 minutes and then I came out and slayed the audience. I thought "You know what? That’s just what I should do!" I’m really good at that. So, P-town, especially in P-town because I did the Crotch and Anguish ...[laughs] the Crown and Anchor...I call it the Crotch and Anguish. I do that venue and they’re drinking and that’s fine. People are in Ptown to party, but I notice it’s hard with my show that has long-winded stories. You need to keep people’s attentions.
It’s like a cabaret version. A compilation of hits cut down for a drinking audience, which means you have to have a punch line about every 3 minutes.
So this is more ’Me: Unplugged’ and I found that people like it because I’m more connected to the audience. And I don’t like to do that banter. I don’t like that but Caroline Rhea is good at that - "Where are you from...Oh, well...la la la..." Caroline Rhea said to me after the show in New York, "Honey, you could do casinos. You could make 20 grand a night, a weekend. Just every weekend you just jump on a plane and you still have all your stuff in LA." So, she took me over to APA, her agency that has a stand-up comedian agent. So I thought "Why not?" I said, "My stuff is so gay. Can I play a casino?" She said, "I watch the audience and it’s the straight men that love your stories more than anybody." I talk about having that big butch Daddy and twirling the baton and they love it.
How he spent his summer vacation
EDGE: Will you be doing any of your characters in the show like Beverley Leslie or anybody else we might know?
LJ: I do. It’s also a lot of stories about Will & Grace. For some reason, I never really touched on that. More stories about working on Will & Grace and Megan Mullally and the makings of Sordid Lives. Behind the scenes kind of stuff. It’s a dog and pony show. There’s no tellin’. But I can promise that I’ve never had an audience yet that didn’t walk away satisfied. I had a week at Comix in New York and I got better and better every night. I [just performed at] the Rrazz Room at the Hotel Nikko San Francisco, which sounds like ’Debbie Reynolds! Live at the Razz Room!’ Lots going on.
EDGE: You use the ups and downs in your life as material in your act. Is that therapeutic for you?
LJ: It’s always been like that. I started journaling excessively when I was 17 yrs old and I don’t know what that is about. I have, under my bed, crates of those storage things filled with journals and I think I sort of realized at an early age that when I put pen to paper it slows my mind down to the speed of a pen. With all this texting and emailing...I have to write. I’m a whole other generation. You know, I got into recovery 11 years ago and we’re encouraged to share. [laughs] I learned in recovery that that really is the key is opening up. Anything you keep in and fester is just not good. Especially someone like me who has a very addictive sort of...I can get addicted to anything! Right now it’s Internet porn. I’m going to have to join RentBoy.com Anonymous. [laughs]
EDGE It’s just so easy! You turn on your computer and it’s there!
LJ: There it is! And anytime you’re bored...I’m just fascinated with sexual peccadilloes! But, yes, it’s been extremely cathartic. I have to tell you, I have all the one-man shows and a lot of recovery work. I’m 54 years old and I’m closer now to my authentic self than I have ever been. I had such an interesting thing happen last year in Ptown. I wasn’t thinking it through. I told my mother I thought I was gay when I was 12 and thus began all these sort of therapists and Christian camps and it’s a wonder I’m sane. We had a sort of don’t ask/don’t tell. I just don’t really talk about it and she’s fine with that. My mother will never be Betty DeGeneres. My mother will never march in a PFLAG parade with a sign. It ain’t gonna happen. She just is who she is. She’ll whisper it now. "He has a brother who’s [whispers] gay!" She loves saying that word now. It’s so funny. I invited her and her sister and these are two little white haired southern women who wore white gloves for half their lives. She was thinking Martha’s Vineyard and then we roll into P-town. [laughs] My first time was "What on earth was I thinking? What am I going to do?"
When we got there, I didn’t realize my mother and my sister, they have no idea how revered I am within the gay community because I’ve been taught in recovery to do well for others and I’ve been very active for the last 11 years. People would come running up to us and say "Your son has done so much for gay people" and my mother would say, "Yes" because she had no idea. One night we spruced up and I thought, "What am I going to do with them in Provincetown?" I asked my Aunt if they’d seen that movie "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte" and my aunt said, "Oh, I love that movie! You thought Bette Davis was the bad one but it turned out to be Olivia de Havilland." I said, "Well, they’re doing a parody of it...a drag show with Varla Jean Merman." So my whole family, here we go. I have never seen my family laugh so hard. My mother hollered! We’re not a glum lot but then all of a sudden, my mother would get up every morning and say "What are we going to do tonight? Are we going to one of those shows tonight?"
I took my mother to the ferry to send her back to Boston and she said with tears in her eyes, "Son, I’m so proud of you. Can we make this our family vacation?" So we’re going to go to Provincetown every year! [laughs] What was interesting about the whole story is that I used to bring my mother out to LA all the time and inevitably some screaming queen would come running over and say, "Hey, Girl! How are you doing, Miss Thang?" And I’d say, "I’m with my mother!" So here we are in Provincetown in the middle of my tribe, I’m perfectly comfortable with my whole family there and that’s growth. There’s something wonderful about that. I was always such a people pleaser and now I’m along for the ride.
"I’m a laugh whore"
EDGE Do you ever have those moments where you can’t believe how far you’ve come?
LJ: All the time. Even right now, I’m sitting here at The Grove in Los Angeles and it’s just gorgeous. It’s in my backyard. I have this beautiful loft. I live with a 27-yr old straight boy and I’m as married as I’ve ever been to this straight man. He just adores me and takes such good care of me and takes good care of the place. I was sitting here and looking at this gorgeous day here in Los Angeles and I thought, "Someone needs to pinch me!" And, I finally, for the first time ever, have a really nice car. I never made money, it’s interesting, over all the years. I didn’t make any money on Will & Grace. I’m always the little show pony that trots in and they don’t pay for that the way they pay for the lead characters, but I’ve finally got a Volvo c70, hard topped convertible! It’s Zanzibar Gold! It’s gorgeous and when I parked it here... I valet now, you see. And you know you’ve made it here in LA when you get parked upstairs with the Bentleys. I wake up every morning and my spiritual advisor said that I should list 10 things I’m grateful for and every morning I’m just overwhelmed. I’m so grateful.
EDGE You’re known primarily for comedy but do you ever wish for a good, meaty dramatic role?
LJ: I so seldom get offered stuff like that. David Kelley writes for me but his stuff is always that quirky sort of stuff where it’s serious but I’m always the quirky one. On Boston Legal, I killed my mother with a skillet and [the lawyers] got me off. I killed my neighbor with a skillet and they got me off. Then Betty White killed me with a skillet. But, I’ve only had [a dramatic role] one time when I did this straight dramatic part. I was hired to do a series with George Clooney, long before he got famous and it was called Bodies of Evidence and I was the forensics guy who had to get the fingerprints. And they would not let me be funny and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’d be like "Wouldn’t it be funny if I tripped over my fingerprint case?" "Why don’t you just say the line?" Then I’d say "I have these rubber gloves when I get the fingerprints and I could..." and they’d say, "Just say the line!" I’m a laugh whore. I’m just like Kathy Griffin. Anything that gets a laugh...and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ll be like Andy Rooney, I’ll be 90 years old and I’ll play retarded.
EDGE I think you mean Mickey Rooney, right?
LJ: Oh! Yes! [laughs] I think that’s always funny when you play someone with special needs and people are just amazed. Like Rosie O’Donnell playing special needs on the bus.
EDGE Any plans to go back to Ugly Betty? You were great on there.
LJ: I thought it was a good character because my character stirred up trouble. He was like Dominic Dunne, an investigative reporter. I thought they’d have me back but you never know. I can’t let it hurt my feelings. My big plans are I found out that I’m on ’the list.’ They called from ABC. I want to do Dancing With The Stars! When I was a kid I was the worst one in gym class ever. One semester we had Ballroom Dancing and I thought, "This is my chance to shine!" I was so good swirling around the floor with my little sweaty faced partner who I had in a vice grip. My teacher tapped me on the shoulder and said "Mr. Jordan, you must remember that the young lady is the picture and you are but the frame." So I want to go on Dancing With The Stars if they’ll let me and that’s my platform. I’m going to talk about being gay, I’m a big sissy and there’s nothing wrong with being a big sissy but you can’t have two girls swirling around in a competitive dance. Somebody’s got to man up! I’m going to butch it up and win Dancing With The Stars! I just want to get in the room with the producers because people know me from my TV shows but they don’t know my personality and they don’t know what a chatterbox I am. I’m perfect for shows like that!
Leslie Jordan’s Full of Gin and Regrets can be seen from July 18 and 19th at the Crown & Anchor in Provincetown and he’ll bring his My Trip Down The Pink Carpet show to New York beginning this October. For more, go to www.thelesliejordan.com.