Leslie Jordan returns to Florida with the stories he can’t tell mama

For such a diminutive (4′ 11″) frame, character actor Leslie Jordan has a large propensity for scene-stealing.

Jordan is best known as Beverly Leslie, the bitchy arch-nemesis of Karen Walker on TV’s Will & Grace, Brother Boy on Sordid Lives and, and more recently, as the newspaper honcho who hires Emma Stone to write an advice column in the Oscar award-winning film, The Help.

Jordan loves to tell a story, and he tells them with ease, whether it’s in person or from the stage on his Stories I Can’t Tell Mama tour that stops at Tampa’s Straz Center Thursday, April 5, and the Parliament House’s Footlight Theater in Orlando on Friday, April 6.

In a recent chat, I caught up with the camp comedian to talk about his career, his return to Florida and those things he just can’t tell his mama:    

ERIK RAYMOND: Tell us about your new show.
LESLIE JORDAN: I learned a long time ago, it’s just best to get up there and talk about whatever. I’ve got a lot of stories about The Help. I had a lot of fun shooting that so I’ve got some wonderful stories about the ladies. I took a show that I actually did previously at The Parliament House called My Trip Down the Pink Carpet and took it to London. It ran at The Apollo, so I’ve got stories about that. And of course, just all kinds of trash talk. You never know what’s going to come out of my mouth. [Laughs]

The GOP presidential hopefuls are hoping for southerners to embrace them. You’re a southerner – what’s your take?
I recently got a call from the website Funny or Die and they asked me if I would do this skit for them, playing RuPaul! I’m thinking, ”Oh, my God, that would be hilarious. Dress me up like RuPaul!” But then, my manager called and says “Leslie, it’s not RuPaul they want you to play, it’s Ron Paul. [Laughs]

I get infuriated watching those GOP debates. I try to pay as little attention as I can, but because I was asked to play Ron Paul, I had to watch those debates. I’m just flabbergasted. They’re trotting out – especially Mr. Santorum – saying things about “it’s a choice [to be gay]” even when it’s been scientifically proven otherwise. It just floors me. With his views on women alone, [Santorum] is going to set us back 20-30 years! I wish Santorum would beat Romney out for the nomination because he would get slaughtered.

It’s like a sitcom without any lead character. They’re all one of the wacky neighbors. They’re just nuts. Then, there are those wives! Mitt Romney’s wife looks like Jennifer Coolidge. She looks like Stiffler’s mom [from American Pie]! [Laughs] Then, that little Mrs. Gingrich/Calista Flockhart; she just looks like she’s not quite done. She’s needs to go back in the oven for about ten minutes on high. [Laughs]

When I go home, my mama always asks me to go to church with her. People my mother’s age, they just want to go to church and not have to hear all that political crap. It’s more of a social event for them. They listen to the pastor tell funny stories, they sing some hymns and they go home. Mother was telling me the other day she can’t find a church to go to because the Evangelical Christians have hijacked everything.

Let me tell you something, from the teaching of Christ that I read I don’t know how you could be pro-war and say you’re a Christian. Jesus was a pacifist. [These right-wing] people go to church, preach thou shall not kill and then they go to the gun club; they’re just nuts. I live in a neighborhood In L.A. that is all Hasidic Jews. They just go about their business, they keep to themselves, they don’t bother anybody and they certainly don’t try to push their religion on anybody. It’s like the Amish. Why can’t these Evangelical Christians just go to church, worship the way they want to worship and do their thing? Why do they have to mess with us?

Gay rights have advanced substantially of late. Are you encouraged?
Absolutely! I think we’re way ahead of the curb. Listen, you’re talking to someone who, when I see two boys walking down the street holding hands, I get misty-eyed. I never thought that would happen…ever. You see that all the time now here in West Hollywood. There’ll be two men sitting on the same side of the booth being affectionate with each other. A friend and I went to a gay church one time in Dallas. It was called Cathedral of Hope and when we walked in, I burst into tears. My friend goes, “What is wrong with you?” I said, “I never thought that in my lifetime that I would walk into a place of worship and see gay people.”

I think what’s going to take some time is with the trans community. They don’t get support even from the gay community. A lot of gay people say, “Well, that’s not gay.” It will all happen in its own sweet time, I suppose. It will just evolve. These old fuckers will die off and I’m sure they’re kids don’t believe all that crap. I bet even Santorum’s kids are a little embarrassed of it all.

Speaking of families‚ are you dating anyone?
Lord, no. I’m 57. It’s exhausting. Once the sun goes down, I just want to stay home.

I do have a date on Tuesday night though. I was in this restaurant and the bar manager came over and we started talking. Turns out, he had recently moved out here from New York. He said, “I haven’t even been to another restaurant here in L.A. besides the one I work at.” So, I said, “Well, I’ll take ya.” So, now I’ve got a date Tuesday night!

I’ve lived with a straight boy for four years. It’s the best relationship I’ve had. He adores me. I’m his sugar-daddy. [Laughs]

Well, if you could, who would you want to register as domestic partners with while in Orlando, now that we offer that?
There was that one boy that worked at Parliament House when I was there last but I can’t remember his name. I had the biggest crush on him.

In all honesty, while I’m for gay marriage, when I look back on my generation, we wanted to be gay and not have anything to do with the white picket fence or having children. Now there’s this whole generation of gays coming up that want all that and God bless ‘em. They should be able to have all that. For me, what I love about being gay is that – here I am 57 years old – I can go have sex with anybody I want, even if I have to pay for it. [Laughs]

We didn’t want the restraint of all that “straight” culture. I think there are people that want to be partnered and there are people that do not. I am happy. I don’t get lonely. I have a huge network of friends. I also think, with my career, it’s really hard to sustain a relationship, traveling the way I do and even just being an actor. The other day, while taping this series The Secret Life of the American Teenager, I thought to myself, “These are long hours. If I had to walk into my apartment and be civil, let alone speak to someone, it would be difficult.” So, I am happily single. If I could register with somebody, it would be myself. [Laughs]

Although, I do wonder sometimes, who’s going to take care of me when I get old. What if I went crazy all of a sudden? [Laughs] Who’s going to take care of my old ass? Who’s going to change my diapers?

Going back a bit to one of your more infamous roles. How did you get the part of Beverly Leslie in Will & Grace?
Originally, it was written for Joan Collins. She was supposed to steal Rosario the maid from Megan Mullaly’s character, Karen Walker. Then, the two were going to get in a fight over it and end up pulling each other’s wigs off. Apparently, at the last minute, Joan Collins’ manager called and said they couldn’t pull Ms. Collins wig off. So, they fired her and sent out an open call.

I went and auditioned. The minute I walked in, they knew I was the right one. I did that one episode where I steal Rosario away from Karen. Then, they called my manager to let me know they wanted me back. I did two episodes in the third season. I didn’t do near as many as people think. I did maybe 12 in all, but they were memorable episodes.

Then, after all of it was said and done, my manager called me and said, “Are you sitting down? You’ve been nominated for an Emmy.” I had no idea what it could be for. I just couldn’t imagine. It was for “Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy.” Well, I figured I wouldn’t win – and honey, I did!

Do you miss playing Beverly Leslie?
Oh, yes. I miss mainly working with Megan Mullaly. We never rehearsed or anything. They would start rolling and we’d start throwing our lines back and forth, like verbal ping pong.

What would it take to get you two to do a spin off series?
I don’t think it would happen. The network owns the rights. We were actually talking about doing a musical based on it. They put the kibosh on it immediately. Also, the creators of [Will & Grace] would have to be the ones to write it and they are so rich. They don’t want to work anymore.

You do a lot of work with recovering addicts and as a recovering substance abuser yourself, is there any advice you can offer to this generation?
True recovery can’t happen on TV. You see these shows like Celebrity Rehab and I don’t know about all that. All of the 12-step programs tell you that it’s not a psychologist or a therapist that’s going to help you; it’s someone who’s been there. I go all over the country doing motivational speaking. I have a huge following within the sober community, attending conventions as the keynote speaker. I work a lot with kids getting off drugs and that’s what keeps me grounded. I’m in a line of work where I get my ass kissed a lot. You start to think, “I’m big,” “I’m grand.” Then, you go work with those kids and it just puts your feet back on the ground. It’s also given me this inner peace.

My primary purpose in life is to stay sober and help other alcoholics and drug addicts learn sobriety. Until I got sober, I lived my whole life for my work. Now, I know acting is just my job. People like Lindsey Lohan have the same issue. They get caught up in the glory and end up feeling very empty. You have to find a balance. Acting is my “job.” It’s a wonderful job but what’s given me the inner peace and the sense of self is the work I’ve done in recovery, not only on myself but others.

Writer Erik Raymond w/Jordan at Parliament House. April 2012

More Info:
WHO: Leslie Jordan
WHAT: Stories I Can’t Tell Mama
WHERE & WHEN: Tampa’s David A. Straz Center, Thursday, April 5; Orlando’s Footlight Theatre within Parliament House, Friday, April 6
TICKETS:  StrazCenter.org or WanziePresents.com

photo courtesy of LeslieJordan.com

Originally published by Watermark Media, Inc.