In 1982, Leslie Jordan stepped off a Greyhound bus and said “hello” to Hollywood and has never looked back since. Growing up in the hills of Tennessee, his mother always assured him that “he was special.” With his innate ability to be funny, Jordan instantly became an recognizable face in the film and television industry.
PINK: Why did you come to Hollywood in 1982?
Leslie Jordan: I had a degree in theater from my hometown—the University of Tennessee. And I thought, I either have to go to New York or Los Angeles and if I’m going to starve, I am going to starve with a tan. So, I got on a bus. I literally could not afford a plane ticket, I had $1,400 that I had saved waiting tables during college pinned into my underpants so that I wouldn’t get robbed on the bus.
PINK: What did you do upon your arrival?
L J: I stepped off at the corner of Hollywood and Vine. I enrolled in an acting class that would teach you how to do sitcoms.
PINK: Did you know you were going to make it?
L J: I never had a doubt.
PINK: What made you so sure?
L J: I don’t know. I had wonderful parents who would tell me that I was special and that I could achieve anything. I had always been funny. I learned to be funny to keep the bullies away because I was such a little sissy; I had learned to be funny, so I knew I had that.
PINK: How was it to work as an openly gay man when you first arrived in LA ?
L J: You know, everybody was gay—my agent. the casting directors, and the producers were all gay. Nobody talked about it, and it was very important on camera to not come off as “too gay.” It was wink-wink. My agent would say to me, “Now listen, keep your feet on the ground and keep your hands at your side. You’ve got to butch it up for this one you know.”
PINK: What was the first role that gave you your big break?
L J: The first thing the teacher in my sitcom class said to me was, “You’re a commercial gold mine! You should be doing commercials, television commercials!” “Oh no, no, no! I want to do big movies and television,” I said. She then told me, “Well honey, you have to start somewhere.” So I got an agent who only handled TV commercials for me. There was a very famous commercial back in 1982, for Wendy’s Hamburgers with this old lady eating a hamburger and she lifts up the bun and says, “Where’s the Beef?”
PINK: I remember that commercial—it was real funny.
L J: Well, that was the director who kind of ushered in this whole new era in commercials where they wanted characters. They wanted funny, funny characters. They thought you had to be gorgeous so everyone would say, “Oh, I want to look like him so I’ll brush my teeth with that toothpaste.” Well, the directors realized funny makes people laugh and they’ll remember the product. So I started working. The first year I was in Hollywood I did nine national television commercials. I was the bellhop, the beach boy, the window washer and usually I didn’t speak. Then they discovered I had this very thick, sort of southern accent.
PINK: Something a little bit more serious?
L J: Yeah. So my first job was a commercial for Aunt Jemima pancakes. Actually it was Aunt Jemima syrup. I was lost at sea, the ship had gone down, and I am floating in a life raft dreaming about pancakes.
PINK: So, what happened next?
L J: I start doing all these commercials. People would recognize me, “Oh, there’s that guy. There’s the guy from the commercials.” From there I got on a TV show called The Fall Guy, which starred a very young Lee Majors who went on to do the bionic man or the six million dollar man. I was a murderer.
PINK: Why do you call yourself the gayest person in the world?
L J: I don’t think I ever said that, and that’s been in every article. It’s so funny that somebody in the media twisted what I meant. I think it came from my one-man show where I say, “I fell out the womb. I landed in my momma’s high heels, and I am probably the gayest personI know.” From that, someone took it and said that I used to say that I was the ‘gayest person in the world’. What I meant by that was there’s no choice here. These right-wing Christians talk about how we have a choice. Honey, I’ve been on the prance ever since.
PINK: Surronded by hot guys, have you ever had a crush on anyone, and how was it to work with him?
L J: My show, My Trip Down the Pink Carpet is all about that. I have a theory that straight guys got to flirt when they were young and they learned healthy ways to deal with love affairs. They would date this girl then break-up, and their heart would be broken. The way gay people in my generation do it—all of our love affairs were in our head. We’d sit and stare at the football players. I don’t know about other gay people but I had fantasies.
PINK: Talking about fantasies—who would be your fantasy and why?
L J: George Clooney. I did a movie with George Clooney, where he knew I was in love with him. I mean he knew. He’s very gay friendly though.
PINK: Did he tease or flirt with you?
L J: Oh my God, he would flirt with me and pat me on the bottom. He used to say, “You’re just a little butthole bandit.”
PINK: People say he’s gay. What do you think—is he gay?
L J: Of course not. He’s totally straight, and completely surrounded by gay men. I saw him one time at Tom’s Steakhouse. It was George Clooney and about 14 gay men. I said, “What did you do? Bring the gay bar with you?” and he said, “No, these are the men that work for me. You know, my publicist, my this, my that.” He is so gay friendly, but he loves motorcycles, and he’s all man.
PINK: So, you can’t have Clooney, Who else would you invite on a romantic dinner date?
L J: Ben Cohen. Do you know who that is? He’s a beautiful rugby star. I’ve seen him because he is going to be at the opening of the Softball Gay World Series ceremonies with me. I didn’t know who he was but when I saw him I said, “Oh My God!”
PINK: Are you currently single, or are you in a relationship ?
L J: No, I live with a straight boy. He’s the best relationship I’ve ever had.
PINK: Why a straight man? How old is he?
L J: He’s 34. I’ve lived with him for years and years. We’ve been through everything—went through cancer when he was diagnosed. He’s presently straight, in my building he’s every girl’s dream. I just adore him; he takes wonderful care of me. People ask me how can he be straight? Well, I screwed girls in high school, does that make me straight? Not one bit. My friends keep telling me I need to find a nice gay boy, but I say, “Honey, I am perfectly happy with the boy I have.”
PINK: Have you ever been in a relationship?
L J: No, not really. I am a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. Fifteen years clean. I could have had a relationship. I was out at the bars every night and always hunting for Mr. Right, but when you all in the throes of drinking and doing drugs you can’t have a relationship. I tried couple of times.
PINK: Do you like being single?
L J: I love being single. I think the problem with gay people is that we’re always hunting for Mr. Prince Charming, and he’s just not out there.
PINK: Do you think it’s a fantasy?
L J: We look for people to make us feel better about ourselves. You have to be perfectly content with yourself.
PINK: What do you think about gay marriage?
L J: I think it’s wonderful for the younger generation. I have no interest in it at all. I had this discussion with Lily Tomlin because we were the generation that went against anything of the establishment. We didn’t want to be conservative. We were gay; we wanted to be out there. So now all the younger gays are really kind of conservative. They want to get married, they want to have children. You know, for the younger generation I will fight with my dying breathe for gay marriage. I will fight, fight, fight for you. If you want to get married you should have the right, “abso-fucking-lutely.” For me personally, I have no interest. God knows that if we could have gotten married when I was young, I would have ended up in Las Vegas with some hustler, married. Honey, I would have been married 20 times. I would have been just like Elizabeth Taylor, I would have married all of them.
PINK: If you had the choice to work with anyone in Hollywood, who would it be and why?
L J: Dolly Parton. I have a long, long love affair with Dolly. It’s so funny, I knew she was gay friendly long before she ever said so. When I was a little kid growing up in Chattanooga, and she’s from right about Knoxville, I was a country music fan and she always looked like a little drag queen to me. I just did a documentary called Hollywood to Dollywood. It’s about these two identical twins who take off in search of Dolly. Because of that movie, she gave us 14 songs to use for free, that’s probably worth a million dollars right there.
PINK: Are you involved with any charity work?
L J: Everything. I have three charities that I work with a lot. One is HRC, the Human Rights Campaign. I go all over the place for them. The second charity I work with is the Trevor Project for suicidal kids. You know, when the Trevor Project plugged in, they were overwhelmed, and this was years ago. They had almost 15,000 calls in the first couple of months. Do you know where the calls came from? The Bible Belt. See, that’s my story. I learned to hate myself in the pew of a church. The third charity I work with is a recovery center out of San Diego called Stepping Stone, which deals with gay people addicted to crystal meth and alcohol.
PINK: What makes you really happy?
L J: Work, I love working, I am married to my career.
PINK: Out of all the roles you’ve done, which one means the most to you?
L J: It would probably be the part of Beverley Leslie on Will & Grace. When I won the Emmy, I received wonderful accolades for my work as an actor. This television show helped gay people. In my opinion, this is where the tide turned. People started watching Will & Grace all over the country. The character I played was probably the first openly gay person in many people’s living rooms, even though it was on TV. The people loved those characters. Through them, a lot of progress was made and the show ran for eight successful years. At the beginning, straight guys would always come up to me and say, “My wife watches that show or my girlfriend watches it, and you’re so funny.” By the end of the show, I would have these big straight guys come up to me and say, “You are so funny. I love that show. It’s such good writing.” And it was. Funny is funny. One time Rosie O’Donnell came to see my stand-up comedy act, and she said, “You should do the casinos. You’d make a lot of money.” I said, “The casinos,but my stuff is so gay.” She said, “Funny is Funny. That’s like saying my stuff is too black.”
PINK: So, what can we expect from you in the near future?
L J: I’ve got a great big movie opening in a couple of weeks called The Help. Mr. Steven Spielberg produced it with Chris Columbus, who did all the Harry Potter movies. It’s going to win every award known to man. It’s been testing higher than The Color Purple or Forest Gump.
PINK: What part do you play?
L J: Well, I have a tiny part. I play the editor of the hometown newspaper with a wonderful actress named Emma Stone. The Help will open August 10, 2011. I’ve been working all this week on a Disney kid’s show, which has been so much fun. It’s called Shake It Up and it takes place in Chicago. It’s a little dance troupe for kids. We did our taping last night and oh, the kids! I really didn’t want to do it, but it was good money and I had the time.
PINK: hat message would you give to the gay community?
L J: Okay, here’s the message. A big source of my shame is I was 42 years old before I ever voted. I was of that generation that said ‘who had time to vote?’ My generation marched in the streets and we accomplished a lot, but we learned that it has tc come from within. You have to work within the establishment, you have to vote. These kids have got to get up! There’s too much at stake for us not to vote. That’s my new platform for all the young gay people: You have to register; you have to be involved so that we can make the change so that you can vote for our rights and have a say. Otherwise, you can’t complain. If you want to sit around and complain about things, ask yourself, did you vote? We’ve got to make it happen, but we’ve got to make it happen within. You can march in the streets until the cows come home, but that may not change the system, but voting will. So vote for our gay existence!”
Leslie Jordan will appear at the Opening Ceremonies of the Gay Softball World Series. The ceremonies will be held at the Ball Room on Navy Pier Monday, August 29, 2011. So, come and see Mr. Jordan, and find out why I have crowned “her” as “The Queen of Comedy.”