BWW INTERVIEW: The Palm Springs Gay Men's Chorus Presents LESLIE JORDAN: SHOW PONY On 5/17 In Palm Springs Premiere
The Palm Springs Gay Men's Chorus (PSGMC) will present Gala 15 and the Palm Springs premiere of Emmy® Award winning actor/comedian/stage performer Leslie Jordan's new show titled "Show Pony" at The Hard Rock Hotel on Saturday, May 17 at 6:30p.m. ?Best known for his movie roles in "Sordid Lives," "Southern Baptist Sissies" and "The Help" as well as his sidesplitting TV role as Beverly Leslie on "Will And Grace," Mr. Jordan will tell the hilarious tale of how life was supposed to be after reaching one of the highlights in his career, winning the Emmy® in 2006, in his new one-man smash hit "Show Pony."? I had the chance to sit chat with the hilarious and engaging Mr. Jordan as he prepares for his Palm Springs Premiere - here are a few excerpts from that interview:
DG: You have been described by fans and in the media over the years with so many wonderful superlatives. How would you describe yourself?
LJ: Oh, gosh. What a wonderful question. Umm, I think, -- and, what I've been in search of all of my life and not even knowing it - is authentic. You know, you, ah ... I have seventeen years completely clean and sober and that is what most people that have had problems in the past with drugs and alcohol are in search of - an authentic self in which we can become comfortable in our own skin with who we are and, in our case, what we are. And, umm ... I would love for someone to say, Well, he's authentic". When you meet him or you see him here or you see him there or anything, it's always him. I try really hard - and I am, I'm closer to my authentic self - I was fifty-nine on Tuesday ...
LJ: And I just got off the phone with my Mom and I realized my Mom had me when she was nineteen. April 29. And then she turned twenty on June 19. So we've always been exactly twenty years apart. And I said, "Mom, listen - next year I'll be sixty and you'll be eighty and we're gonna do something really special." I said, "Maybe we'll go and get our faces lifted" (He laughs) But I'm gonna have to come up with something really special next year when I'm sixty and she's eighty. But, I would say authentic, in answer to your question.
DG: Do you remember the very first time you performed in front of an audience?
LJ: It would have to be ... in church we did a lot of stuff. I do remember a lot of stuff in church. "I'm a little teapot, short and stout". I was the handle and my friend Nina was the spout. That's the only person I'm still in touch with from my childhood, my friend Nina. I think the first time I realized, it was - I was in the sixth grade talent show, I had learned to play the ukelele and I sang (he sings) "When you're alone and life is making you lonely you can always go - Downtown!" Why I chose that I'll never know. Who was that? Petula Clark? (he laughs) Petula Clark!! Why they didn't suspect then, I'll never know. But, uh ... that was probably the first time. But then, you know, I got involved with horses. I grew up riding. From the time I was nineteen years old to the time I was twenty five I exercised race horses. I was watching the Derby the other day and I was thinking, my gawd, that was such a part of my world. I went all over the place - and so, I didn't think about performing. But, you know, I've always been funny --- but it was to keep the bully's at bay. I was always the class clown. I was always the funny one. I had a cousin who read my book ("My Trip Down The Pink Carpet") and he said "you talk about how you were teased. You weren't teased, you were the most popular boy in school". You know what, he's right. It was that internal fear that we had that any moment the axe was gone drop. So, I was funny, funny, funny, As funny as I could be. To keep the bully's at bay - what was the question? (He laughs)
DG: What was the first time you performed in front of audience - but we got that. What was your first professional role?
LJ: Gosh. I went - when I graduated, I went -- I did the jockey thing until I was about twenty seven years old and I realized that just wasn't gonna happen, and I went back to school and everybody told me " take that Intro. to Theatre class". I was at the University of Tennessee at Chatanooga - our little arm of the University of Tennessee - and everybody said, "take that Intro to Theatre Class, It's an easy "A". It will get your arts elective out of the way". We were doing improvisation that first day and it hit me like a drug. I went straight to the head of the theatre department and said, "this is what I want to do. (with a thick drawl) I wanna do the-ayter". And he said, "First of all you have to learn that's it's theatre, and not the-ayter". (he laughs) "I wanna be in the the-ayter". So my first professional job - all the professors sat me down and said basically the same thing. They said " Mr Jordan, you're capable of true artistry, you really are. But you're the laziest actor we've ever worked with. And you have been blessed with this amazing gift - you're short, you're funny and you've got that accent - and we just know you're gonna end up on some sitcom out on Los Angeles and no one will ever know". (he laughs) Well. Here we are. But, umm, they suggested that I go to New York and audition with the URTA auditions. It used to be a big deal. It's where you could get money for grad school, It's where you could audition for summer stock. But you had to do a Shakespearean monologue. And I had never really been out of Tennessee. I didn't know that I had an accent, really. And I did that monologue about that dog peeing on someone's leg from "Two Gentlemen of Verona", I can't remember. And I brought the house down. They were screaming with laughter, but they were laughing AT me,. They weren't laughing with me. And I didn't get any offers, except a man came up to me and said "I run a melodrama theatre in Oildale, California". And I said, "Where is that?" And he said, "It's Bakersfield. It's a suburb of L.A." (he laughs) Well, it's not suburb of L.A. And he offered me my first job. We were out in Oildale, California with all the oil workers. We served hot dogs and beer and I was making a hundred and sixty five dollars a week. And I thought I had died and gone to heaven, I didn't think it could possibly get any better. Now, my first professional job in Hollywood was the commercials for Aunt Jemima light syrup. They did a nationwide search. They wanted Barney and Fred kind of people eating pancakes. Dreaming about pancakes. That was my first professional job. And then my first professional scripted job was "The Fall Guy". Remember the "Fall Guy" with Lee Majors? And then my break, if there is such a thing, was Murphy Brown. I did one episode of the pilot season and I was this hapless secretary she had hired. And then they kept that bit running for ten years. But, I was the very first one.
DG: Tell me about "Show Pony"
LJ: "Show Pony" is a ... in 2006 I signed with a marketing firm out of Palm Springs called Reaction Marketing - and they're right above Sherman's Deli - but people don't realize they're HUGE - they're clients are Warner Brothers and the CMA Awards - which I thought were the Crystal Meth Anonymous Awards. (he laughs) It's Country Music Awards. And on the side, they handle acts. All over the country they have venues in which they're responsible for bringing the people in. And so they get me about forty-four venues a year. And, umm, we have two shows we trot out. One is my one-man show which is called "Fruit Fly" which doesn't travel well because it has like fifty-five sound and light cues - so when you land somewhere, then I can do that, if I'm gonna be there a week or so. But if I have a "one-off" we trot out a show I call "Show Pony" which sorta changes with whatever I'm currently doing, you know. "Show Pony" right now is stories about - it's just me on a mic - we haven't had a complaint yet. What's fun is that I have no --- I'm sorta like a musician who's putting together a set list. Like, this is Palm Springs - they love "Sordid Lives" so I'll toss in a Brother Boy story --- but mostly I keep it current, so I'll throw in stories about "American Horror Story" and stories about "The Help". I have some wonderful stories shooting that. I have -- I did "RuPaul's Drag Race" and I have some hilarious stories about that. You know, current kinds of things. But it's basically - "Show Pony" is just me and a mic. And that's what I love. I'm so spoiled now. My manager and I wrestle with this all the time - he's gets me jobs where I'm an actor for hire. And I have to tell you the honest God's truth, Even on a show as big as American Horror Story, when I'm an actor for hire it's not as satisfying as when I'm out on the road performing. To be able to do things that I have a say in - that I have control over.
DG: With everything you've accomplished, do you have a proudest career achievement, so far?
LJ: Probably the Emmy, I would say, for "Will And Grace". Cause that just fell in my lap, it was so --- you know, my manager called and said you've been nominated for an Emmy. And I said, "for what?" He said, "Best guest actor in a comedy for Will and Grace". And I said, "I'm not guest actor. I've been on the show for eight years. I'm recurring". Only I could come up with ... he said , "Leslie, calm down. If you do less than five episodes in one year you're considered a guest actor. No matter how many times you've been on the show in the past. And you only did four. And they nominated you". I was up against Ben Stiller and Martin Sheen and Patrick Stewart and Alec Baldwin. And I thought, "I'm the dark horse". And I won. It was just so - and, what happened was I thought "well, I've won an Emmy and I've been at this for twenty years. I'm gonna sit back and wait for it to come to me". Well, I'm still sitting. That was 2006. I have to work harder than ever. You reinvent yourself. It's exhausting. The old gray mare, she ain't what she used to be. (he laughs)
DG: What's something surprising about you that no one know by looking at your resume?
LJ: People are really surprised when they meet me that "I'm a recluse. People think I'm very gregarious and outgoing --- and I am - I'm thinking about writing a book about it called "The Gregarious Recluse". How the more that you put me out there in front of audiences, the more that when I have down time I have to disappear. What I say is when six o'clock rolls around the curtain goes down. I don't go out at night. I read constantly, I discovered television. I don't like anything scripted. I like these murder programs like "The First Forty Eight" where they follow the - but it's gotta be the reel thing. It can't even be the reenactments where they hire actors. I gotta see the body. I gotta see the real thing. (he laughs) And I have created this little bubble in my apartment in L.A. That's where people are surprised. They see me out every night - the life of the party. I haven't been to party in, gawd, seventeen years. If you put two people in front of me I moan. I really am reclusive - kind of scarily. Like "cat lady" reclusive.
DG: What kind of advice would you give to young people who are interested in pursuing a career in professional theatre?
LJ: First of all, I'd have them look up two words. Vocation and avocation. If you want to have a career in theatre or the entertainment industry - TV and film - its not going to be your vocation for a while - you have to have a way in which you bring money in - and you do the rest of it as your avocation, what comes from your heart.
DG: How do you want to be remembered on your tombstone?
LJ: I think, "He made a difference." My friend Del Shores will send me things from some kid in the middle of nowhere, you know, who will say I saw Leslie Jordan in Southern Baptist Sissies and it changed my life - and I think, you know what, maybe what we do is valid. You know, sometimes I think "Please Mary - we put on make-up and we pretend", you know. We're not saving babies here. But we are, in many ways. What we do does matter. And to be able to make a difference - that's how I'd like to be remembered. He made a difference. He was here for a while and it was different when he left. Does that make sense?
Perfect sense!! Leslie Jordan's "Show Pony" is the centerpiece of a one-night-only event on May 17 at 6:30 pm at The Hard Rock Hotel, Palm Springs. For more information on how to support the Palm Springs Gay Men's Chorus or to purchase tickets for Gala 15, visit www.PSGMC.com.