Gay comedy icon Leslie Jordan descends on Dallas for a week of appearances. But first he has some explaining to do to one local writer
I have a bone to pick with Leslie Jordan.
Professional writers usually get paid for their ideas, or at least acknowledged for them. Not me. And Jordan is to blame.
Nearly two years ago, when I spoke with Jordan on the morning after his Emmy win for "Will & Grace," I fed him a line:
"Where is the Emmy now?" I asked.
"It hasn’t left my side," he replied. "I took it to bed with me last night."
"I’m guessing Emmy is the first woman you’ve ever slept with," I quipped. Jordan squealed; a real knee-slapper, he said. (And, he added, the answer was "yes.")
Imagine my surprise when a week later, while Jordan was presenting an award at the primetime Emmy ceremony, he used that very joke in his banter. I beamed with pride, but the when we talked a few weeks later, I brought it up.
"Was that you?" he exclaimed with genuine relief. "I couldn’t remember where I got it. I’m gonna name my book after that line, and you’ll get credit."
So when an advance copy of Jordan’s memoir — now called "My Trip Down the Pink Carpet" (Simon & Schuster, $21.95) — crossed my desk, I did what anyone would naturally do when handed galley proofs of a book by someone he knows: I looked for my name.
But right there, plain as day on page 6, is the line. The whole book, in fact, is built around it. So we begin our next interview as we have to:
"Leslie, you stole my line and didn’t even give me an acknowledgement," I say.
"I know!" he screams. "And the whole book is based on you and your idea! I got so much mileage out of that at the Emmys. A line stealer — I am the worst. Del Shores used to nab me on it all the time. He’d tell me a funny story then I would retell it as if it happened to me. Put that in the article — make sure everyone knows you’re responsible."
You might expect me to be bitter. But holding a grudge against Leslie Jordan is pointless. Hid giddy enthusiasm for life is infectious. He may be a thief, but that doesn’t make him dishonest. Indeed, he’s the living embodiment of the adage that one should never let facts stand in the way of a good story.
And Jordan is an expert when it comes to telling a good story.
Anyone familiar with the diminutive actor’s confessional one-man shows — "Lost in the Pershing Point Hotel" and "Like a Dog on Linoleum" —has seen this skill in action. Jordan’s coyly disarming, high-pitched Southern drawl makes him sound as harmless as kitten… and then out of his mouth spew raw and randy comments that would embarrass the Marquis de Sade.
His affection for rent-boys. His obsession with "peter-peeking" (checking out celebrities’ genital endowments). His drug and alcohol abuse, which landed him, at one point, in the same cell as Robert Downey Jr. (He’s been in recovery for a decade.) And most of them are in his new book.
"The legal department at Simon & Schuster was just aghast," he says of the racy stories, including dishy bits about his celebrity crushes on Billy Bob Thornton, Dean Cain and Mark Harmon. "They went over this thing with a fine-toothed comb. But the more famous they are, the less careful you have to be."
Jordan will retell plenty of those tales at the Majestic Theatre on Wednesday, when his new one-man show, also called "My Trip Down the Pink Carpet," opens.
Jordan is a mischief-maker at heart — sometimes self-destructively. He owns up to his failings, obsessions and vices freely, but also champions his sense of daring. Like the time he and 30 friends crashed a church that preaches gay-reparative treatment.
"We heard Tammye Faye Bakker was preaching and [gospel legend] Dotty Rambo was singing; for us being Southerners, that’s like the pope and God being on the same bill," he says. The fact it was in a gay-hating venue hardly mattered. "The preacher was ‘cured,’ but a total sissy — the nelliest guy I’ve ever seen in my life." They had a ball anyway.
But at the heart of his book and his show is the journey from closeted Chattanooga bumpkin to TV star — what he calls the story of "how this man who stepped off the bus in 1982 with internalized homophobia came to be standing up in front of all those people at the Emmys with no hesitation about coming out."
That he now gets to tell the story on a nationwide tour almost happened by accident.
"You cannot tell publishing houses for anything," he gripes. "All they were going to do was four signings at Barnes & Noble — four! My manager Billy Miller and I said, ‘We’ll come up with a play’ [to go along with the book]. We were expecting to book maybe 12 cities; they came up with 30. I’m on a rock-star tour bus for three months!"
Although he calls Dallas the launching pad of the tour, Jordan will have performed it a few times before then. "I didn’t want to walk onto the stage of the Majestic Theater unprepared. I did a version last week in Palm Springs — I was the keynote speaker at the big recovery convention. I can get up in Palm Springs and fart and they love me. But I’m really proud of this show. We put together a good sense for what the book is about without giving the book away. I think it’s my best show yet."
Part of what makes it good, no doubt, is that it’s all Leslie. He wrote the book in what he calls a "brain dump" — six months of constant writing, during a hiatus between TV series. His editor used her red pen ruthlessly, pruning stories and bolstering the dishy aspects.
"She let me go more mainstream, to keep it from languishing on the shelves of gay bookstores," he says. "Now I think writing might be my future."
His future, perhaps, but not his past, which as he tells it is more colorful than most fiction. "I have never been asked to play a character I felt was more interesting than me in real life," he writes, and you sense it’s true.
At least, it’s as true as anything else he says; you can never be completely sure. You just know whatever it is, it’ll make you laugh.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 23, 2008.