At 63, Leslie Jordan has a new TV show and is in-demand for personal appearances, like his upcoming gig for Legacy Counseling. We look inside his enduring career

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
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Leslie Jordan is having a moment.

“I don’t know if it gets any better,” he purrs in that distinctive Tennessee twang that oozes sweet tea. “Just all of this out of the blue.”

“All of this” is his starring role in a new sitcom, The Cool Kids, which debuts on Fox Sept. 28. But it’s also the bread-and-butter of his career lately: Crisscrossing the country doing his live one-man, gossipy show.

“I’m going all around the country doing my show — it’s up to 44 venues a year! It’s still what I love doing — performing in front of a live audience.”

His next live performance will be right here in Dallas on Sept. 22 for his annual appearance in support of Legacy Counseling Center. But for the moment, he’s busy on a TV soundstage… for the first time as a regular on a broadcast sitcom since 1993, when Hearts Afire went off the air.

It all started nearly a year ago when his agent sent word that there was a sitcom he might want to audition for.

“They said it was from the boys who did It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and I said, ‘Oh, they’re cuuutttte! I’d love for them to be my bosses!” Jordan laughs.

The Cool Kids started as a pilot, written by Charlie Day, about three old men in a retirement home.

“They told me I was going in  to read for a 73-year-old straight man from Brooklyn — but, honey, I’m none of the above! I said I’ve got to put a different spin on it.” Needless to say, he not only got the role, but the part was rewritten to suit his unique attributes.

The pilot was filmed over Thanksgiving last year, with Jordan and his co-stars, a triumvirate of some of the most celebrated comedic talents of the past 50 years — Vicky Lawrence (The Carol Burnett Show, Mama’s Family), Martin Mull (Clue, Roseanne) and David Alan Grier (In Living Color, The Carmichael Show). Remarkably, Jordan — while a fan of all their work — hadn’t performed with most of them before.

“Vicky was already attached when I was hired, I said, Oh wonderful! Two old show ponies,” Jordan says. “I had only met her one time, in the airport in Puerto Vallarta. Then I heard David Alan Grier was attached, and him I had never met. And oh! He’s the gayest straight man I’ve ever met. I keep saying ‘Do Antoine Meriweather for me! Do Antoine Meriweather for me,’” a reference to Grier’s hilariously flamboyant ILC film critic. “But he won’t do it! He says that’s in the past.”

Mull was Jordan’s lone link to a past job. “Martin and I had worked together on this movie years ago called Ski Patrol — it was supposed to be Police Academy on skis, but it never went anywhere.”

Jordan wasn’t sure The Cool Kids would go anywhere, either. Networks film far more pilots than they can ever put on the air; even with its pedigree, it could have disappeared into oblivion. And in a way, it had — after filming it in November, Jordan basically heard nothing about its status until last May. Then, while filming a show for Britain Sky channel in Malaga, Spain, he got a frantic phone call from his management.

“They said, ‘Fox is picking up the show and you need to fly to New York to be there for the up-fronts tomorrow’ [where they announce their season and trot out the casts and creatives for TV critics],” he says. “I told them I couldn’t — I was filming a show! They said well, you’re contractually obligated to be there, so they flew me from Spain to New York and right back the next day. It was exhausting.”

The sudden change in circumstance meant Jordan had to cancel some of his personal appearances … but he made it clear to the producers that the Legacy gig was not one of them.

“I had to cancel a lot of my shows — there was no way I could go to P’town in August. But I’ve done the show in Dallas for many years now, and it’s a charity, and I love that it’s at the Cathedral of Hope this time.

I’m just gonna have to do it.”

The Cool Kids has a 13 episode order, with an option for eight more if it’s a hit, something Jordan feels might happen, based on the response so far.

“I love the multi-cam format — you rehearse on the sound stage all week and you roll in an audience right there. We were getting Will & Grace laughs — I’ve been doing sitcoms for 30 years and I’m usually the funny guy brought in to do the zinger. But this is [sustained laughter]. Vicky and I will do a line and the audience will howl — we have to hold until the laughter dies down,” he says. “It is the biggest, broadest slapstick — I say it’s The Golden Girls on crack. We had an episode where they wanted me in drag — I said I knew it would happen, I just didn’t know it would happen on episode 2!”

As we talk, Jordan is on a brief hiatus from filming The Cool Kids — they film three episodes in three weeks, then get a week off. The next hiatus frees him up both for his Dallas performance and to film a guest spot on another TV: playing Beverly Leslie, the sassy socialite on Will & Grace that won Jordan an Emmy Award.

“We film The Cool Kids on Friday night, I fly into Dallas Saturday morning for Legacy, then back to Will & Grace on Monday,” he says. “I sometimes wish this had happened to me 20 years ago, but then I think no, I would have messed it up.”