My Trip Down the Pink Carpet
Mon. July 14, 8 p.m.
Charleston Music Hall
37 John St.
Leslie Jordan has made a long career playing short, eccentric, effeminate southerners, characters so popular that fans often fail to distinguish Jordan from, say, the Tammy Wynette-loving drag queen, Brother Boy, featured in the campy stage creation Sordid Lives.
Fans often request, and continue to request, unheedingly, Brother Boy's timeless one-liner.
"Can you see my pussy now?"
Even more often, in a crowded gay bar, Jordan will get another line yelled at him from across the room: "Well, well, well. If it isn't Karen Walker. I thought I smelled gin and regret."
"It's funny," he says. "The first time."
Jordan will bring stories about Brother Boy, classic roles, and funny anecdotes to the Charleston Music Hall on Mon., July 14 for My Trip Down the Pink Carpet, a follow-up tour of his new book by the same name.
That line comes from the role Jordan is most famous for, that of the well-off homophobic gay troll Beverly Leslie, the hilarious nemesis for booze-hound socialite Karen Walker on Will & Grace. After a guest spot in the show's third season, Jordan reprised the role nearly a dozen times, including the show's series finale.
The role, which won Jordan the Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in 2006, was actually written for Joan Collins. But her handlers balked at the pivotal scene in the script that called for a Dynasty-style cat fight between Karen Walker and Beverly Leslie that ended with them pulling each other's wigs off. And so the part was reimagined.
"The script called for a tiny, white man in a white suit with a southern accent," Jordan says. "I came parading in the door (in a white suit he'd gotten from John Ritter during a role on the '90s sitcom Hearts Afire) and they didn't even audition me, they just said, 'You're it.'"
Jordan says it was an honor to work on Will & Grace, and noted the show broke many barriers in introducing gays to America.
"I've always thought that there's two ways to combat homophobia," he says. "One is through humor — I learned that during dodgeball in junior high. I'd be funny so they wouldn't hit me. But another way is to put a face on it. America let these characters into their homes and we laughed and we loved and progress was made."
Friends had prodded Jordan for years to write down his dodgeball exploits and other dinner party stories, but it wasn't until he had the Emmy under his arm that Jordan thought it might be worth it to hear his history.
"It has been quite a journey since 1982, when I stepped off the bus in downtown Hollywood with $1,200 sewed into my underpants," he says.
Some of Jordan's funniest stories come from his experiences as an effeminate boy growing up in Chattanooga, Tenn.
"My dad was a lieutenant colonel in the Army, and I wasn't exactly the son he envisioned," Jordan says. "He'd come home and I'd be in the front yard twirling a baton. I'd tell him that mom wouldn't let me twirl it inside and he'd say, 'Son, I'll pay for whatever you break.'"
Aspiring actors might take a few cues from Jordan during his visit. The Footlight Players will perform the stage version of Sordid Lives in the spring. Jordan originated the role of Brother Boy, the drag queen who fights off the advances of a female therapist trying to "de-homosexualize" him. The original stage production ran 18 months and spawned a film version in 2000 after Olivia Newton-John saw it and asked to play a role if there was an adaptation.
A new television show will premiere later this month on Logo, the gay cable network. It'll serve as a prequel to the film, starting with the death of Tammy Wynette and working its way to where the movie starts. Jordan says it wasn't hard to return to the role, but it was hard to fit in the costumes. "We shot the movie eight years ago," he says. "I was really thin. I wish you'd seen us trying to get my fat ass into that orange jumpsuit."
Charleston will be one of the last shows for the Pink Carpet tour, and Jordan says he's looking forward to playing in the seminal southern town.
"On a stage in Boston, I'll say 'I've been baptized 14 times.' Dead silence. 'It never did take.' Dead silence," he says. "It takes southerners to love it."