F. Daniel Kent and Chattanooga-born actor Leslie Jordan recently chatted about Leslie’s life, and his new one-man show, "When You Swish Upon a Star."
O&AN: Del Shores has said that he is your biggest fan in the world. How did you first meet?
LJ: I was taking an improv class with a friend of mine from High School and she told me about this play that she had directed that she swore I would love called Cheatin’. So I saw it and I went back five times because it was the most hilarious thing I had ever seen. So then I heard that the show was going to go to Kansas City for a full Equity [the stage actors’ union] run. I was already in the Screen Actors Guild and had gotten into the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, but I had not gotten my stage union card yet. So, I just walked into the audition, and I said one line and Del fell off of the couch into the floor laughing. I thought he was crazy. He’s been my biggest fan ever since. I remember thinking, "He’s gay," but he had a girlfriend and eventually got married, and I was the best man at their wedding so I didn’t think much else about it. Then ten years into their marriage he just up and called me one day and he said, "I’ve got something I need to tell you but I can’t because you’ve got the biggest mouth in Hollywood ." You know: telephone, telegraph, tell Leslie Jordan. I didn’t know what he was talking about. I thought he had cancer or something. When he said he was gay, I said, "I gotta go!" and hung up on him. Now when we fight I always tell him, "I liked you better when you were straight! Ever since you became a fag it’s been downhill!"
O&AN: Tell me about the one-man show that you just started.
LJ: In 1993 I had a show called Hysterical Blindness and Other Southern Tragedies That Have Plagued My Life Thus Far that I did for almost two years. I produced it myself and I did it in LA. Then it ended up going to New York , and it ran Off-Broadway for seven months. It was just the toast of the town. But that was a play about growing up gay in the Baptist Church . I just wanted to tell stories. I’m a storyteller. And I had a director who decided that it might be great to act out the stories as opposed to telling the stories. She was from New York , and she didn’t understand the whole concept of us Southerners. You now, we just love to tell our stories. Anyway, what happened was, we put a full Baptist Choir behind me and they were the voices from my past. When I would tell a story they would act out and become the characters in the church.
O&AN: So how did this evolve into your current show?
LJ: It was wildly successful and it ran for seven months but a lot of people came up to me and said, "You know those stories are so much funnier when you just tell them. And so for years I’ve toyed with the idea of me on stage.a true one-man show. The L.A. Times called Hysterical Blindness the most overpopulated one-man show since Shirley McClain hit the Pantagea. The Pantagea is our big theatre out here. I was invited to San Francisco to an AIDS benefit, and they wanted me to do twenty minutes. I kept telling them, "y’know I’m not a stand-up." They wanted me to entertain for twenty minutes, so I just came up with a funny story about when I was a kid I was sent home from school with a note from the speech therapist that said I suffered from the sibilant "s." Y’know, which is like a dead giveaway for a fag. And so, I told this funny story about the sibilant "s" and I just kind of hissed and hissed and hissed and talked about being a ssssissssy in the ssssixtiessss and that became a story. And so from that Joe booked me into the Toronto Gay and Lesbian Comedy Festival.
O&AN: What is the name of the show and what is it about?
LJ: It’s called When You Swish Upon a Star, and it’s just sort of my journey. It begins with me saying, "I fell out of my mother’s womb, and I landed in her high heels, and I’ve been on the prance ever since." I just tell stories about coming to Hollywood and dealing with some homophobia early in my career. Each section I had these big placards that I put up on an easel as if it’s a presentation and one story is called "I’m Not Really a Bottom, I Just Play One On TV." I have a story called "Gypsies, Tramps and Queens " about when I went to Romania and fell in love with this Gypsy that stole all my money and left me by the side of the road. There’s a placard that says, "Is there more to life than bars, sex and brunch?" and it’s sort of [about] how you hit your fifties as a gay man and you’ve kinda done it all and you don’t have a partner and you begin to sorta look within. Y’know, it’s like a gay man’s search for God. It’s a wildly funny show, and it really came together in Provincetown . We broke all box office records. More importantly, I got a ten-minute standing ovation. Honey, those queens were just sobbing because it’s also about how at the end I realize that my dad would’ve been proud. He would’ve been proud of me.