Any Will & Grace fan will instantly recognize the voice and hilarity that is Beverley Leslie, Karen Walker’s arch nemesis. His one-liners, punchy dialogue, and his covert yet lascivious relationship with his business associate Benjie elevate the Emmy award-winning sitcom that was brought back to television after the 2016 elections. But the journey to Beverley Leslie was not an easy one for actor Leslie Jordan. His is a career that began after stepping off a bus in Hollywood in 1982 with nothing but money sewn into his underwear and hopes to make it big in entertainment. The funny man, who hails from Chattanooga, Tennessee can immediately be recognized for the characteristic Southern accent that comes out of his cute 4’11” body. But don’t be fooled by Jordan, because at the age of 64, this little man packs a punch, is an Emmy winner, and should be regarded as one of the hardest working men in Hollywood.
Jordan has a long list of projects that also includes Sordid Lives, American Horror Story, The Help, Celebrity Big Brother UK, and as well numerous stage plays like Stories I Can’t Tell Mama and Fruit Fly. This HBO special My Trip Down the Pink Carpet is also the premise for his autobiography of the same name where he shares a very personal look into his life as a gay actor.
Now, Leslie Jordan is highlighting his career that spans over 25 years as he stars in FOX’s new show The Cool Kids, where he is part of an ensemble cast that includes big names like Vicki Lawrence, David Alan Grier, and Martin Mull. His character, Sid, is a golden gay who gets into some crazy antics along with the rest of the characters who all live in a retirement community in Arizona. But these seniors are breaking down stereotypes as each episode shows just how lively they are. Jordan’s contributions to the show are unparalleled because even with a standout cast like The Cool Kids, Jordan empowers the LGBTQ community with his affirming character and hysterical presence.
Along with being busy as Sid on The Cool Kids, Jordan is working hard 'round the clock to bring his one-man show EXPOSED to more audiences. Having toured with his shows for over 10-15 years, Jordan has essentially laid it all out on the stage for everyone to see, but this time it’s the best of the best and he exposes it ALL, holding nothing back. Hence the title of the show.
In EXPOSED, Leslie Jordan gives audiences the honest, unadulterated humor that they rarely get to see from other comedians. And being that the LGBTQ community has so few notable comedians, Jordan makes it a point to make his show every bit entertaining, yet purposeful in the narratives he shares. EXPOSED is a hilarious look into Leslie Jordan’s life as a gay actor in Hollywood who has put in the work and wants the world to experience his fabulousness.
In talking with Mr. Jordan, I learned much about his pride for being a gay man and how his identity is the secret ingredient for his very deserving success. In preparation to watch EXPOSED, I had an opportunity to speak with Leslie Jordan where he shared the ups and downs of showbiz as well as how the one character that put him on the map, Beverley Leslie, could have ruined his career had he not pulled up his boot strapped and taken himself out on the road.
The Cool Kids is a great new show, how did you get involved with the project?
My agent called and told me that there was something really fun that was happening over at 20th Century Fox. It’s the boys who wrote It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. And I thought “Oh, they’re so cute! I want them to be my boss!” My part, Sid, was written originally for a 73-year-old, straight, Jewish man from Brooklyn. So I walked into the audition and said “I’m gonna put a different spin on this.” At that point Vicki Lawrence was attached. You know, people think that in this day and age we’re just offered things—we audition. Even at the level I’m at. There’s so much content out there and so many of the younger people don’t know who we are so we all auditioned. David Alan Grier, Martin Mull—we all auditioned. David auditioned for the part that Martin ended up playing and Martin auditioned for the part that David ended up getting. So we shot a pilot last Thanksgiving because Charlie Day had to go back on It’s Always Sunny. And we’re doing really well. We’ve been picked up for a full season, 22 episodes, and people are really enjoying it!
In The Cool Kids you tend to be the most comic relief out of the group of great actors, is this something that was intended?
Well, I don’t know. I think I have the flashier part. I think they’re afraid I’m gonna burst into flames. It wasn’t planned that way but I do think that sometimes I come in for that funny part. But you know, we’re really going in a different direction where it’s not just slapstick and capers. The last few episodes have really been about us and our past, it’s incredibly funny, but we’re all getting our moment to shine.
Why is this a narrative that needs to be told?
When people talk about old people they think “OLD people”, but my generation went to Woodstock! We were the Rock N’ Roll generation so it’s not like your grandparents ‘old’ people. On the show we end up smoking a lot of pot. What I love about the series personally is that you got an aging gay guy, you got an aging African American, you got an aging straight white Republican hippie filled with conspiracy theories, and then you got a woman of a certain age. It’s about friendship and people getting older, it’s also the way we define family and we’re a family on that show.
How has your guest role as Beverley Leslie on Will and Grace changed the course of your career?
Well, I won an Emmy which I THOUGHT would change the trajectory of my career and it did in ways I didn’t think it would. People think I did a lot more episodes than I actually did. They did 500 episodes, I only did 12. When I won the Emmy I thought to myself “Well, I’m gonna kick back. I’ve been doing this for 25 years now. I’m gonna let things come to me now.” And nothing. It was the strangest thing to be sitting here with an Emmy and not working. So I went to this marketing firm out in Palm Springs and I said “I want you to sell me to the gay community. I’ll do parades, I’ll do a stand-up show, I’ll do one man comedy. I’ll do whatever I need to do, I’ll go on cruises to earn a living.” And last year I did 44 venues. But winning that Emmy and not getting work is what got me back out on the road. So this job [The Cool Kids] is my first job where I’m a series regular in 25 years. And I’ve done well, but I’m a career girl now. I get up, I go to work, I come home, I lay my outfits out for the next day. This has never been my career.
And why do you think the phone wasn’t ringing off the hook for you?
For 33 years I had been the funny guy that came in with a zinger. You’ve seen me on Will & Grace, I don’t have anything to do with the story. I just come in with “Well well well, Karen Walker!” and BAM I’m gone! And that’s been my job on most of my shows. So when you have an Emmy, producers are not going to pay extra for an actor to just come in do these one-liners. I hit a dry spell. But then I look back and if I had not hit that dry spell I would not be on the road right now. Now I do really well, I go all over the world.
Was the role written with you in mind?
The part of Beverley Leslie was originally written for Joan Collins. That is a true story. The point was for her to steal Rosario the maid away from Megan Mullally’s character and then they would have a big Dynasty cat fight. But then Ms. Collins couldn’t do it so they just changed the character and I went out and auditioned. People think it was written for me because ‘Leslie Jordan’ and ‘Beverley Leslie’, but nope, Ms. Joan Collins was Beverley Leslie.
How much of what Beverley Leslie says is written and how much is improvised?
People think that we get to improvise a lot of Will & Grace, but I learned early in my career that film is a director’s medium, stage is an actor’s medium, T.V. is a writer’s medium. You are not allowed to improvise. In the rehearsal part, yes, you can certainly go to the writers and tell them what you think will be funny, but with Beverley Leslie I don’t think I’ve ever improvised. One time, I got in a little bit of trouble for it. It was the Jennifer Lopez episode. Jack was offering Rosario a shrimp and I was supposed to just cross through and he said “Shrimp!” and I said “Queer!”. The audience just went crazy. They came over and said “You can keep that in, but let’s don’t make that a habit.”
For those who haven’t seen your show “Exposed”, what might they expect?
It’s me telling stories, it’s what I’m good at. I’m a raconteur from the time I was little. My mother use to caution me that there’s a difference between flat out lying and telling stories. It tells the story of this kid who stepped off the bus in 1982 with $1,200 pinned to his underpants and his dreams and his life of being a gay actor. It’s a one person show and I have been doing it off and on for 10 to 15 years. I’ve done it on the West End in London, I’ve done it Off Broadway, Lily Tomlin produced it for a while. It’s 75 minutes of the very best of all my shows over the years. It’s filthy. I always tell myself I’m not gonna be dirty, but who am I kidding? My mother saw it one time a million years ago and she said, “You weren’t raised to talk like that.” So I don’t let her come anymore. And I change it wherever I am. Let’s say I’m in a gay bar at night—Oh, honey!
How is “Exposed” different from your other comedy productions?
It’s me. I wrote it. It’s about me. Exposed is probably the closest to telling the true story of me. In recovery we’re always taught to share—put your hand up and tell your experiences—but I finally went to my spiritual advisor and said I don’t even know what the truth is anymore! It’s almost like a musician with a set list. I have so many stories—Sordid Lives, Will & Grace stories, winning the Emmy—and it ends on a really cute poignant level, but it’s a story of a gay man in Hollywood. And this is not just MY story, it’s OUR story.
I know you have participated in readings for Stan Zimmerman’s ‘Silver Foxes’ pilot. Is this a project you would be on board with if greenlit for production?
Absolutely! They’ve been touting ‘Silver Foxes’ as the gay Golden Girls and we did readings for it. The story of ‘Silver Foxes’ is how difficult it is to get a show into production these days. I mean, come on, you’ve got Stan Zimmerman! He wrote every sitcom known to man. You think everyone would be throwing their doors open to come in. But it’s almost like the bigger the industry gets with all these different venues you’d think there’d be a hundred different ways in, and there’s not. I just don’t think they’ve been able to find a home for it yet. I’m not at a level where I can shepherd a show. I don’t know where it stands right now, but I would certainly be on board for it. I truly wish it the best.
The Cool Kids airs Fridays on FOX or catch it on Hulu if you want to binge!
And if you haven’t seen EXPOSED, find out when Leslie Jordan will be in a city near you and go watch it! You won’t regret it. For more information on the Southern Belle with a potty mouth, visit www.thelesliejordan.com