There's a reason why the diminutive Emmy-winning character actor Leslie Jordan is bringing his one-man show My Trip Down the Pink Carpet to Memphis. The Chattanooga native has done his time in East Tennessee and under no circumstances was he about to take it to the state capital.
"They tossed me off the TV in Nashville," he drawls with all the righteous indignation of a jilted Sweet Potato Queen. "A few years ago I was in town doing a play called Southern Baptist Sissies with Delta Burke, and they tossed me off. They told me the title of the play offended them.
"I'd brought my Emmy with me too," a wounded, vengeful-turning Jordan gurgles. "I was back home — Tennessee boy who'd gone off to Hollywood and done good. And I'd brought my Emmy with me, and they said I couldn't go on because somebody thought the title of this play about four gay men who question their faith was offensive.
"My Trip Down the Pink Carpet was originally supposed to play in Nashville," Jordan concludes, "but I said I wasn't going to play in Nashville. I said, 'I want to go to Memphis.'"
Jordan's monologue is a frank and funny interpretation of the Will & Grace actor's like-titled autobiography, My Trip Down the Pink Carpet. It's a trashy and touching tour of an unusual life lived by a short man with a giant personality who couldn't keep a secret if he tried. It's about the actor's boyhood in Appalachia as the gay son of an army officer and getting out only to find addiction and desperation in L.A.
"My mother says that after all these years she still can't fathom the fascination I have with airing my dirty laundry," Jordan says with a laugh. "She says, 'Why can't you just whisper it to a therapist?'"
Flyer: You always felt uncomfortable in the South, but no matter where you've gone you've taken a thick slice of the South with you.
Leslie Jordan: In retrospect, I spent the first 25 years of my life desperate to get out. But I never really left home. I've lived in L.A. for 30 years and paid thousands in rent. I've never bought a place because I've always just been visiting.
You've always made the accent work for you.
When I first got to L.A., [casting director] Pam Sparks, who was a big ol' Texas gal, told me I had to lose my accent, especially for commercials. Well, that was the year of Clara Peller, the "Where's the Beef?" lady. Quirky was in. Now people rewrite parts for me.
Why wouldn't they? There's a lot of you in all the roles you play.
A few years ago I decided I was never going to be a Streep or a De Niro. But they're never going to play a character as interesting as me either.
Did you always know you wanted to be an actor?
When I was 27, I was exercising racehorses. I wanted to be a jockey, but I never really had the heart for it. I was a good rider, but to be a good jockey you've got to be a little crazy.
Were you always funny?
Oh, yes, I was always funny. That's how I kept the bullies away. That's how I kept from getting hurt when we were all playing dodgeball — you know, the game you played with that ball that was always the color of dried blood. And somebody would always yell, "Smear the queer!?!"
And I always loved attention. For me, it was like a drug. I had younger twin sisters, and I'd spit on the floor, turn cartwheels, and pull my peepee out if somebody was giving too much attention to the twins.
You manage to make jokes about your crystal-meth addiction. Is that hard or are your tragedies just that funny?
I used to get my pills from a doctor named O.D. Medina. That was his name. O.D. He had an enormous nurse who called me "Itty-Bitty." His nurse would say, "Okay, everybody with insomnia needs to come into this room over here." That was where you'd get your Quaaludes. Then she'd say, "Everybody who needs to lose a little weight, come in this room here," and that was where you'd get your crank. My problem was I always needed both.
My Trip Down the Pink Carpet plays the U of M's Rose Theatre on Wednesday, June 4th, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $40 and $50. Call 678-1735 for reservations. Leslie Jordan will also be at Davis-Kidd Booksellers for a booksigning that day at 4 p.m.