Leslie Jordan in My Trip Down the Pink Carpet
(© Gustavo Monroy)
Leslie Jordan in My Trip Down the Pink Carpet
(© Gustavo Monroy)
The New York production of Leslie Jordan's acclaimed and often hilarious autobiographical solo show My Trip Down the Pink Carpet, now at the Midtown Theater on West 46th Street, has been a long journey in more ways than one. Since first debuting the show -- in which he freely talks about his Southern childhood, his failed romances, his battle with drug addiction and alcoholism, and his unusual experiences in Hollywood -- as a one-night benefit in April, 2008, Jordan has toured 45 cities. And he has learned a lot along the way.

"I've noticed there are two kinds of audiences for this show. There are the people who just want to be entertained and who have seen me on television and think I'm funny," says Jordan, who won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of the sharp-tongued Beverley Leslie on NBC's Will & Grace. "And there's the gay audience, who I think are especially sophisticated theatergoers, and who want to hear my story. It's a coming to terms with my life. I can honesty say I'm now 55 years old and I'm closer to my authentic self than I have ever been. I am finally perfectly happy with who I am and what I am."

Jordan is the first to admit that wasn't always the case, especially as a child growing up in conservative Tennessee. While he shares memories from that period in the show, he is careful to try to not offend his mother, who is still alive. (Indeed, he just recently bought her a new house.) "She's much more supportive of me than she once was, just as long as I don't bring her into the show too much," says Jordan. "After I did my show, Hysterical Blindness and Other Southern Tragedies Have Plagued My Life Thus Far, I discovered I had really hurt my mother's feelings. She said to me 'you know, son, this is your journey, but when you bring us into it, you have to remember we still live in this small Southern town.' So the only time she's prominently mentioned in this show is one telephone conversation we had that I just had to include. I did the show in my hometown not long ago and I kept it as clean as I could so as not to embarrass her, and she still thought it was filthy."

As Jordan recalls over our breakfast conversation, his mother was particularly upset some years back when a photo of him in drag -- specifically a Bob Mackie outfit he was wearing for an AIDS benefit -- made it into a national magazine. He mentioned the situation to someone he had recently met -- Carrie Fisher -- and soon Fisher's celebrated mother, Debbie Reynolds, was calling Jordan's mother with some friendly advice. "Debbie said to my mother, 'Peggy, just because your son was photographed in that outfit, that's no reflection of the way you raised him.'"

Over his now 30-year career, Jordan has had many encounters with A-list celebrities. In the show, he shares a less-than-flattering tale about working with Boy George on a television commercial, and relates an unusual conversation with Faye Dunaway about Tennessee Williams. Jordan also readily admits to having had crushes on many of his male co-stars -- including Mark Harmon, Robert Urich, and George Clooney -- and delights in telling stories about those experiences. "What's been interesting is that the more famous the person is, the less they seem to care if I talk about them," he says. "With George, you can say anything you want."

Naturally, he also provides some anecdotes from the Will & Grace set, and gives high praise to former co-star Megan Mullally. The two have remained good friends and are working on reprising their TV characters for a show called Karen: The Musical. "Megan is such a hard worker. As we say in the South, she's beautifully bred," he notes.

Leslie Jordan and Lily Tomlin
(© Tristan Fuge)
Leslie Jordan and Lily Tomlin
(© Tristan Fuge)
One person he doesn't talk about on stage, but who is instrumental to the show's success, is Lily Tomlin, who signed on to be a producer with her partner, Jane Wagner. "A couple of years ago, I worked with Lily on this television show for HBO called 12 Miles of Bad Road that never aired, even though we shot six episodes, and I sat down after it was over and wrote her a letter. It was truly the first love letter I ever wrote anyone, and I've been a compulsive writer and journal keeper my whole life," he notes. It said: 'Dear Lily, in my 50-odd years of life, I've never met one person that I thought this is who I'd like to mentor me until I met you.'"

Jordan says Tomlin hasn't given him any real notes on the show itself. "When I tried to pick her brain, she said it was a good show the first time I saw it, and it's a perfect show now." However, Tomlin did offer some very valuable advice while he was touring. "I was concerned with our expenses. I told Lily that we had to ship this set from city to city, and it was costing $1,600 every time, and she said, 'Honey, when you're on the road, they'll be just as happy with you up there in a turtleneck and a microphone just telling your story.' I told her, 'I'll leave the turtleneck to the lesbians,' but she turned out to be right. Of course, now that we're in New York, I have 55 sound and light cues to worry about."

As much as he loves doing his solo shows, Jordan truly enjoys playing other characters. "One of the main reasons I started writing these one-man shows was that this really evil casting director once said to me, 'you're peripheral and you'll always be peripheral. You'll come in with the zingers and have very little to do, so just accept that and take the money,'" he recalls. "And I thought if I can stand on a stage and keep people entertained for an hour and twenty minutes, maybe they'll realize I can carry a television show or a movie. So now I'm back up here on stage enjoying myself and hopefully giving people a good theater experience. But if someone should happen to come by and think, 'Wow, this guy is something else,' wouldn't that be something?"