Ma Vie En Rose

By Mike Diamond

Originally published on Advocate.com May 10 2008 12:00 AM ET

Whether he's
playing Karen Walker’s acid-tongued frenemy Beverley
Leslie on Will & Grace
or cross-dressing Brother Boy in the cult
film Sordid Lives, actor Leslie Jordan has made
a career out of playing screamingly homosexual
Southerners. In his one-man show My Trip Down the
Pink Carpet
, Jordan recounts his path to Hollywood
success, doling out dishy celebrity stories
and tales of the drug-fueled gay scene of the
1970s and detailing the dreams of a starstruck childhood
sissy in Chattanooga, Tenn. The one-night-only
performance kicked off for Gay Fest 2008, a theater
festival that raises money for New York City’s Harvey
Milk High School.

Describing
himself as "the gayest man on Earth," Jordan claims
that he "fell out of the womb and into my mama’s high
heels." Growing up gay in the Bible Belt in the '60s
and '70s, Jordan was closeted, but obviously a
poofter. "I open my mouth, and 50 yards of purple
chiffon comes out!" He was a huge fan of Tammy Wynette, whom
he calls, "the queen of the codependent anthem." The
audience howled with laughter as the diminutive,
foul-mouthed ball of energy shared memories of his
early encounters with phone sex, unrequited crushes,
and at the age of 17 his first visit to a gay bar, the Cross
Keys Lounge. He describes entering that bar (with two
big-wigged Southern-fried drag queens to guide him) as
the defining moment of his life -- everything is
either before or after that pivotal encounter.

Jordan was a huge
consumer of popular entertainment. Seeing the effete
Truman Capote on The Tonight Show With Johnny
Carson
and Paul Lynde on Hollywood Squares
provoked an interesting response: "I was fascinated
….and deeply repulsed." This internalized
homophobia would manifest itself in various ways over
the ensuing years, both in Jordan’s career and in his
personal life. While he was in his 20s, he lived in an
apartment without mirrors so that he'd avoid
accidentally catching his own nelly reflection staring
back at him.

In 1982, Jordan
arrived in Hollywood. He was already in his late
20s -- not the most opportune age for a 5-foot-4 man
whose walk has been described as "Bette Midler onstage
with a touch of Ruth Gordon." Jordan began to get
work as an actor, albeit largely in bit parts. Over
the years he has worked with some of showbiz’s
biggest names (he does a priceless bit involving Faye
Dunaway channeling Tennessee Williams) as well as some
stars on the rise (George Clooney was a lovable
jokester; Boy George, with whom Jordan did a Japanese sake
commercial was "a tad mean spirited…evil"). Whether
rhapsodizing about one-time costar Mark Harmon ("a
god!") or recounting buying panties for Beverly
D’Angelo in Drop, Texas ("about seven miles from
where Christ lost his shoes"), Jordan manages to infuse each
yarn with a potent mix of self-deprecation, arch
cattiness, and an unmistakable joy just to be in the
business of show (endearingly peppering his monologue
with "ya’ll" -- a country boy through and
through).

Pink Carpet goes back and forth between time
periods; each trip back to the très gay 1970s is
punctuated by classic disco music cues, from "Young
Hearts Run Free" to "Last Dance." Jordan does not shy
away from his history of rampant drug use and a love
affair with alcohol. These debauched stories are shared with
wicked glee -- and not without perspective. In 1997, he
stopped drinking and taking drugs and has been sober
ever since. Upon walking into the testosterone heavy
Men’s Recovery Group he had been advised to
join, he says his first thought was, I should have
left my murse in the car.
Eventually he learned to
face his fear of heterosexual men and in fact draws
strength from that challenging experience. Having won
the 2006 Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a
Comedy Series, Jordan has achieved a level of success to be
envied by many in the performing arts, straight or
gay. As he said to an audience member who was talking
during the show, "Shut your hole, honey --
mine’s making money."

After
Jordan’s encore, he was bestowed with the GayFest
Community Service Award, (the first such honor), and
it was presented onstage by acclaimed playwright
Terrence McNally (Love! Valour! Compassion!).
McNally praised the performer’s "generosity,
humanity, and honesty," to which Jordan jokingly replied,
"It’s the least they could do. I worked
for free tonight." A fine comic actor, a political
activist (Jordan is involved with the Trevor Project,
a suicide hotline GLBT youth) and one hell of an out and
proud gay man, Jordan is to be admired for his many
talents and depth of character. Indeed, big things do
come in small packages.

Leslie Jordan’s book My Trip Down the Pink
Carpet is being released by Simon & Schuster on
June 3rd, 2008.