Honey… Leslie Jordan has conquered it all. Since arriving in Los Angeles in 1982 with just $1400 to try and make it in the entertainment industry, the legendary comedian has made hundreds of appearances across television, film and theatre – “Go to IMDB, I’ve done 386 parts, Mary!” he says – and even won a Primetime Emmy Award for his efforts as “hateful little queen” Beverley Leslie in Will & Grace. To the younger generation, however, Leslie is probably most associated with his various roles on American Horror Story, his new Fox comedy series Call Me Kat or his work on – you know what we’re gonna say now, don’t cha? – Instagram!
Since the rise of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Leslie has been inducted into social media’s hall of fame as the official “quarantine comedian” thanks to his viral commentaries on lockdown, stories about his career in Hollywood and reactions to pop culture moments such as Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s WAP; all of which showcase his loving and endearing Southern charm. In just over a year, the star’s Instagram following has catapulted to almost six million followers, leading to a book of essays titled How Y’all Doing: Misadventures and Mischief from a Life Well Lived, as well as the gospel-inspired album Company’s Comin’ released via Platoon. For our latest instalment of 15 Minutes with an Icon, we chat with Leslie Jordan about his illustrious career and newfound status as an Instagram star.
Hi Leslie! I wanted to kick off this interview by asking if you’ve memorised the words to WAP yet?
[Laughs] That shocked me so much! I know people thought we set that up, we didn’t. It’s a genuine reaction. Wet ass pussy!
Thank you for providing us all with such incredible entertainment in lockdown. How does it feel to be the official quarantine comedian?
I certainly didn’t set out for that title. I look back and I was a marketing genius and I didn’t even know it. I knew to stay away from politics, religion and not sell anybody anything. I’m rethinking that part now that I’ve got nearly six million followers – there’s cash to be made! At the beginning of the pandemic, I was in Tennessee and I didn’t even know the word “content”. Now I’ll wake up and think, ‘Oh gosh, I better come up with some content! I haven’t posted in three days….’ Back then, I just yacked. I think the reason people responded is because I was the one saying, ‘What are we gonna do?! This is awful! Oh my gosh! I’m so bored! What are ya’ll doing?’ I voiced what people felt and I was having fun! I started being silly. I cut my hair one time. Now, here we are! The one thing I’m realising is… When the time comes to negotiate contracts for new jobs, honey, don’t think the six million followers isn’t brought up for more cash! Now they’re saying, ‘Look, we’re bringing six million people to the table. That’s what we’re bringing.’ So, that’s the fun part. My management is enjoying that!
How are you coping with these six million followers?
Originally, when I was on The Cool Kids, which was two or three years ago, the publicity girls found out that I didn’t have Instagram and they were aghast. It was like I committed some horrible sin! They said, ‘As an actor, honey, you have to.’ They signed me up and the first week I got 20,000 followers. I thought, ‘That many people wanna hear what I have to say?’ I couldn’t believe. Then Megan Mullally from Will & Grace reposted something of mine and I jumped to 80,000! I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’m gonna shit and just fall back – 80,000 people?’ Then it stayed there for a really long time and then a friend called me. I was in Tennessee and he said, ‘Girl, you have gone viral.’ I said, ‘No no no, I don’t have COVID honey.’ He said, ‘No honey! You have gone viral on the internet. You’ve got like, a million followers!’ I said, ‘Shut up! Shut up!’ I’m close to six million now and that just amazes me! Who are they? Picture that lonely little girl in Saudi Arabia listening to what I have to say. Who on earth would stop their day to listen to me? The best thing that came out of it was this book. They came to me and said, ‘We want you to write a book. We want you to call it How Ya’ll Doing? and we want you to tell stories.’ They handed me a sack of money and said, ‘Go!’ Wonderful things are happening.
You’ve conquered television, film and Broadway. Did you ever expect ‘social media star’ to make its way onto your CV as well?
No! That was never part of it. I came to Hollywood and I got a degree from University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, a subsidiary of the big university at Tennessee. It’s been around for many years and they work with Appalachian kids and they do all kinds of innovative theatre. Honey, this was a tiny little theatre department. I came to LA with $1400. It was 1982. All I really wanted to do was get on television. I had a whole list and nowhere on that list was… I’ve become an Instagram star and released a gospel album and book in the same year! Bam! But, I have achieved everything on that list. It’s funny because I always had a little bit of fame from Will & Grace. I go down the street and they say, ‘Hey! That little man!’ I’ve never had name recognition. Now I drive down the street, honey, and they scream. It’s always young high school girls screaming, ‘It’s him! It’s him!’ Well shit.
Instead of being associated with your various iconic roles, you’re now just associated with Leslie Jordan, the person. How does that feel?
It’s crazy and I like it. People have known me from Will & Grace where I was hateful. I’ve always played that hateful little queen or a snarky something, and I don’t think people really knew me. I talk to so many of those six million people who have discovered me on the internet and I say, ‘Well you saw me on TV?’ and they’d go, ‘Nuh uh. Never laid eyes on you.’ I go, ‘Go to IMDB, I’ve done 386 parts, Mary!’ You’re looking at a 40-year career. For them to discover me, like you said, as Leslie Jordan and love that, there’s something very endearing about that. But I also want to watch my P’s and Q’s, do you know what I mean? I don’t want to act out. I used to go out to West Hollywood to get drunk and cause a scene. I’m 22-years sober now. I’ve also been known to lose my temper with cashiers. I’d go, ‘HONEY!’ I don’t want that anymore. I want, when I’m in public, to be seen as a genuine nice guy. There’s a price to pay. I can’t pitch fits anymore!
Have you learnt much internet slang? If so, what’s your favourite?
I don’t know a single one! What was that one the other day that I had to ask…
What about “stan”? Has anyone told you they “stan” you yet?
No, what is that? Tell me. Educate me!
It originates from Eminem’s song of the same name. If someone “stans” you, they’re a major fan.
Oh that’s good! “Woke” is one of the first I heard. You gotta be woke, honey. That’s a good one. As we do, we need to be woke.
What other words? Tell me Leslie!
Lizzo uses a lot of things, doesn’t she? Lizzobeeating. That’s her thing! Lizzobeeating. That’s her whole name I think, Lizzo be eating.
You said that fans usually recognise you from Will & Grace. Would you say Beverley is the role you’re most associated with?
That or Sordid Lives, which is a tiny movie I did where I played a man in a mental hospital who thought he was Tammy Wynette, a country singer. I would get dressed up in drag and this very mean security guard would holler after me, ‘Hey fag, I see your pussy!’ At the very end of the movie, I escape, take my shoe off, hit him in the head and say, ‘Can you see my pussy now?’ It became a huge cult hit in the United States, but I was in London at the time. This taxi cab started following me across Piccadilly Square or somewhere and I thought, ‘I don’t need a cab.’ Well, the cab pulled out and this old guy goes, ‘CAN YOU SEE MY PUSSY NOW?!’
The first thing I ever saw you in was Jason Goes to Hell…
The Final Friday! I played Shelby the fry cook. I had my head fried off. It was very low budget, so they used root beer. They were very innovative to make it look like bubbling French fries. They took root beer and put it in an aquarium pump and made it bubble. That’s when Jason grabbed me and fried my face! I had to go down into the root beer seven times!
Was there not a stunt double?
Oh no honey! I have never had a stunt double. I do low budget! It’s me. I have never had a stunt double.
You’ve been put in some fabulous costumes throughout your career, so have you ever thought about what your drag persona would look like?
When I was about 17 or 18, I would sneak into the drag bars. I had a character named ‘Baby Wipes’ and she was a hippie with a fringe top, embroidered bell bottoms and go-go boots. I would do songs like, “I might’ve been born just plain white trash but Fancy was my name…” The other one I’d bring the house down with was, “And now you tell me Billie Joe has jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge…” We would end the show with Shirley Bassey’s This Is My Life, and the queens would remove their makeup, “This is my life, I don’t give a damn for lost emotions…” By the end, you were out of drag and yelling at the audience saying, ‘I don’t give a damn! This is me!’ You’re too young for it, honey! RuPaul actually hired me yesterday to do a big extravaganza in June! I don’t know what it is, but I know it’s in June… Judging, probably! I will not be in drag.
You’ve not appeared on Drag Race since season five with the iconic RuPaul Roast…
I insulted one of the queens accidentally, so they didn’t have me back… There was a queen who fell on the floor and said she had been left at a bus stop when she was five-years-old in Mexico. She was crying and I leaned over to Michelle Visage and said, ‘Nobody left that bitch at the bus stop. She is buying time!’ They didn’t think that was very nice. You’re not supposed to be mean to the queens. You can be cheeky, but not mean.
So, not only have you been in the presence of some icons in your career, such as RuPaul (and Roxxxy Andrews), but Lady Gaga too! I read in one of your previous interviews that she rode on you and howled at the moon whilst filming Roanoke?
[Laughs] Yes! The scene was written so that I would be walking through the woods with a prayer card. I never know what’s going on. It’s just bullshit, bullshit and then my line. She was supposed to leap from behind a tree in pilgrim drag. She was seeking revenge, I don’t know what it was about. And she was supposed to poke me with a stick, blow fairy dust in my eyes and make me crawl on the ground and ride me. But, she wasn’t supposed to sexually ride me because we had monologues that we were to deliver to the Blood Moon, so she was supposed to just cut my throat. She took me to the woods and said, ‘Just go with me.’ Honey, she started riding me and rubbing her pussy and her hair… I just laid there thinking, ‘How do I get myself in these situations?! What am I supposed to do?!’ Do you know what, it turned out beautifully. She knows what she’s doing, she’s not a stupid girl!
Roanoke is one of the scariest seasons of American Horror Story, I thought every episode was terrifying.
Do you remember the episode a long long time ago that had Gabourey Sidibe, and she was in the back and that guy, that minotaur, came up out of the ground like a tree, threw her dress up and started fucking her?
Oh yes, in Coven!
Yes. My mother was watching that. I don’t know if we’re live on the air. This isn’t live on the air, is it?
No, but I think the fans will like this.
Well, you’re welcome to show this at gay bars! That would be fun.
Tell me more about American Horror Story…
I love the fact that [Ryan Murphy] allows me so much. It always starts with a wig, honey, it always starts with that wig! He’s had me do so much. This is always on location. It’s like summer camp. We eat there and they bring people to cook for us. It’s so much fun to do a Ryan Murphy show. It’s long hours – you know it’s going to be around 12 hours – and you’re in your trailer quite a bit, but it’s air conditioned so you can just lay back and rest. I’ve gotten to work with Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Wes Bentley, Dylan McDermott, Lady Gaga, it goes on and on.
And Sarah Paulson!
The only one who has not won really big awards for American Horror Story, and she’s gonna win everything. I just love her. I love her partner, Holland Taylor. She was the very first that welcomed me to the set and I think that’s very important. When you show up, no one’s gonna welcome you. Not the directors or anything, and she walked over. It’s kind of her show, she’s very good friends with Ryan and she said, ‘Wow, we’re so glad to have you.’ That means so much. That’s the way somebody was raised.
We stan Sarah Paulson. Say it with me Leslie, this needs to be part of your vocabulary now!
WE STAN SARAH PAULSON!
As we’ve mentioned, you’ve had an incredible career. Is there a role that you haven’t tackled so far that you would love to do? Something you haven’t had a chance to try, maybe?
That’s a tough one to answer, only because I’ll know it when I get it. I know that some role will come that will allow me to show people a side of me they’ve never seen. It’s difficult in LA because I get sent scripts. I don’t read all of them because I’m not good at taking from the script and putting it on its feet. I’m always thinking I maybe missed out, seeing an actor doing a part and thinking, ‘I could’ve played that.’ The beautiful part is I’ve almost accomplished anything, and it’s all gravy from here on out. I’m not waiting for that next role at all. I’m enjoying life, I’m perfectly happy with who I am, what I am and that is absolute gold. Money in the bank honey. That’s all I wanted – a little money in the bank!