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Leslie Jordan on Whoopi, Gwyneth, ‘Will & Grace’ and the one topic he won’t discuss

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Leslie Jordan, gay news, Washington Blade
Leslie Jordan, gay news, Washington Blade

Leslie Jordan says his career got a second wind when he started doing one-person shows. (Photo courtesy Jordan)

Washington Blade presents

 

Leslie Jordan Live!

 

7 (sold out) and 9 p.m.

 

Friday, June 10

 

Studio Theatre

 

1501 14th St., N.W.

 

washingtonblade.com/leslie

 

Leslie Jordan is one of those actors pretty much everybody knows, but you have no idea how many things he’s been in until you look up his IMDB page.

Films “Sordid Lives” and “The Help,” one-man shows “My Trip Down the Pink Carpet” and “Straight Outta Chattanooga,” and a TV filmography that looks about as vast as that of Cloris Leachman — most notably “American Horror Story: Coven” and, of course, “Will & Grace,” the landmark sitcom that won him an Emmy for his recurring role as Karen’s nemesis Beverley Leslie.

Interviewing him, you kind of expect the frequent giggles and pronounced Southern drawl. What you don’t quite expect is the (almost) no-holds-barred honesty, rare in nicey-nice, PR-drenched Hollywood. He’s here Pride weekend for a packed spate of activities including two Washington Blade-sponsored shows at Studio Theatre on Friday, June 10. He will serve as a Pride parade grand marshal on June 11 and participate in Night Out at the Nationals on June 14. We spoke with him by phone from his home just outside of West Hollywood. His comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: So it looks like you’ll be quite busy next weekend in our fair city.

LESLIE JORDAN: Yes, it’s all worked out so beautifully. I’m doing the parade, I’m doing this show at Studio Theatre with the Blade and I’m going to throw the first ball out with the Washington Nationals. I’ve been practicing. Who knew I was such a good pitcher, but I am. … I’m a little concerned after this incident with the Padres — I hope I don’t get heckled. I don’t really think I will, but you never know in this day and age. I’m excited to see my friend, Ty Herndon, who will be in town for his own show at GALA Theatre, so it’s just fabulous that all this has come together. I asked the Pride folks if I could have a pony to ride in the parade, but they said no. I said, “Well, can I at least have some pretty boys dressed up as horses to dance with me?” I have this riding outfit I want to wear. So there’s a lot cooking right now.

BLADE: You were a jockey, right? So you certainly know your way around a horse.

JORDAN: Oh yes, for many, many years. Did you hear about the incident at the Starbucks?

BLADE: You threw a drink at somebody, right?

JORDAN: Yes, these three boys came in all cracked out at 9 o’clock in the morning. And listen, these weren’t straight boys. People said, “Oh, they were here to bash the gays.” No honey, listen — these were gay street kids. … They started acting out and I was like, “We can’t have this at the gayest Starbucks in the world.” I told them to get the fuck out. One of them came at me, so I threw my iced tea right in his face. … Anyway, it was a huge ruckus. I got a lot of mileage out of it for my one-person show.

BLADE: You’ve had several standup shows — “My Trip Down the Pink Carpet,” “Straight Outta Chattanooga” and so on. Do you do one for a while or different ones in different cities? How does it work?

JORDAN: It kind of started when I worked with Lily Tomlin years ago on a show called “12 Miles of Bad Road.” She asked me if I made any money doing my stand-up show. I said, “Well, it’s $1,600 just to ship my set.” She said, “Your set? You don’t need a set. Just you and a mic.” So you land somewhere, then you add the bells and whistles. So that’s kinda been the way I’ve done things. When I won that Emmy 10 years ago, I thought my career would spiral but nothing. It was the oddest thing. I called my management after a year and said, “I can’t eat this Emmy. I can’t get any TV work, what am I gonna do?” And I did the smartest thing I’ve ever done. I called this marketing firm out of Palm Springs and said, “Market me. I’m so popular with the gay community. I’ll do one-person shows, I’ll lead parades, you know, just whatever.” So now I’m up to 44 venues a year and I just adjust whatever I’m doing for the place, you know, sort of like a musician with a set list.

BLADE: Does your concept change?

JORDAN: Once a year, the marketing firm calls and goes, “What’s your new show called?” and I just go, “Um,” and I make up a new title. I’ll say, like, “This one’s called ‘Full of Gin and Regret,’” and they’ll go, “OK, that’s good.” But it’s all kind of the same show. Sometimes they’ll call and go, “OK, girl, you gotta quit trotting out all this old stuff, all this ‘Will & Grace’ stuff and so on,” but I kinda disagree with that. I think it’s kind of like when you go hear a band. Nobody cares about their new album. You want to hear their old stuff. … I’m booked all summer, then on July 7, I go back to “American Horror Story” with Lady Gaga, isn’t that fun? I did one season on “Coven.” They offered me another season but I got offered a reality show in London and I needed the money. Let me tell you, those reality shows pay a lot of money. So I turned down “Freak Show,” biggest mistake of my life. I didn’t think Mr. (Ryan) Murphy would want me again because I turned him down, but he did.

BLADE: Have you met him?

JORDAN: No. When I was doing “Coven,” he was doing “Normal Heart” for HBO, so I never got to meet him. But he was very involved. In one scene, I said, “I don’t think I’m going to wear my glasses in this scene,” and they said, “Well, that’s really a Ryan question.” They had him on the phone in like two minutes and they came back and told me to start the scene with them on, then take them off to gesticulate. That’s how involved he is. … Same thing with David E. Kelley. I’ve done like every show he’s ever done but I’ve never laid eyes on him either. They’re both very, very specific.

BLADE: Was the “Will & Grace” set fairly friendly? Were you and Megan Mullally pals?

JORDAN: They all got very famous together and very, very rich together. People thought I was there hanging out all the time and so on, but I only did maybe three a year or something like that. Everybody was friendly to me, but it wasn’t a big part of my life. I didn’t come on until the third season. But there was some real magical stuff happening. It was a very popular character. I remember once I walked out and the audience went so crazy, the director said, “We had Elton John on last week, he didn’t get that kind of reaction.” He said, “You all need to calm down, he ain’t that famous.” I said, “Yet!”

BLADE: Sean Hayes (Jack) didn’t come out until years after the show, which always seemed so odd to me. Was he out to the cast and crew?

JORDAN: You know, Sean, I would never put him down in any way, but Sean and I never really had a real conversation. He was like that person you work with and you’re always friendly, “Good morning,” and so on, but never once do I remember having a real conversation with him. Somebody asked me about him once in an interview and I said, “Yeah, like anybody’s gonna blow her cover.” It got printed and, I don’t know. I remember we were sitting right next to him at the Emmys and my mother even noticed it. She said, “He hasn’t said much.” I said, “Well, he’s gonna be on stage, he’s nervous.” But to answer your question, I never really knew him that well. He’s a lovely boy.  … People think we just bond so much on those sets, but it’s not like that. You go to work and do your thing. We had a lot of fun. … The only one I really keep up with now is Megan. I’m not going to do it anymore, but people have sometimes asked me to ask her for something, you know, like a charity thing or something. And she’s done it, but I feel bad — people ask them for so much all the time.

BLADE: I bet.

JORDAN: I love ‘em all. I ran into Eric (McCormack) on the street in London. He said, “I’m here with my show (“Perception”).” I don’t watch TV at all. I’m kind of in my own little world, I read. … I said, “Oh, is it a pilot?” He said, “Uhhhh — no, we’re in our fourth season.” …. Debra (Messing) I haven’t spoken to at all but when I won the Emmy, she sent me this huge orchid that must have been like $800 or something.

BLADE: So you’re shooting a sequel to “Sordid Lives”?

JORDAN: Yes, I return as Brother Boy. I’m in the mental hospital but I’ve escaped and I go on the lam with a serial killer. We shot it in Winnipeg, then we’ve got about a week in Dallas left to finish it. You know, you watch these comedies with Melissa McCarthy and so on. And they’re funny, but nothing is as funny as this. You have no idea. It’s so outrageous.

BLADE: And Whoopi Goldberg is in it too?

JORDAN: Yes. She rode a bus up to Winnipeg from New York, shot for like five hours, got back on the bus and went home. I said, “Do you remember me from ‘The View’? I got up and danced and almost kicked you in the face.” She said, “Uh-uh.” I think there’s some pot smoking there, but what a lovely human being. So down to earth. … She’ll blow a line and just say, “Shit, let’s do it again.”

BLADE: Where do you get your clothes? Do you have them custom made?

JORDAN: I shot a pilot for Lily for HBO that never made it on the air. They built me a whole wardrobe. I have about five suits. I was supposed to play the richest man in Texas, so I have these velvet smoking jackets, pants. … The other day I looked in my closet and said, “You know, my wardrobe is complete.” I really don’t need to buy another thing ever. … I’ve lost a lot of weight. I’m down to about a 30 waist. I can wear jeans I wore in high school.

BLADE: How did you do it?

JORDAN: I swim in the morning and do the treadmill and I never miss a day. … I also just really, really got into my diet. Sugar is the enemy, period. If people would just cut that out, but oh my God, it is difficult.

BLADE: You know a lot of people in the industry and live near West Hollywood, yet you travel so much. What’s dating like? Are you in a relationship?

JORDAN: Well, that’s the only thing I don’t talk about. It’s complicated and I learned that a long time ago. But I’m happy. Real happy. It’s caused so many problems over the years, that I just learned to zip it. Relationships are hard enough without that kind of burden. You know how Gwyneth Paltrow was never photographed with her husband? People say, “Oh please, what’s that about?” I’m nowhere near that level of fame, so I can’t even imagine, but that’s just the way it is. But let’s just say I’m very happy.

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Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

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As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022

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As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
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Need a list-minute gift idea?

Books, non-profit donations make thoughtful choices

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‘Yes, Daddy’ by Jonathan Parks-Ramage is the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older man.

You knew this was coming.

You knew that you were going to have to finish your holiday shopping soon but it snuck up on you, didn’t it? And even if you’re close to being done, there are always those three or five people who are impossible to buy for, right? Remember this, though: books are easy to wrap and easy to give, and they last a while, too. So why not head to the bookstore with your Christmas List and look for these gifts.

And if you still have people to shop for, why not make a donation to a local non-profit in their name? A list of D.C.-area suggestions follows.

BOOKS: NONFICTION

If there’s about to be a new addition to your family, wrapping up “Queer Stepfamilies: The path to Social and Legal Recognition” by Katie L. Acosta would be a good thing. In this book, the author followed forty LGBTQ families to understand the joys, pitfalls, and legalities of forming a new union together. It can’t replace a lawyer, but it’s a good overview.

For the parent who wants to ensure that their child grows up with a lack of bias, “Raising LGBTQ Allies” by Chris Tompkins is a great book to give. It’s filled with methods to stop bullying in its tracks, to be proactive in having That Conversation, and how to be sure that the next generation you’re responsible for becomes responsible in turn. Wrap it up with “The Healing Otherness Handbook” by Stacee L. Reicherzer, Ph.D., a book that helps readers to deal with bullying by finding confidence and empowerment.

If there’s someone on your gift list who’s determined to get “fit” in the coming year, then give “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel this holiday. Told in graphic-novel format (comics, basically), it’s the story of searching for self-improvement and finding it in a surprising place.

So why not give a little nostalgia this year by wrapping up “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head” by Martin Padgett? It’s the tale of disco, drag, and drugs in the 1970s (of course!) in Atlanta, with appearances by activists, politics, and people who were there at that fabulous time. Wrap it up with “After Francesco” by Brian Malloy, a novel set a little later – in the mid-1980s in New York City and Minneapolis at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

The LGBTQ activist on your gift list will want to read “The Case for Gay Reparations” by Omar G. Encarnacion. It’s a book about acknowledgment, obligation on the part of cis citizens, and fixing the pain that homophobia and violence has caused. Wrap it up with “Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender” by Stef M. Shuster, a look at trans history that may also make your giftee growl.

FICTION

Young readers who have recently transitioned will enjoy reading “Both Sides Now” by Peyton Thomas. It’s a novel about a high school boy with gigantic dreams and the means to accomplish them all. Can he overcome the barriers that life gives him? It’s debatable… Pair it with “Can’t Take That Away” by Steven Salvatore, a book about two nonbinary students and the troubles they face as they fall in love.

The thriller fan on your list will be overjoyed to unwrap “Yes, Daddy” by Jonathan Parks-Ramage. It’s the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older, more accomplished man with the hopes of sparking his failing career. But the older man isn’t who the younger thinks he is, and that’s not good. Wrap it up with “Lies with Man” by Michael Nava, a book about a lawyer who agrees to be counsel for a group of activists. Good so far, right? Until one of them is accused of being involved in a deadly bombing.

For the fan of Southern fiction, you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “The Tender Grave” by Sheri Reynolds. It’s the tale of two sisters, one homophobic, the other lesbian, and how they learn to forgive and re-connect.

NON-PROFIT GIVING

Like nonprofit organizations throughout the country, D.C.-area LGBTQ supportive nonprofit groups have told the Blade they continue to rebuild amid the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted their fundraising efforts while increasing expenses, at least in part by prompting more people to come to them for help.

This holiday season, if you’re looking for a thoughtful gift, consider making a donation to one of our local LGBTQ non-profit organizations in someone else’s name. This list is by no means exhaustive, but a good place to start your research.

Contributions to the LGBTQ supportive nonprofit organizations can be made via the websites of these local organizations:

• Blade Foundation, which funds local scholarships and fellowships for queer student journalists, bladefoundation.org

• DC Center, our local community center that operates a wide range of programming,  thedccenter.org/donate

Food & Friends, which delivers meals to homebound patients, foodandfriends.org

HIPS, which advances the health rights and dignity of those impacted by sex work and drugs, hips.org

• SMYAL, which advocates for queer youth, smyal.org

Wanda Alston Foundation, which offers shelter and support for LGBTQ youth, wandaalstonfoundation.org

• Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s longtime LGBTQ-inclusive health care provider, whitmanwalkerimpact.org

Casa Ruby, which provides shelter and services to youth in need, casaruby.org

• Us Helping Us, which helps improve the health of communities of color and works to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on the Black community, ushelpingus.org/donate

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