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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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Tagg turns 10

D.C. magazine thriving post-pandemic with focus on queer women

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‘Tagg is a form of resistance,’ says editor Eboné Bell. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a 10-year-old YouTube video, owner and editor of Tagg magazine, Eboné Bell, — clad in a white cotton T-shirt, gray vest and matching gray fedora — smiled with all her pearly whites as a correspondent for the magazine interviewed her outside now-closed Cobalt, a gay club in downtown D.C. that hosted the magazine’s official launch in the fall of 2012. 

“I want to make sure that people know that this is a community publication,” Bell said in the video. “It’s about the women in this community and we wanted to make sure that they knew that ‘This is your magazine.’”

As one of just two queer womxn’s magazines in the country, Tagg has established itself as one of the nation’s leading and forthright LGBTQ publications that focuses on lesbian and queer culture, news, and events. The magazine is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.

Among the many beats Tagg covers, it has recently produced work on wide-ranging political issues such as the introduction of the LGBTQ+ History Education Act in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Supreme Court’s assault on reproductive rights through a reversal of its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling; and also attracted the attention of international queer celebrities, including Emmy-nominated actress Dominique Jackson through fundraisers.

“Tagg is a form of resistance,” Bell said in a Zoom interview with the Washington Blade. “I always say the best form of activism is visibility and we’re out there authentically us.”

Although the magazine was created to focus on lifestyle, pressing political issues that affect LGBTQ individuals pushed it to dive deeper into political coverage in efforts to bring visibility to LGBTQ issues that specifically affect queer femme individuals. 

“We know the majority of our readers are queer women,’ said Bell. “[So] we always ask ourselves, ‘How does this affect our community?’ We are intentional and deliberate about it.”

Rebecca Damante, a contributing writer to the magazine echoed Bell’s sentiments. 

“The movement can sometimes err toward gay white men and it’s good that we get to represent other groups,” said Damante. “I feel really lucky that a magazine like Tagg exists because it’s given me the chance to polish my writing skills and talk about queer representation in media and politics.”

Tagg’s coverage has attracted younger readers who visit the magazine’s website in search of community and belonging. Most readers range between the ages of 25 and 30, Bell said. 

“[The magazine] honestly just took on a life of its own,” said Bell. “It’s like they came to us [and] it makes perfect sense.”

Prior to the magazine becoming subscription-based and completely online, it was a free publication that readers could pick up in coffee shops and distribution boxes around D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. 

Battling the pandemic 

Eboné Bell (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, newsrooms across the world were forced to function virtually. Additionally, economic strife forced many publications to downsize staffs and — in some cases — cancel entire beats as ad revenue decreased, forcing them to find alternative ways to self-sustain financially. Tagg was no exception. 

“We didn’t fly unscathed,” said Bell. “[The pandemic] took a huge emotional toll on me because I thought we were going to close. I thought we were going to fail.”

However, the magazine was able to stand firm after a fundraiser titled “Save Tagg Magazine” yielded about $30,000 in donations from the community. 

The fundraiser involved a storefront on Tagg’s website where donations of LGBTQ merchandise were sold, including a book donated by soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe. 

There was also a virtual “Queerantine Con” — an event that was the brainchild of Dana Piccoli, editor of News Is Out— where prominent LGBTQ celebrities such as Rosie O’Donnell, Lea DeLaria and Kate Burrell, gave appearances to help raise money that eventually sustained the publication. 

“There was a time where I was ready to be like ‘I have to be OK that [Tagg] might not happen anymore,” said Bell. “But because of love and support, I’m here.” 

While the outpouring of love from community members who donated to the magazine helped keep the magazine alive, it was also a stark reminder that smaller publications, led by women of color, have access to fewer resources than mainstream outlets. 

“It’s statistically known that Black women-owned businesses get significantly less support, venture capital investments, things like that,” said Bell. “I saw similar outlets such as Tagg with white people making $100,000 a month.”

Bell added that Tagg had to work “10 times harder” to survive, and although the magazine didn’t cut back on the people who worked for it, it ended free access to the magazine in the DMV especially as the places that housed the magazine were no longer in business. The publication also moved to a subscription-based model that allowed it to ameliorate printing costs. 

Despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic, Tagg remains steadfast in its service to the LGBTQ community. The magazine hired an assistant editor in 2021 and has maintained a team of graphic designers, photographers, writers and an ad sales team who work to ensure fresh content is delivered to readers on a regular basis. 

For Bell, Tagg mirrors an important life experience — the moment she discovered Ladders, a lesbian magazine published throughout the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. 

“To that young person coming up, I want you to see all the things that happened before them, all the people that came before them, all the stories that were being told” she said.

Eboné Bell (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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Daisy Edgar-Jones knows why ‘the Crawdads sing’

Actress on process, perfecting a southern accent, and her queer following

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Daisy Edgar-Jones as Kya Clark. (Photo courtesy Sony/Columbia)

Daisy Edgar-Jones is an actor whose career is blossoming like her namesake. In recent years, she seems to be everywhere. LGBTQ viewers may recognize Edgar-Jones from her role as Delia Rawson in the recently canceled queer HBO series “Gentleman Jack.” She also played memorable parts in a pair of popular Hulu series, “Normal People” and “Under the Banner of Heaven.” Earlier this year, Edgar-Jones was seen as Noa in the black comedy/horror flick “Fresh” alongside Sebastian Stan. 

With her new movie, “Where the Crawdads Sing” (Sony/Columbia), she officially becomes a lead actress. Based on Delia Owens’ popular book club title of the same name, the movie spans a considerable period of time, part murder mystery, part courtroom drama. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for the Blade.

BLADE: Daisy, had you read Delia Owens’s novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” before signing on to play Kya?

DAISY EDGAR-JONES: I read it during my audition process, as I was auditioning for the part. So, the two went hand in hand.

BLADE: What was it about the character of Kya that appealed to you as an actress?

EDGAR-JONES: There was so much about her that appealed to me. I think the fact that she is a very complicated woman. She’s a mixture of things. She’s gentle and she’s curious. She’s strong and she’s resilient. She felt like a real person. I love real character studies and it felt like a character I haven’t had a chance to delve into. It felt different from anyone I’ve played before. Her resilience was one that I really admired. So, I really wanted to spend some time with her.

BLADE: While Kya is in jail, accused of killing the character Chase, she is visited by a cat in her cell. Are you a cat person or do you prefer dogs?

EDGAR-JONES: I like both! I think I like the fact that dogs unconditionally love you. While a cat’s love can feel a bit conditional. I do think both are very cute. Probably, if I had to choose, it would be dogs.

BLADE: I’m a dog person, so I’m glad you said that.

EDGAR-JONES: [Laughs]

BLADE: Kya lives on the marsh and spends a lot of time on and in the water. Are you a swimmer or do you prefer to be on dry land?

EDGAR-JONES: I like swimming, I do. I grew up swimming a lot. If I’m ever on holidays, I like it to be by the sea or by a nice pool.

BLADE: Kya is also a gifted artist, and it is the thing that brings her great joy. Do you draw or paint?

EDGAR-JONES: I always doodle. I’m an avid doodler. I do love to draw and paint. I loved it at school. I wouldn’t say I was anywhere near as skilled as Kya. But I do love drawing if I get the chance to do it.

BLADE: Kya was born and raised in North Carolina. What can you tell me about your process when it comes to doing a southern accent or an American accent in general?

EDGAR-JONES: It’s obviously quite different from mine. I’ve been lucky that I’ve spent a lot of time working on various accents for different parts for a few years now, so I feel like I’m developed an ear for, I guess, the difference in tone and vowel sounds [laughs]. When it came to this, it was really important to get it right, of course. Kya has a very lyrical, gentle voice, which I think that North Carolina kind of sound really helped me to access. I worked with a brilliant accent coach who helped me out and I just listened and listened.

BLADE: While I was watching “Where the Crawdads Sing” I thought about how Kya could easily be a character from the LGBTQ community because she is considered an outsider, is shunned and ridiculed, and experiences physical and emotional harm. Do you also see the parallels?

EDGAR-JONES: I certainly do. I think that aspect of being an outsider is there, and this film does a really good job of showing how important it is to be kind to everyone. I think this film celebrates the goodness you can give to each other if you choose to be kind. Yes, I definitely see the parallels.

BLADE: Do you have an awareness of an LGBTQ following for your acting career?

EDGAR-JONES: I tend to stay off social media and am honestly not really aware of who follows me, but I do really hope the projects I’ve worked on resonate with everyone.

BLADE: Are there any upcoming acting projects that you’d like to mention?

EDGAR-JONES: None that I can talk of quite yet. But there are a few things that are coming up next year, so I’m really excited.

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CAMP Rehoboth’s president talks pandemic, planning, and the future

Wesley Combs marks six months in new role

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Wesley Combs took over as president of CAMP Rehoboth six months ago and is now focused on searching for a new permanent executive director. (Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

June marks half a year since Wesley Combs stepped into his role as president of CAMP Rehoboth. In a conversation with the Blade, Combs recounted his first six months in the position — a time he said was characterized by transition and learning.

Since 1991, CAMP Rehoboth has worked to develop programming “inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities” in the Rehoboth Beach, Del. area, according to the nonprofit’s website. As president, Combs oversees the organization’s board of directors and executive director, helping determine areas of focus and ensure programming meets community needs.

For Combs, his more than three decades of involvement with CAMP Rehoboth have shaped the course of his life. In the summer of 1989 — just before the organization’s creation — he met his now-husband, who was then living in a beach house with Steve Elkins and Murray Archibald, CAMP Rehoboth’s founders.

Since then, he has served as a financial supporter of the organization, noting that it has been crucial to fostering understanding that works against an “undercurrent of anti-LGBTQ sentiment” in Rehoboth Beach’s history that has, at times, propagated violence against LGBTQ community members.

In 2019, after Elkins passed away, Combs was called upon by CAMP Rehoboth’s Board of Directors to serve on a search committee for the organization’s next executive director. Later that year, he was invited to become a board member and, this past November, was elected president.

Combs noted that CAMP Rehoboth is also still recovering from the pandemic, and is working to restart programming paused in the switch to remote operations. In his first six months, he has sought to ensure that people feel “comfortable” visiting and engaging with CAMP Rehoboth again, and wants to ensure all community members can access its programming, including those from rural parts of Delaware and those without a means of getting downtown.

Still, Combs’s first six months were not without unexpected turns: On May 31, David Mariner stepped down from his role as CAMP Rehoboth executive director, necessitating a search for his replacement. Combs noted that he would help facilitate the search for an interim director to serve for the remainder of the year and ensure that there is “a stable transition of power.” CAMP Rehoboth last week announced it has named Lisa Evans to the interim director role.

Chris Beagle, whose term as president of CAMP Rehoboth preceded Combs’s own, noted that the experience of participating in a search committee with the organization will “better enable him to lead the process this time.”

Before completing his term, Beagle helped prepare Combs for the new role, noting that the “combination of his professional background, his executive leadership (and) his passion for the organization” make Combs a strong president. Regarding the results of the election, “I was extremely confident, and I remain extremely confident,” Beagle said.

Bob Witeck, a pioneer in LGBTQ marketing and communications, has known Combs for nearly four decades. The two founded a public relations firm together in 1993 and went on to work together for 20 years, with clients ranging from major businesses like Ford Motor Company to celebrities including Chaz Bono and Christopher Reeve. According to Witeck, Combs’s work in the firm is a testament to his commitment to LGBTQ advocacy.

“Our firm was the first founded primarily to work on issues specific to LGBTQ identities, because we wanted to counsel corporations about their marketing and media strategies and working in the LGBTQ market,” he explained. By helping develop communications strategies inclusive of those with LGBTQ identities, Combs established a background of LGBTQ advocacy that truly “made a mark,” Witeck said.

Witeck emphasized that, in his new position, Combs brings both business experience and a renewed focus on historically underrepresented in LGBTQ advocacy — including people with disabilities, trans people and people of color.

Looking to the rest of the year, CAMP Rehoboth hopes to host a larger-scale event during Labor Day weekend. In addition, the organization will revisit its strategic plan — first developed in 2019 but delayed due to the pandemic — and ensure it still meets the needs of the local community, Combs said. He added that he intends to reexamine the plan and other programming to ensure inclusivity for trans community members.

“CAMP Rehoboth continues to be a vital resource in the community,” he said. “The focus for the next two years is to make sure we’re doing and delivering services that meet the needs of everyone in our community.”

Wesley Combs, gay news, Washington Blade
Wesley Combs (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)
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