Leslie Jordan, in his own words, is not very computer literate. He can email and has learned how to scan documents, “which is very important these days,” he said, “to scan and resend things.”
“My sister was cute, she said, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re an overnight success,’” Jordan recalled. “'Oh,' I said, ‘this is the longest night.’ I’ve been at it since 1982."
We caught up with Jordan late last week to see how Internet fame has been treating him.
You’ve been posting these videos on your Instagram account for a little while now. When did you notice them start to take off?
I did a television series about over a year ago called “The Cool Kids.” It was really cute, on Fox. Just never got a big audience. The girls in the publicity department kept telling me, “Oh, that’s so funny, Leslie, post that.” I’d say, “What?” I didn’t know. Tess Sanchez Greenfield — she’s married to Max Greenfield on that Monday night show [CBS’s “The Neighborhood”] — she does casting for the Fox network. She said, “You need to get on Instagram, it’s perfect for you.” They set it up for me, and I did my first post.
For a really long time, I had 20,000 followers. People would tell me, “Oh, that’s nothing,” and I said, “Are you kidding me? 20,000 people want to hear from me.” And then Megan Mullally from “Will & Grace” reposted something I posted, and I had 80,000 followers. They kept saying, “That’s still nothing.” I go, “What do you mean? That’s 80,000 people.” And it stayed at 80,000 for a really long time, and then I’m not sure what happened. The shutdown, of course, we all had to hunker down and stay at home, and my number started — I would just notice, oh my gosh, I’ve got like 20,000 more. Who are these people? I had no idea. It’s all of a sudden becoming popular, and how is this happening?
I posted something a tiny bit off-color once and something called “the best of Grindr,” some sort of hookup site, posted it — and they had a million followers, and now all these people follow me. You know better than I do, somebody picks something up and then about three days ago, I told a friend of mine, “My goal is 250,000. That would be a nice number.” And then all of a sudden, who knows. What’s insane is that the day I got to a million viewers was the same day I announced I’m returning to Fox with a big series, with Mayim Bialik and Swoosie Kurtz and Jim Parsons is producing it. It’s called “Call Me Kat.”
I just saw the “Call Me Kat” casting news, actually. Did this all coincidentally happen at once?
All at once. They cast me on the show a while ago in kind of a small part. They were very concerned I wouldn’t take the part because it had, like, four lines in the pilot. This is a character we’re going to develop, and this isn’t a pilot order. This is a series order, where we have the luxury of 13 episodes to develop. I said, “Fine, I’ll take it.” Come on, Jim Parsons on the air?
We’re scheduled to start production in late June, I think. I just imagine the networks are going to need content, and people are going to want a little comedy. It’s just a matter of how do we shoot it right now, under all this duress?
You’re not in Los Angeles right now, right? You’re in Tennessee?
Yes, I’m in Tennessee. I live right in the heart of Hollywood and I had a feeling right when it hit to go home on family business anyway. I said, ‘I’m going to stay.’ I would much rather be hunkered down with my family. My mother is 94, I have an identical twin sister — it’s like a Tennessee Williams play. We’re all here. I took a little place nearby, an Airbnb nearby, because I thought, “I cannot, at 65, move back in with my mother.” So in the evenings I come over here.
You’ve been working for a while, so I’m sure you have a lot of stories like the one about George Clooney. How do you pick which ones to share?
I have one friend who’s very good at all this. He said, “Don’t you tell my name, don’t involve me in all this.” I call him, and he calls sometimes in the morning with ideas. He would say to me: “Oh, you’ve done too many stories about watching murder programs. You need to do a funny story. At a dinner party once, you told me that story about George Clooney.” And I said, “Oh, I could do that, and we’ll call it ‘Pillow Talk.’”
I’ve got little categories I do. I’ve got an exercise regime where I use a back scratcher, because I have so many friends — especially in the gay community — who have rock hard abs and exercise videos. I said, “Well, I’ll do my own.” My friend calls me and he said, “Maybe do one on a porno.” So I put a porno on and ate my breakfast. I don’t want my mother to see that one.
You have mentioned the murder programs a few times, I think. What are you watching now?
I don’t watch scripted television, and I finally figured out why. It’s my line of work, you know? It’s what I do. Somebody the other day, they said, “What’s the last movie you saw?” I said “Brokeback Mountain.”
Oh my gosh.
I love murder programs that are not acted out, like the ones on “48 Hours.” I’ve always been interested in forensics and the way they solve things. I know who did it way before they do. I’m yelling at the scene: “Don’t listen to that wife, she’s the one who did it! You’re going to find out she has a boyfriend!"
That’s all I watch, and I must not be the only one. There’s a plethora of them now. Of course, it goes all the way back to Agatha Christie. Murder mysteries — when I was a kid, I was all about murder mysteries. I was reading Agatha Christie as a little boy.
You’re definitely not alone in that.
My mother said something interesting to me. She said: “Do you know over the years, you’ve killed your mother three times in different parts? Is there anything you want to tell me?”
Are you thinking of doing any scripted videos for Instagram?
I can’t do as well scripted, which is crazy, because that’s my line of work — taking scripted material and making it my own. But for some reason, in my videos if I script it, I watch it and it seems forced.
I had someone tell me yesterday, “You should do costumes! Maybe it’d be funny to have you painting your nails in one of them!” And I said, “Where am I going to get all of that?” You can’t go anywhere! Costumes, like Patti LuPone? They said Patti LuPone is doing crazy things, like putting on her outfits from the theater. But she’s got those in her closet! It’s not like I can run out.
What’s the most surprising kind of follower you’ve attracted? You mentioned that Grindr account.
The most surprising of people that have come after me — and I couldn’t understand it — my friend finally described it. He said: “Leslie, they’re young. You know what they know you from? ‘Shake It Up,'" which I did with Zendaya when she was a kid. You know how you know they’re kids? Their language, I don’t understand it. They use one word like, “Mood.” “King.” They have their own language and I don’t read [the comments] because it hurts my feelings sometimes. One of them said, “Well, my first thought, his mother’s alive?” Well, I’m only 64, my gosh. And then today, someone posted, “Who dis grandpa watching porn?” Grandpa watching porn? W-h-o, d-i-s. I guess my feelings hurt.
Then I wandered out of my sublet — it’s near the river and there’s no one in downtown Chattanooga, it’s a ghost town. I put on my mask, I put on my gloves, I put on my hat and walked down to the river. I made the mistake of doing a video down by the river. Then I got all this, “You need to be staying in, you shouldn’t be out.” Well, one of my best friends in the world, Caprice Crane — her mother was Tina Louise, I was in her wedding, she has babies now and everything — she got on there and said, “Leslie, honey, go home.” They came after her. “You shouldn’t tell him! Who are you?” She said, “He’s my best friend.” It got into this big, escalated battle. I just shut down the whole post.
But anyway, it’s all good. It’s all good to be 65 and have a million followers on the Internet. Not the path I planned, but you go with the flow.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
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