With his diminutive stature, sparkling blue eyes and droll Southern drawl, actor Leslie Jordan comes across as a cross between Truman Capote and David Sedaris.
“I’ve always been a showoff,” said Jordan, best known for his Emmy Award-winning turn as Karen Walker’s arch-nemesis on “Will & Grace.” “I’ve always been funny.”
On Saturday, Jordan shares his offbeat sense of humor as part of Central Coast Pride, sponsored by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of the Central Coast.
Growing up in Chattanooga, Tenn., Jordan had to compete with his twin sisters for attention.
“People were transfixed” by their blue eyes and Shirley Temple-style ringlets, Jordan, now 57, recalled. “I was over there in the corner spitting on the floor, turning cartwheels, pulling out my pee-pee — anything to get people to look at me.”
Despite an aptitude for comedy, however, Jordan initially worked as a jockey before quitting the dangerous sport at age 27.
“You have 12 men precariously perched on a saddle the size of a piece of paper — and about that thin — on top of these monstrous animals,” he explained. “One wrong step, and you’re in a wheelchair for life.”
Jordan was studying journalism at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga when a classmate encouraged him to take a theater class. He was hooked.
John Schlenker, founder of Great American Melodrama & Vaudeville in Oceano, gave the aspiring actor one of his first professional gigs after graduating — working at a theater near Bakersfield for $165 a week.
“Wow, I just didn’t think life could get any better,” Jordan recalled with a chuckle. “I was like, ‘This is my springboard to stardom.’ ”
After arriving in Los Angeles on Valentine’s Day 1982 with $1,200 and “a few dreams,” Jordan appeared in a series of commercial and made his television debut on Lee Majors’ “The Fall Guy” in 1986. He got his big break a few years later as a guest star on “Murphy Brown.”
“For the last 30 years, I’ve been the funny guy who comes in with the zinger,” said Jordan, whose numerous TV credits include “Boston Legal,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Ugly Betty.”
The quirky character actor found his greatest fame on the hit NBC sitcom “Will & Grace” as Beverly Leslie, the sexually ambiguous, staunchly Republican socialite who shares a love-hate relationship with Karen (Megan Mullally). The role was originally written for Joan Collins, Jordan said, but he came aboard when she quit.
According to Jordan, the key to a great guest role is befriending the writers. “I learned a long time ago that if it’s not on the page, I can’t make it funny,” he said.
More recently, Jordan starred as the Tammy Wynette-obsessed Earl “Brother Boy” Ingram in the Logo series “Sordid Lives” and appeared as Emma Stone’s newspaper editor in the Oscar-winning movie “The Help.”
Having spent much of his career as a supporting actor, Jordan said he’s eager to move into the spotlight. The actor is currently working with six-time Emmy winner Alice West, whose producing credits include “Picket Fences” and “Ally McBeal,” to develop his own show.
Jordan has also established himself as a playwright and author, drawing on his own life as an openly gay actor to write “My Trip Down the Pink Carpet.” The book, published in 2008, formed the basis of a one-man show performed in Atlanta, New York City and London.
His latest autobiographical show, “Fruit Fly, had a seven-week run at the Celebration Theatre in Los Angeles earlier this year.
Jordan said he’s eager to bring his act to the Central Coast, which remains his favorite region of California. He shared fond memories of eating steak at F. McLintocks Saloon and Dining House in Pismo Beach, watching nude volleyball tournaments at Pirate’s Cove in Shell Beach and soaking in the wooden hot tubs at Sycamore Springs Resort and Spa in Avila Beach. “I have a lot of history in that area,” Jordan said.