Performer shares stories in ‘Tall Tales From a Not-So-Tall Man’

Leslie Jordan tells a good story, so much so that a listener hesitates to fully participate in a conversation with him, lest a wayward comment put a premature end to a tale Jordan’s not quite finished telling.

Jordan is a playwright. An actor with a more than two-decades-long resume who won an Emmy for his work as Beverley Leslie in "Will & Grace." An author whose autobiography, "My Trip Down the Pink Carpet," was produced as a one-man play in which Jordan himself starred.

But, most of all, Jordan is a storyteller. And it’s stories, told in Jordan’s unique style, that Southern Nevadans will hear next week when Jordan brings his cabaret show, "Tall Tales From a Not-So-Tall Man," to the Palms.

The show is a benefit for Aid for AIDS of Nevada. During a telephone interview last week, Jordan left no doubt about what guests will hear.

Stories, he says, are "what you’re going to get in Las Vegas. I don’t do stand-up. I do stories."

How did Jordan become such an adept storyteller? He suspects it has something to do with his own Southern — Tennessee — upbringing.

"When I was little, when my dad wanted to teach me a lesson or something, he’d tell me a story," Jordan explains.

Even as a child, Jordan was such a creative storyteller that his mother found herself in an odd position. She didn’t want to stifle his creativity, Jordan says, but "at what point do you say, ‘Honey, it didn’t happen that way, you know? This is a lie.’

"One time, she found me hiding under the bed, and she didn’t know what I was hiding from. She looked out the window, and all the neighborhood kids were lined up on the curb. Some kids got a pony for Christmas, and I wanted to top that, and I said I was getting a white stallion. Then I finally realized, ‘Oh, oh, that ain’t happening,’ and I was hiding.

"So that’s the kind of way it is now," Jordan says. "I talk about things that happened in my life. Now, do I embellish? Absolutely. Come on, we all do it. It makes for a better story. But it always comes from a germ of truth."

Jordan laughs. "Now, I have to tell you, also, that I’m in recovery. I’m 13 years clean and sober, and I do a lot of speaking with recovery groups. Then, you really have to stick with the truth, and so many times my stories cross over and I have to think, ‘OK, is this the real version or the Hollywood version?’ "

No problem, though, because some of Jordan’s real stuff is weird enough. For instance, he says, "I really was in jail with Robert Downey Jr."

That is, of course, a pretty funny story, as Jordan recalls how he and Downey were introduced on the set of "Ally McBeal" and Downey told Jordan that, somehow, he looked familiar.

But, Jordan says, "I don’t sing. I don’t dance. It’s all storytelling. And I’ve found that, because I have such a wealth of stories from different shows I’ve done over the years, it’s almost like a stand-up comedian."

Jordan says he creates a set list for each performance pretty much on the fly, assessing each audience to figure out what they might enjoy hearing. In fact, he says, "I never really decide until I’m ready to walk onstage what that set is going to be."

Still, there are stories — Jordan’s classics, if you will — that he’ll invariably include in each show. For instance, there’s what Jordan calls the "bridal doll" story, a tale of his childhood wish for a bride doll and his traditional military father.

Not to give anything away, but the request "caused quite a bit of drama," Jordan says. "It’s actually a beautiful story."

And, Jordan continues to act. Recently, he filmed "The Help," an adaptation of the Kathryn Stockett novel about the lives of black domestic servants in Mississippi during the early ’60s that also stars Viola Davis, Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney, Emma Stone and Cicely Tyson.

And he continues to perform live around the country, often at benefit events such as the one here for AFAN. Jordan also is a longtime and avid supporter of The Trevor Project, which operates a national, 24-hour, toll-free confidential hot line for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youths.

That may be a particularly vital resource now, given a recent string of suicides by teens who reportedly were targets of anti-gay bullying.

"When they plugged in, they got something like 10,000 calls within the first few months," Jordan says, and "the majority, or almost all of the calls, came from the Bible Belt.

"That’s my story, you know. You almost had to have grown up in the church like I did to realize how dark that is, how dark it is to be a kid and be told that God hates you or that there’s something wrong with you. That’s what’s got to change."

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal. com or 702-383-0280.

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