Chattanooga native Leslie Jordan shares his favorite hometown memories and hangouts

'The first 25 years of my life, I couldn't wait to get out. The last 25 years, I've planned anything I could to get to come home.'

Leslie Jordan / Photo courtesy of DRL/LeClair Talent Management
Leslie Jordan / Photo courtesy of DRL/LeClair Talent Management

Move over, Pat Sajak. There's a new game show host in town whose newest gig will give him a clean sweep of successes in television, film, social media, print, recording and streaming media. Meet Chattanooga native Leslie Jordan.

Jordan is set to host a new cleaning competition coming to Quibi in January called "Squeaky Clean." Each episode will pit a trio of neat freaks in a cleaning battle to pass a white-glove test and, hopefully, mop up in prizes. (Quibi is an app that streams short-form content running about 10 minutes in length; thus its name: a mash-up of "quick" and "bites.")

Jordan's role on the new game show is his second foray into streaming media, and both are new showcases for his talent. In early October, he taped an episode of "Special," the Netflix series that stars Ryan O'Connell as Ryan Hayes, a gay man with cerebral palsy. In a phone interview, Jordan said he plays "raucous party guest No. 2, Charles."

Both jobs are the result of the immense popularity of his social media posts. Jordan's hilarious behind-the-scenes stories of working in Hollywood - described in his inimitable drawl - or Sunday Morning Singings, in which he performs the old gospel songs he grew up singing in Woodmore Central Baptist Church, began as a way to entertain himself during self-quarantine tedium. Now, more than 5.4 million fans follow his Instagram and Facebook posts.

Jordan says he also finished filming his role as a reporter in the upcoming film "The United States vs. Billie Holiday" the first week of October. Due out in February, the Paramount picture stars Andra Day as the famous jazz singer, who is targeted by the Federal Department of Narcotics in a sting led by a Black agent with whom Holiday had an affair.

Add wrapping up his second book, "How Y'all Doing," a series of essays taken from Jordan's life that is being published by HarperCollins next spring; preparing to record an album; and taping episodes of his new Fox sitcom, "Call Me Kat" with Mayim Bialik, all while never missing a daily Instagram post, and you wonder where Jordan finds enough hours in the day for it all.

Jordan is a homegrown talent and credits the late Dr. Fred Behringer, former chairman of the UTC Theatre Department, with shaping the actor he became. Here, the Brainerd High and UTC alumnus recalls memories both hilarious and poignant about growing up in the Scenic City.

* When did you realize you were funny and could make people laugh?

"I was about 6 or 7. I came out of Sunday school crying one week and told my daddy, 'I'm never going back again. They laugh at me.'

"My daddy was so wise. He got down in front of me and explained the difference in laughing AT me and WITH me. He told me that I had a gift for making people laugh. Before long, I realized if I was funny, I kept the bullies at bay. When you grow up and you're not the best at sports, you get teased a lot. I used humor to deflect that.

"I have to admit that even as an adult I have used humor as a defense mechanism when I find myself in an awkward situation."

* Have you ever been influenced by or channeled characteristics of people you know here into your characters?

"Yes. I couldn't name them, but there was a waitress at a hamburger joint on Highway 58 and then all the waitresses from Bea's Restaurant. The more eccentric, the better. I like the real thing."

* Reaction from your Hollywood friends when they learn you are from Chattanooga?

"I don't ever hear anything negative. I don't know if it's because of the 'Chattanooga Choo Choo' song or what, but they always say, 'That's on my list to visit.'"

* First local performance?

"'Rebel Revelries' (a Brainerd High School talent show in the early 1970s) my junior year. Margaret Pelham and I hosted and did sketches. I played a Krystal waitress."

Jordan made his entrance in a white dress, crepe-soled lace-up shoes, hairnet-covered wig and enough makeup to make Tammy Faye Baker jealous. Taking an order, he called across stage: "Two Greastals and a choc dough walking." Translation: two Krystals and a chocolate doughnut to go.

His first performance in legitimate theater at UTC was playing Doctor Rance in "What the Butler Saw."

But Jordan names his breakout performance as a one-man show he put together with well-known choreographer and actress Lindsay Fussell, held at Vine Street Market in the early 1980s. The show's purpose was to raise money to send Jordan to California to pursue a career in acting.

"Lindsay and I put together 'An Evening of Tasteful Trash' and I told stories, we sang and danced. I raised $1,200 and that's what I took to Hollywood when I left Chattanooga on a Greyhound bus. And I paid every one of those people back the money they gave me," he adds.

"It was a lot of fun," Fussell recalls of their original show, which she says was titled "Blonde End Tables and Driftwood Lamps."

"I was one of his backup singers, called the Trashettes. The show was mostly his characters, and the Trashettes performed between sketches while he changed costumes. I remember one of the characters was Mrs. Cameron Hill III. Leslie wore a fox stole and pillbox hat. Leslie had worked for years at Vine Street, so a lot of his friends were there and they were really supportive."

* Chattanoogan who most influenced your acting career?

"Dr. Fred Behringer, former chairman of the UTC Theatre Department. He taught me the craft of acting, that it is something you work at. He told me I was really funniest when I don't try to be. When I went to Fred and said I wanted to major in theater, he said, 'First of all, you've got to learn to pronounce it. It's 'theatre,' not 'the-A-tur'.'"

* Favorite restaurant to visit when you're home?

"Bea's. I love the lazy Susans. I had my 53rd birthday there with some high school friends. I love Wally's on McCallie Avenue, too."

* Favorite Little Debbie snack?

"Little Debbie Birthday Cakes and Oatmeal Creme Pies. I'd be big as Dallas and half of Fort Worth if I worked at Little Debbie!"

* Favorite local hangouts?

"Before I went to LA, it was David's, then Bud's and Alan Gold's."

* What do you miss most about home when you're in LA?

"Everything! The first 25 years of my life, I couldn't wait to get out. The last 25 years, I've planned anything I could to get to come home. I really love coming home."

Upcoming Events