The Will & Grace scene-stealer tells EW what to expect in his upcoming book, including stories about Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, and getting in a fight at a West Hollywood Starbucks.

By Seija Rankin
September 10, 2020 at 10:00 AM EDT
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His followers weren't the only ones glued to Leslie Jordan's daily Instagram videos during quarantine — the Will & Grace actor is getting his own essay collection. EW can exclusively announce that the aptly-named How Y'all Doing? will be released on May 4, 2021, offering Jordan several hundred pages in which to tell even more of the stories his fans have come to love and rely on. We spoke to him about what readers can expect from the book and how he's getting it all done.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First, tell us where in the world you are quarantining right now.

LESLIE JORDAN: I’m in Los Angeles, where I’ve lived for decades. Honey, I got on a bus in 1982 with $1,200 that Mama pinned in my underpants and I took a Greyhound to Hollywood. I’ve lived right here in the heart of Hollywood for all these years.

This isn't your first book, but is your first book in a long time. What can you tell us about it?

Yes, I wrote a book many years ago called My Trip Down the Pink Carpet — that dealt a little more about coming to Hollywood and growing up gay in the Baptist church. This book, we’re calling How Y’all Doing. It’s essays. Everything from the time Debbie Reynolds called my mother (the story is about Carrie Fisher and I and our mothers getting together to talk about us), to a story about the time someone walked into the West Hollywood Starbucks and called us a lot of names, and I threw my iced tea in their face. Here I am, 4-foot-11, and I’m the one who stood up and said 'Not in my house!' Not in West Hollywood. What I’m hoping will happen is that I’ll find that sort of theme. I like to do things in the vein of David Sedaris. I’m not as smart as him but I’m as funny. Oh, he is funny. And his sister, Amy, too. That family: Southern as mine.

So this is definitely comedic essays...

This book is gonna be a lot of fun, there’s not a lot of 'Oh, poor me.' There's no 'My daddy was a lieutenant colonel in the army and I wasn’t up to par’ or any of that. I’m having a lot of fun and it’s coming really easy. I had this idea where I took a little bit of my advance money and flew to Louisville and took a little place where I could ride horses and write. That was just a disaster. I didn’t write a word. I’m back home now and am writing. I kind of freaked out because I do have a delivery date and it scares me to death when we get down to words — they say, we would like 30,000 words and we want it delivered on so-and-so day. Oh my God, I started Googling ‘How may words are on a page.’

What does your writing process look like? It seems like you might do your best work just riffing to a front-facing camera. 

It's all fun and it’s something I really and truly enjoy. I used to write in longhand, but now I write on my computer. I was told writing longhand slows your mind down to the speed of a pen and you get clarity, but that’s bulls---. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is it’s lonely, in that once I’ve written my daily quota I want to read it to somebody. They don’t want to read it, they’re like I’ll read the book, honey.

Who do you go to for book or writing advice?

I learned a long time ago you can’t get too many opinions. I have an amazing editor at HarperCollins who I trust implicitly. We are so on the same page. But I do have one other friend who reads and I trust him, too. If you hear the same note from two, three people then you have to look at it. As an actor, I’ve learned that too. One person is an opinion — unless they’re in the business like my editor — but two people, then you gotta listen. And it’s funny, I never cared about notes on my acting, but there’s something about writing that’s so personal that it’s like an attack on your baby. I’m learning lingo, like ‘It doesn’t quite track.’

Did this book deal come directly from your exploding Instagram popularity in quarantine?

I’m ahead of the game in that I’ve had so much success on the Internet. I got the book deal from that. I had 80,000 followers in the early days, as I say. Megan Mullally reposted something of mine which got me there, and I remember thinking, wow. Then during the quarantine, I was stuck in Tennessee at a bed and breakfast and I posted two Instagrams a day for 80 days. I’ve had television people say, we pay writers $250,000 a year to come up with this. I did turn down sponsorships, but then they started coming for the book deal. I also got a deal with this wonderful app called Quibi, to do some things for them. In that way, it’s paid off handsomely.

The funniest thing was that when I was in Tennessee, a friend of mine called and said, 'Leslie, you’ve gone viral.' I said, 'No, honey, don’t worry about me, I’m fine.' I thought he meant the Corona! Then I looked — and the people at Instagram told me, you’re the only person we’ve had who went from zero to 5 million followers in four months. I’m used to attention because I’ve been on television, but this kind is different. I’ll walk around the neighborhood and people will yell my name. It’s crazy. Who would have thought I’d become a social media maven at 65!

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