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Eric interviews Miss Coco Peru

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

Miss Coco Peru September 5-6 Re-Bar Most people know of Coco Peru from either of the classic movies Girls Will Be Girls or Trick. Few fans know that there is much more to the persona than meets the eye. From having a strong base in native theology to getting married in a Spanish castle, Ms. Coco Peru has seen or done it all and has triumphantly come out the other side. In preparation for her debut Seattle performances at the Re-Bar, the illustrious drag performer took time out for an interview with the Seattle Gay News.

Eric Andrews-Katz: How did you come up with the persona of Coco Peru?

CocoPeru:I started in the early '90s. I was always interested in the Two-Spirit peoples [A native belief of a person being conceived of both genders], how they were respected and often seen as shamans and storytellers. I knew I wanted to be an activist and a drag performer, although I was terrified of doing drag, I wanted to face that fear. Coco allowed me to cross those boundaries.

Andrews-Katz: How are Clinton Leupp [Coco's male alter ego] and Coco similar?

Peru: When I started writing, I didn't want to pretend to be a woman. I wanted to be a man who dressed as a woman. That way I would be viewed as being both genders. On stage I'm telling autobiographical stories that are part of both of our lives. Coco is the persona of whom Clinton was ashamed of for years. Growing up, it was Clinton who was called Girlie Boy and Sissy and who was riddled with shame. Coco allowed liberation from all that and could embrace all that Clinton was taught to hate about himself.

Andrews-Katz: How are they different?

Peru: Clinton hates putting on all the makeup! If I do more than a few shows a week, the shaving part becomes problematic.

Andrews-Katz: Is it more difficult to come out as a drag performer or as a Gay man?

Peru: That's an interesting question. People always laugh when, as a drag queen, I talk about the difficulties of coming out. But in drag, the process is more difficult, not with straight or Gay audiences, but with potential boyfriends. As soon as I mention the drag thing, they run in the other direction. People think that being a drag queen is all about being in the clubs, all outrageous and drunk. I think that being seen with a drag queen stirs up the personal shame and stigma of being labeled something. Personally, I try and celebrate it all.

Andrews-Katz: Why do you prefer being called a drag queen opposed to a female impersonator?

Peru: I'm not impersonating a female; I'm being my own person. When I first started, one of the people that inspired me was a drag queen, and I sort of wanted to own that title. People have such a negative reaction to that sometimes, and they shouldn't. Some said it would be hurting my career, but I think it would be dishonoring all the drag queens before me. Most of the drag queens I know are at the forefront of the activist movement at Stonewall or currently. They're also very heavily involved with HIV organizations. I'm proud of being among those that call themselves drag queens.

Andrews-Katz: What are the differences of doing drag on the East Coast vs. West Coast?

Peru: The ocean is on the wrong side. Being from New York City, I base all of my sense of direction on the Atlantic. The location of the Pacific Ocean just confuses me. Originally, I thought the audiences wouldn't be as receptive, but they have been wonderful. My NYC friends say that LA's friendliness is all phony-nice. I'll accept phony-nice as long as it's nice.

Andrews-Katz: Aside from Nurse Kitty in the Off-Broadway show Blood Orgy of the Carnival Queens, do you have desires to play roles on stage, like Charles Busch or Harvey Fierstein?

Peru: I'm open to playing any role. I love being cast in other peoples' shows because it's an extra weight lifted from my shoulders and I don't have to feel responsible. I always thought that Varla Jean Merman and I should do Chicago. I would play Roxy, or Velma, whichever was the older character.

Andrews-Katz: How did you get involved with the [Gay] LOGO network?

Peru: They contacted me looking for standup acts. I know people who worked there and are friends of mine. I was lucky enough to get on the program, and I'm looking forward to more shows there.

Andrews-Katz: Is it true that the show Ugly Betty inspired your one-woman show, Ugly Coco?

Peru: It didn't inspire the show, just the title. I often see TV shows or comedians that will have a great line in it and I think, "That's what I say in my show!" An example is when the young kid on Ugly Betty was on the subway and gets called a faggot. The father confronts the guy, and everyone applauds. In my show [which predates Ugly Betty], I tell the story of how some guy called me a faggot while I was dressed in drag on the train. I confronted him on it and everyone applauded me. So you can see the similarities and why I could get upset.

Andrews-Katz: I read on your blog about a negative experience at a performance in Gainesville, Florida. I used to live there, and I feel your pain. What happened?

Peru: Let's just say that in Gainesville, Florida, if it's not the serial killers or alligators trying to kill you, it's the Gay-bashing at the local Shony's restaurant.

Andrews-Katz: What can Seattle audiences expect from your show, Ugly Coco?

Peru: I'm not doing that show, I'm doing a compilation of all three of my shows, sort of a Best of Coco. My shows are sort of a rollercoaster ride; one minute I have the audience laughing, and the next moment I'm making an important point. I think that since I'm not lip-synching and I'm telling autobiographical stories, that it's more theater than a typical show.

Andrews-Katz: Did the movie Trick change your life in any way?

Peru: It is the movie that changed my life. It showed people more of what I do, but on a greater scale. It was wonderful, especially because I got to write my own monologue. Few people get to write for a movie, never mind an entire monologue.

Andrews-Katz: How do you react when people say you look like Tori Spelling?

Peru: It was more of an issue when the movie came out [1999]. At the movie's premier at the Sundance Festival, her people were so mean to me. They excluded me from any kind of press, preventing me from being in any photos with the cast. But at the first reading of the movie, I played the Tori Spelling part. I even wrote lines for the explosive meltdown scene with the cheese fries. Tori wasn't mean to me, it was her people. We made peace years later. At the time, I thought, "welcome to Hollywood." That's why I believe you should always be one step ahead of what people are saying about you.

Andrews-Katz: As one friend said, "we've all been trapped in the bathroom by a drag queen," and your part was such a scene-stealing performance. Do you have people quoting lines at you?

Peru: Oh, "it burns," I get all the time. I love it, though, when queens come up to me and misquote it by saying, "it stings." I just smile and say thank you. The other line, "it's big, it's beautiful, and you're gonna love it," really happened. A really cute boy actually said that to me, so I used it when I wrote that monologue.

Andrews-Katz: What was it like to work with Evie and Varla Jean Merman in Girls Will Be Girls?

Peru: Glorious! Wonderful! They are two of my favorite people. They are both amazingly talented. People think that because we're doing drag, there must be competition, but there really isn't. We're all really supportive of each other and allow each other that moment to shine. At first I felt upset and agonized over my character because I wasn't the funny one; my character is a sad sack. Then I decided to play the character for real. I'll be the straight man, so to speak. Once I made that decision, I felt good about the part.

Andrews-Katz: What accounts for the cult following of Girls Will Be Girls?

Peru: I think that Gay men have this gene that allows them the freedom to laugh at things that are naughty; something most people are afraid to laugh at. GWBG can be a gross film at times, but it celebrates the part of Gay men that doesn't pose as a threat. It's the camp part. At the Sundance premiere, people actually walked out. Women were upset - particularly about the part where Coco gets pregnant purposely so that she can find the abortion doctor of her dreams. What they don't realize is that that scene was based on a friend of the writer's that actually did that. It's true!

Andrews-Katz: Do you have further movie plans?

Peru: In October I'll start working on the film The Wildcat Road. It's along a Gay version of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! kind of genre.

Andrews-Katz: Which do you prefer, movie acting or performing a show?

Peru: They are both great and I love them both. It may be cliché, but the great thing about a live audience is that you do feel the audience, and that's a wonderful feeling. In movies, you film it once and then you're grateful you don't have to do it again.

Andrews-Katz: Where did you meet your husband, Raphael?

Peru: On Fire Island, 13 years ago. Not in the bushes! I want that to be emphasized, just to be clear. We got married in a Spanish castle two years ago. He had kind eyes, and I thought, "that's someone who is a potential husband."

Andrews-Katz: When you got married to Raphael, was it as Clinton or as Coco?

Peru: As Clinton. Both of our families are accepting of us, 100 percent. We are very lucky!

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