’Undaunted’ Coco Peru Comes To Ptown
Back in 1992, Coco Peru performed in a show called "A Legend in Progress," and it's a title that still applies to this evolving drag performer (aka Clinton Leupp.) Yet the more she changes, the more she stays the same -- physically, at least. With her trademark copper-toned flip hairdo and svelte profile, Coco brings to mind such mainstream figures as Kathy Griffin and Bree Van De Kamp (Marcia Cross) from "Desperate Housewives;" but it was Coco who came up with this look 16 years ago, when she made her New York debut with "Miss Coco Peru in My Goddamn Cabaret," a show that ran for two years in a Greenwich Village cabaret.
Since then she has become one of the most recognizable figures of the New York drag scene and beyond, thanks to performing her one-person shows around the country and appearing in such films as "Trick" and "Girls Will Be Girls." This Friday, Coco makes her Provincetown debut as part of Carnival's 30th anniversary celebration. She will be appearing at the UU Meeting House, UU Meeting House, 236 Commercial St. at 8:30 pm. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door.
Over the years, Coco has collected numerous awards for her shows, including the Manhattan Association of Cabaret (MAC) Award and a GLAAD Media Award (which she won after four tries.) Her television appearances include "Arrested Development," Showtime's "Rude Awakening," "Will and Grace," and her half-hour television special for Logo. (It airs regularly as part of the network's Wisecrack series.) For her performance in "Girls Will Be Girls," Coco shared the Best Actress Award with her co-stars at the HBO Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, as well as the Best Actor Award at Outfest, L.A.'s Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
"If those gender-bending awards bespeak a certain duality in Miss Coco's temperament," wrote an LA Times critic reviewing "Miss Coco Peru is Undaunted," "so does this show, which details how often Miss Coco has straddled the divide between saint and sinner, ladylike sweetness and stevedore crassness. Under the direction of Michael Schiralli, Miss Coco sings, sasses, and tells stories, usually about her own past. Wry and uncensored, the show is a hilarious exorcism, with music, no less. Hey, that's entertainment."
We can only concur, having caught up with Peru when she made an appearance at a Boston nightspot earlier this year. Though there were problems with the sound system, Peru prevailed with an autobiographical show that was just plain hilarious. We also had the opportunity to speak with Clinton at that time while he was in Florida (Palm Beach to be exact) visiting his mother, who recently relocated there from the Bronx. "It's a hard life," he said with a sigh. "I'm sitting on the porch in this beautiful tropical breeze and cutting up a papaya."
EDGE: Poor you ... It's pouring here in Boston. Let's hope it clears up by the time you come here. What will you be doing when you do?
Clinton Leupp (Coco Peru): I'll be doing a one-person show. It's a combination of three of my shows - 'Miss Coco's Universe,' 'Miss Coco Peru's Glorious Wounds' and 'Miss Coco Peru is Undaunted.'
EDGE: Was 'Miss Coco Peru is Undaunted' the one you won a GLAAD Award for?
Clinton/Coco: Yes. Finally. I was beginning to feel like Susan Lucci.
EDGE: How would describe the show you're doing here?
Clinton/Coco: It is basically banter with some songs. I'm known as a storyteller. I tell autobiographical stories. The songs have something to do with the stories. Everything is interconnected. I don't pretend to be a woman. I talk about growing up in the Bronx. I talk about my partner, my parents, being an effeminate little boy growing up in the Bronx. Coco is an extension of myself.
For a taste of Coco Peru, watch this YouTube video.
EDGE: Have you always wanted to drag? When was Coco born?
Clinton/Coco: Coco came about at a time in my life when I didn't have much direction. I trained to be an actor and I realized that when I went out on auditions, no matter how much I tried to butch up, I wasn't getting roles like I did in college. I realized I had to do something that made me unique. I also wanted to be an activist -- it was the early 1990s and AIDS was happening, as well as the movement for gay equality. And I wanted to be an openly gay performer. Then I read a book about Native Americans 'true spirits,' which were men who dressed as women or partially as women who were often seen as the shaman or the storytellers in their communities. And I thought, that's what I'm going to do -- I'm going to be a modern day shaman. At that time I had a Peruvian boyfriend and we went to Lima on visit. I met a Peruvian drag queen named Coco. So I put all those things together: I'm a drag queen/true spirit/gay activist/entertainer. And everything fell into place. It was really a magical time in my life.
EDGE: You have such a distinctive look -- it's very 1960s retro, like Marlo Thomas in "That Girl," but with attitude. How did you find it?
Clinton/Coco: I was trying on wigs with this woman friend I know. And I tried blonde, and that looked terrible. A black wig looked terrible. Then a friend suggested red, and I tried it on and I said, 'that's the color.' My first hairdo was very Tina Louise/Gilligan's Island - very big. It evolved into the straight with flip going under ,then I tried it with the flip going out - and I said, 'That's Coco.' Other drag queens have chided me for not changing my hairdo, but I just feel it is so much part of the persona and so recognizable, I don't want to change it.
EDGE: What's a day in the life of Coco Peru like?
Clinton/Coco: It's not very exciting. (laughs) Coco is like a roller-coaster ride. Either everything is happening all at once or nothing is happening at all. I basically have a very normal life. I don't go out to bars at all. I did that when I was younger, but now I'm married (he married his husband Rafael in Spain a few years ago) and have a very quiet life with moments of excitements such as when I get invited to a special event or go to a place like Boston. And I get to spend summers in Spain. So I can't complain.
EDGE: People outside of New York first became aware of you in 'Trick,' where you played yourself and accosted the character played by Christian Campbell in a men's room to set him straight about Mark (John Paul Pitoc), telling him how no-good he is. Who could ever forget it when your description of your sexual encounter with him that ended with the words 'It BURNS!?' How did that role come about?
Clinton/Coco: Jim Fall, the director, is a friend of mine and a fan -- he use to come see our show every week. He asked me to help audition actors, which was five years before the movie was made. At that time my role wasn't in the film. I was reading Tori Spelling's role. I noticed that Jim was laughing at my performance. I got huge laughs and everyone felt that I had to be in the movie. They wrote me a part, which I rewrote using my own experiences. I wrote that line "It burns." Most of the part was written by me, which is why I played it so well.