Cuckoo for Coco: Miss Coco Peru Comes to Florida
Clinton Leupp, the self-described “effeminate, damaged boy from the Bronx,” is probably better known as the high-camp actor, comedian and drag icon Coco Peru. For more than 20 years, she has been offering up truth and sarcasm to audiences with her unique brand of wit.
Her zany, day-in-the-life YouTube videos, which take you on errands, the hunt for Tension Tamer Tea, Panettone – and even attempt to play video games, make viewers wish she was the Jewish aunt they never had. The comedy sensation recently released a Liza Minelli-esque dance anthem, “Show Me Your Pride,” to mark Gay Pride month in June.
The world took notice of the wise-cracking entertainer after she appeared in the films Wigstock: The Movie, To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, and Trick. From there, Peru continued to appear in films and has made a number of guest appearances on TV shows such as Will & Grace and Arrested Development.
Since 2005 Peru has produced the Conversations With Coco series of live celebrity interviews, which feature multimedia presentations of the guests’ career highlights combined with a conversational interview by Peru. Noteworthy guests include Bea Arthur, Liza Minelli and Jane Fonda. The live interview series raises funds for the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.
Along with her signature red bob, Coco Peru will perform a series of performances in Florida, benefiting Team Long Beach, an all-inclusive group of cyclists, activists and community volunteers who take part in various HIV/AIDS cycling charity events, cycling safety, fundraising and endurance event training. Peru’s one-woman show Have You Heard will kick off Thursday, October 23 at The Manor Complex in Ft. Lauderdale, followed by stops at Metro Wellness and Community Centers in St. Petersburg, Friday, October 24, The Abbey in Orlando, Saturday, October 25 and Improv Comedy Club in Palm Beach on October 26.
Fire Down Below chatted with the unconventional and unparalleled comedian from her Los Angeles home about a new television show, working with lost Hollywood stars such as Joan Rivers and Patrick Swayze, and a possible Trick sequel.
FireDownBelowOnline.com: First off, I want to say that I LOVE your video “Let’s Play Grand Theft Auto!” I can watch it over and over. [Laughs]
Coco Peru: Thank you! I had fun making that video although I was completely shocked at how violent it really was! However, getting to smack strangers was almost better than Tension Tamer tea!
I have an affinity for the legendary comedy queens and those who tell it like it is like yourself, Lady Bunny, Bianca Del Rio and Sherry Vine.
I think what you have an affinity for is people who actually have a craft and work on their craft, as opposed to some people who think that being on a reality TV show and being “fishy” and “famous” for being on TV is enough. I certainly enjoy those shows but if I’m going to pay to see someone live, they better deliver some entertainment and have a craft!
Speaking of, I’m so mad I don’t live in California, I would’ve died to see The Drag Queens of Comedy show you did. So many genius personalities! How was that? Do you think there will be another performance/tour of that?
It was amazing! A very young queen from San Francisco named Sasha Soprano had a vision to create this show and she actually made it happen… and in the most professional way. We’ve done two shows at the Castro Theatre and both of them were over the top! I know Sasha wants to take it on the road but I think trying to coordinate all of our schedules is difficult. I wish there had been cameras filming us in the dressing room! Now that was another whole show!
Tell me more about Have You Heard. What can fans expect?
I’ve been doing “Coco Peru” for 24 years and in this show I tell some of my favorite stories from different shows from over the years. I remember in one of my earliest shows I used to say that “my show is like a group therapy session…only it’s my turn to talk,” and I still feel like after all these years I’m still doing group therapy. So I encourage people to come and laugh and think and leave feeling just a little better about yourself. I mean, let’s face it, the world needs me…and I’m way cheaper than therapy!
What’s going on with your show Politics Is A Drag?
Like most things in Hollywood, it’s in limbo! I love living there but as far as the business, well, it can be so uncreative at times, and you are constantly reminded that it is a business and it’s about money.
Are you as raunchy and brash as “Coco” off-stage?
With my very close personal friends I am. In fact, I think I’m much raunchier offstage. For instance, when my partner and I have guests over for dinner there are no filters and I encourage the rudest and crudest of conversation over the table. I honestly see it as a form of intimacy!
How much of you is in the character of “Coco Peru”? What makes you two similar or different?
“Coco” is just a heightened version of me. All of my shows are autobiographical and I’m not pretending to be a woman. I feel like with “Coco” I get to say in public what I wouldn’t say as myself, and I think the audience responds to “Coco” because I’m saying some of the things they’d like to say too! I think I’m much shyer as a boy. I also think that when I’m “Coco,” I am very aware of my surroundings and how I am being perceived, and therefore much more present. In a way, I sometimes feel more “alive” as “Coco.” I learned a valuable lesson as I created “Coco;” I realized that what I was doing was applicable to me, Clinton, as a person, that we get to create who we want to be. I grew up letting life happen to me and “Coco” taught me that I can be the creator of my life just in same way I created “Coco.” Does this make sense? Perhaps I need some Tamer Tea!
Is there a particular performer you haven’t worked with yet with whom you’d like to share the stage or screen?
I do these wonderful events in L.A. called Conversations With Coco! where I interview my idols live onstage. I did ones with Bea Arthur, Liza Minnelli, Lesley Ann Warren, Karen Black. I also did one with Lily Tomlin and another with Jane Fonda so I feel like I must do one with Dolly Parton so I can complete the 9 to 5 trifecta!
You’ve been in the biz – let’s say – a long time. Who has been your favorite to work with?
Although I am mostly a solo performer, I have had the pleasure of working with some pretty great people. I loved working with the cast of Will and Grace. They were all so friendly and supportive. I loved Bea Arthur; she could be devastatingly funny one moment and heartbreakingly honest the next. Lily Tomlin has a spark in her that is so vibrant that she makes you feel alive just by being near her. Liza is so smart and loving and I’ve been lucky to have her support from very early on in my career. Patrick Swayze on Too Wong Foo was a class act and a gentleman. I loved working with Christian Campbell on Trick. Even at that young age he was so focused and I could feel he wanted me to be great in our scene together. And of course, my two co-stars in Girls Will Be Girls, Jack Plotnick (Evie) and Jeff Roberson (Varla), were both so professional and generous. I think that in addition to Richard Day’s hilarious script, the reason why that film worked is because the three of us genuinely care for and celebrate each other.
I know you had made a cameo on Joan & Melissa earlier this year, but had you ever had the chance to work with Joan?
I never got to work with Joan. My good friend, Tony Tripoli, who was Joan’s head writer, wanted her to do a Conversations with Coco! but she turned me down because, apparently, to have people reflect on her past made her feel old and not current. Of course, I totally disagree and I think she would have loved the experience and I’m sad that I never got to have that moment with her. After her initial rejection I was invited on her reality show and the set up was that I would go to her home to pitch her the idea of doing a Conversation so that she could turn me down on camera (how’s that for “reality”?) but I turned it down. My events raise money for the L.A. LGBT Center’s Homeless Youth Program and I figured that the last thing I needed was to be on TV having Joan Rivers say “no” to me. I was happy that Tony later invited me to the taping of that episode at his house because I met Joan briefly and I got to tell her how much I loved her, so I’m grateful for that small moment.
Would you ever consider doing a Trick sequel?
Yes! Of course! There was recently talk of that happening but I have no idea where it stands. I do know that I would have a much larger part… and I’m not talking about JP Pitoc’s package! Although I will say this, he filled out that thong nicely! NICELY!
So, did you ever have to take legal action against Target for stealing your look/image after that whole wig scandal? [Laughs]
No, I was more upset that they pulled Tension Tamer tea from their shelves not to mention my press on nails! WTF Target?
You’re a known outspoken LGBT & HIV Awareness activist. Being a part of the New York gay scene in the ‘80s and ‘90s, have you noticed any differences in awareness from the then to today? Is there any advice you can offer to this generation?
Back then, people in our community were literally fighting for their lives. Seeing people sick and having had a few friends die in their 20s certainly had an impact on me as young man. I think the community had to pull together and get focused and involved. There was an urgency that I don’t feel in our politics nowadays. I would encourage younger people to not forget their history, to respect their elders, to use condoms, to practice safe sex. And, of course, to come see my show!!!
Who: Miss Coco Peru
Where/When: The Manor Complex, Thursday, October 23, 7pm; Metro Wellness and Community Centers, Friday, October 24, 7pm; The Abbey, Saturday, October 25, 7pm; Improv Comedy Club, October 26, 3pm
Photos by Peter Palladino