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TRANSVOCALIZERS — Coco Peru

| Jan 4, 2010
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coco01Coco Peru, a.k.a. Clinton Leupp, hails originally from The Bronx in New York and got her start doing a one woman cabaret show entitled Miss Coco Peru In My Goddamn Cabaret, in the early 1990s. The Coco character is part drag diva, part actress, and all entertainment. Besides the live cabaret shows, Coco has appeared in feature films such as Trick, Girls Will Be Girls, To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar, Nick And Jane, and Straight Jacket. Television appearances include Arrested Development, Twins, Will And Grace, New York Undercover, Showtime’s Rude Awakening, Bravo’s Boy Meets Boy, Bravo’s Sexiest Moments In Film, and Bravo’s Welcome to the Parker. She was also the voice of Mama Hippo on Disney’s The Wild, and even appeared in an Orbitz commercial. Coco also has her own half hour LOGO Comedy Special that was taped as part of the Wisecrack series.

She recently appeared in a follow-up series of films called Girls Will Be Girls, which have already become something of a cult classic. In addition to the film and live cabaret shows, Coco hosts an ongoing live series of shows at the Renberg Theater in Los Angeles, called Conversations With Coco,  a live interview series and has featured such celebrity guests as Bea Arthur, Lainie Kazan, drag legend Charles Busch, and Lesley Ann Warren.

Coco’s been around for a while and for those readers on the East coast who have been fortunate enough to catch her in a cabaret performance or are familiar with her film and television work, you need no introduction. For the rest of us, it’s a real pleasure to welcome Miss Coco Peru to TGForum. What follows is Transvocalizer’s conversation with entertainer Miss Coco Peru.

TGForum: Your web site gives a pretty comprehensive listing of your professional work. What about your background? Do you have any formal musical or theatrical training?

 

Lesley Anne Warren and Coco Peru
Lesley Anne Warren and Coco Peru

Coco Peru: Yes, I went to Adelphi University in New York and got a degree in Theatre. When I decided to create Coco some people thought I was throwing away my career and training, but I think my theater background is what set me apart from others early on in my career.

TGF: You’re described as “…diva/icon/trannie/comedian…” (L.A. Times). Would you call this accurate?
CP: I love that quote! Of course, I think it would be a bit egotistical of me to say that it describes me accurately, but I do love that someone got that from seeing my show.

TGF: So how do you describe what you do? Comedian, actress, entertainer?

CP: I consider myself all of those, plus I would add “activist” to the list. Being a recovering Catholic and having grown up an effeminate boy in the Bronx, you might say I had some “issues.” Later, when I trained to be an actor in University one of the notes I kept getting from my professors was that, if I was ever going to be a working actor, I needed to “butch up” and “lose the Bronx accent.” I knew these two things were never going to be possible for me, but I also had a sense that part of what made me funny as a person was my Bronx accent and my “gayness.” However, I was depressed that not being able to butch up and lose my accent meant that I would never work.

Then one day I had a calling to do drag and my life changed in that moment! I just had a sense that, even with all my fears, everything would work out. I experienced a liberation that allowed me to know that there was no turning back and three months after that decision to do drag, I performed my first show in a popular NYC cabaret club and immediatelly became a sort of cult figure in the NYC drag/cabaret world. Part of my mission back then was that I wanted people to watch my show and forget that they were watching a man in a dress, and instead relate to the story. If they could do that, then perhaps we could all remember that what matters in life and in our relationships with others isn’t really what’s on the outside but what’s on the inside.

Of course, that was all when I was very young. Nowadays, my mission is to make cold hard cash!

TGF: How much music do you use in your shows?

misscocoperu1

CP: Music is a very important part of my show. In fact, when I am writing my monologues I am often inspired by music. I also sing in my shows as I find singing another way of expressing the points I am trying to make…music can sometimes reach another part of us that talking alone can’t do.

TGF: How old were you when you first started with drag? With entertaining in public in general?

CP: Well, I started entertaining publically as early as I can remember in my parrent’s living room. In fact, I used to put on a feather boa we had in the house every chance I got! However, there was a very secret side to my wanting to play with my mother’s clothes. When I was very young, I used to sneak into my mother’s chest of drawers and put on her earings. I especially loved the ones that dangled, and if they made a clinking noise…it was even more thrilling. I also loved to tie her chiffon scarves around my neck or just hold them in my hands and spin! I was fascinated with the colors and how they seemed to float in the air. However, before removing these articles from my mother’s drawers, I would take a mental photograph of how I found them so I could put them back without my mother knowing I had been in her drawers. So, even though I was drawn to these things, I knew early on it had to be done in secret and therefore it did fill me with shame.

Later, when I was in school and made fun of for being “effeminate,” I figured playing with my mother’s things was no longer a good idea. However, years later when I became Coco, my mother went through her drawers and got rid of a lot of stuff and some of those very scarves and earrings now sit in my drawers…and I no longer have to take any mental photographs!

My first serious step into the world of drag was when I created Coco in my twenties. I actually booked my show first, then I wrote, and weeks before it opened was the first time I got into drag. I did it a little backwards but it all worked out.

TGF: Who are your personal and professional influences?

misscocoperu3

CP: I had seen Charles Busch in The Lady In Question and I was amazed that he was doing drag in a theater! I had only ever seen drag in bars and although I was a fan of it and enjoyed it, I never saw myself being a drag queen. However, when I saw Charles, something clicked for me. Also, at the time, I wanted to be a gay activist, and I thought that doing drag as theater while telling autobiographical stories about being gay, in some strange way fulfilled both my desire to entertain, and at the same time, be a gay activist. And Coco Peru was born!

Also, Bea Arthur for me was and is my icon. As a child I was obsessed with her comic timing and slow, burning looks only she could give. I was fortunate to have become a friend of hers about 14 years ago. To have become friends with my icon was a huge gift.

TGF: You have extensive film and TV credits. Anything along those lines coming up in the future?

CP: I just filmed a LOGO special with Varla Jean Merman and Jackie Beat and that is supposed to start airing in January.

TGF: What would you offer by way of advice for anyone starting out in the world of drag?

CP: I would say that you must be original and true to yourself. Also, be kind! Especially to your elders!

TGF: Anything you’d like to say to the transgender community as a whole?

CP: I am always honored when the transgender community considers me a part of their community. Although I do drag, I have always felt a connection to transgender people. For me, gender has never been black and white and drag has been a wonderful way for me to play with gender and to open up to others ways of expressing myself. When I was young, the other boys in my neighborhood used to make fun of me by calling me a girlboy and it filled me with shame. Now, I truly feel like I am a girlboy and I’m proud of it.

TGF: One last question, and this is something I’ve always wanted to ask a cabaret performer: how do you handle hecklers at your shows?

CP: I usually remind them that people paid money to see me and that if the person heckling me wants to do a show they should write one like I did. If that doesn’t work, the Bronx in me usually kicks in and I tell them to get the F**k out. I hate kicking people out of my shows but sometimes a girlboy has to do what a girlboy has to do!. I’m sure you understand.

Check out Coco’s website. We’ve already mentioned the January 2010 LOGO special, and Coco sent this email out as well: “In January I will be making stops in San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas, Texas. I’ve been told it’s big, it’s beautiful, and I’m gonna love it!” She will be sending out more tour info later in the month as well.


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Category: Music, Transgender Fun & Entertainment

Pam Degroff

About the Author ()

Pamela DeGroff been writing for TGForum since the start of 1999. Her humor column, The Pamela Principle, ran until 2005. She started the Perpetual Change music column in May of 1999, and in 2008, Angela Gardner came up with the idea for the Transvocalizers column and put Pam to work on that. Pamela was a regular contributor to Transgender Community News until that magazine's demise. While part of a support group in Nashville called The Tennessee Vals she began writing for their newsletter, and also wrote for several local GLBT alternative newspapers in Tennessee. Pamela is currently a staff reporter for a small town daily paper in Indiana, and is also a working musician.

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