Miss Coco Peru has been there and done that – all in a shoulder-length, red flip hairdo, naturally.
Unlike most drag performers, Ms. Peru forewent lip-synching and dancing and instead made a name for herself as a monologist and creator of one-woman shows. A period of successful performances in New York’s cabaret circuit eventually led to stints in film and television – To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, Trick, Will and Grace, and Arrested Development to name a few. She also continues to raise money for the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center with her interview series, Conversations with Coco.
This month, Peru brings her signature brand of hilarity to Seattle in a brand new show, appropriately titled The Taming of the Tension. I got together with Ms. Peru to discuss the show, her thoughts on the queer youth of today, and the secret to her success.
You started drag in a very different climate than queens today do. Can you talk about how the landscape of drag and queer performance art have changed over the years? Do you think the drag boom we’re in right now is a good thing?
Yes, I do. I sometimes have my complaints, but ultimately it is a really good thing. Ru’s Race and YouTube have really changed who is now coming to see my shows. I never would’ve expected that young teenage girls and their moms would be sitting in my audience and finding value in what I have to say. It really blows my mind! I don’t change the way I write my shows so I think it’s great that I’m talking about gay sex sometimes and these young people are sitting there and keeping an open mind and laughing along with the older gay guys. The younger generation is so much more open, and even though this liberation is everything I have worked towards, it still amazes me. My teenage niece, who lives in Florida, has two boys in her class that wear full makeup to school… and aren’t made fun of! My niece is jealous that these boys do their makeup better than her!
On a related note, how do you feel about the young queer folks out there? Are they ruining everything with their iPhones and Grindr and dial-up internet?
I love young people and how excited they are about queer culture. I find that the younger generation, at least the ones I meet or who write to me, are looking for role models as I once did. I do have the problem now with people being distracted by their phone or trying to record my shows, but honestly it’s not just young people, it’s EVERYONE! I encourage people to try this whole new concept, it’s going to be the next big thing, I call it… BEING PRESENT!
You’ve obviously had a pretty storied career. What have been your secrets for maintaining success?
My parents raised me right and taught me that hard work pays off. I also trained in the theatre which teaches you to be respectful and to show up on time. My goal was never to be well known, it was to do good work and connect with an audience. Every time I get caught up in my insecurities it’s usually a sign that I have somehow veered off my goals. It’s my husband that is there to remind me of why I created Coco. Then I get back to the basics of performing and connecting with my audience.
You’ve often said your early motivation for creating Coco sprang out of a desire to blend activism and performance. Do you still feel that way? Has our current political situation changed that in any way?
Yes, I still feel that way. I love to entertain but there is always something bigger behind the words that I hope resonates with the audience so that the show isn’t just about my story, it becomes everyone’s story. This new show addresses the world we live in now and all the distractions and how those distractions can sometimes make us disconnected from each other. I think that is why I continue to think that storytelling is so central to what I do, because I see how, when people focus, storytelling can be transformative.
You’ve been doing this for a few years now. What keeps you going? How do you keep things fresh for yourself?
I’ve been doing this for 26 years and what keeps me going nowadays is a mortgage! I also hope to retire someday soon and want to be comfortable. When I was very young and living in NYC I would see the homeless people on the subway and I would feel a dread that I could end up like that. I also give myself deadlines so that I have to deliver. I think deadlines keep me going. But from my early childhood I have always had this desire to entertain and to connect with other people. I was always inquisitive and asking questions. I know that the need to connect with others still drives me. It is very satisfying to me since I remember a time early on, before I created Coco, where I felt very disconnected on every level. Coco helped me find my voice. Since my stories are all autobiographical and life is always changing I guess it stays fresh for me because everything is always evolving.
You’ve interviewed some legends on Conversations with Coco – Jane Fonda, Bea Arthur, Liza Minelli. Is there anyone else on your interview bucket list?
That is a very long list, but I really want to interview Dolly Parton and Shirley MacLaine.
If you were forced to choose a Celestial Seasonings tea to enjoy besides Tension Tamer, what would it be? We already know how you feel about that Sleepy Time garbage.
Bengal Spice. I like a nice Chai Latte from time to time.
Speaking of Tension Tamer, what can we expect from your new show The Taming of the Tension?
There is a lot of tension in the world nowadays and I address some of what makes me tense and then tell stories to work through that tension. This show feels very current to me with what’s going on in the world but also very personal and emotional as I address the fact that I will be retiring in 8 years and how, when you consider that I’ve been doing this for 26 years, 8 years is not too long off. My point is…. See me while you can, because nothing makes me tenser than hearing, “Next time!” or “I’ll try.” That world isn’t exciting to me and this show encourages people to live in the world of “Now’s the time!”