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Q&A with Coco Peru

Coco Peru is a drag legend, plain and simple. A performer who always kept one high heel planted in activism, Peru, portrayed by Clinton Leupp, has had a career that has not only entertained, but inspired many. From stage to film to television, Peru continues to be a drag pioneer, taking the art form to previously unreached heights. And now she’s coming back to Provincetown to present Coco Peru is Bitter, Bothered and Beyond at the Pilgrim House. She took some time to talk to Provincetown Magazine about her Cher-like retirement, what it was like working with Patrick Swayze, and how her scene stealing “it burns!” moment in the film Trick came to be.

Provincetown Magazine: Congratulations on your upcoming retirement! Do you recall your first time performing as Coco?

Coco Peru: Thank you, but I think it’s more of a semi-retirement at this point. Every time I try to get out, something pulls me back in. But yes, of course I remember my first performance as Coco. I had written my first show called My Goddman Cabaret and I performed it at Rose’s Turn in the West Village in New York City. I was so nervous, but cabaret rooms were a wonderful, safe venue to work on your craft without having to spend a fortune on a space. Of course, my first show was attended by family and friends, but word spread that there was this drag queen who was a monologist and singing songs and who was political and angry, and the show quickly became something of a cult hit by cabaret standards. Back then, people also read reviews, and I had reviews in the major New York City newspapers that were all favorable and so that helped, too. It was just an exciting time to be in New York City and to be doing something new. I was on a mission driven by my need to be an activist as well as a performer. Coco allowed me to blend those two parts of myself perfectly, and fortunately, people responded to what I was saying and doing.

PM: What are a few moments or achievements over your career that are particularly special memories for you?

CP: I’m very proud and grateful that both my parents were my biggest fans. My mom still is! When the Los Angeles LGBTQ Center presented me with an award at their big gala event one year, my mom was with me and witnessing me, my career, and my advocacy being recognized, and that was a very powerful, proud moment. I’m also very proud of the Conversations with Coco shows that raised a lot of money for the Center’s Homeless Youth Program. Getting to sit and interview people like Bea Arthur, Liza Minnelli, Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Allison Janney, Karen Black, and Leslie Ann Warren was unreal, and I’m very proud that they all loved the experience. Mostly, I’m grateful that I have survived 31 years as a drag queen!

PM: You appeared in two drag classics, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar and Girls Will Be Girls. What was it like on each respective set?

CP: To Wong Foo was a blast because as a solo performer, I had an opportunity to work with other queens and learn about the diverse worlds even within the drag and trans community. I loved being around those girls. The three leads were very sweet, and I really respected Patrick Swayze for his kindness and generosity, but it was my sisters that I loved being around most. Just hearing Joey Arias and Lady Catiria tell me stories about their lives and careers was heaven. Each one of them embodied the sacred and profane that I am so drawn to.

Being on the set of Girls Will be Girls was both great fun and challenging for me at the very beginning. On the set with Jack Plotnick/Evie Harris and Jeff Roberson/Varla Jean Merman, they were both demanding divas with a list of “needs,” and by needs, I mean a revolving door of cocks… I mean, they are both professionals, so that was the joyful part, but they’re both also incredibly funny, and my character wasn’t written funny, so for the first few days of shooting I was watching the two of them being hilarious and nailing every moment and I just felt like I was getting lost by not being able to find the funny with my scenes. I then made the decision that I didn’t have to be funny and that I would play the character honestly, and I think in the end that was the best choice for me and the film. The three of us all respect and care for each other greatly, and I believe that came through in the movie.

PM: Your scene-stealing moment in the 1999 film Trick is still frequently referred to. How many takes did it take to get the “It burns” scene? Was it improvised or written?

CP: The monologue was fully written, word for word, and the writer was generous enough to let me rewrite most of that monologue, so it was really in my voice. I think I had three takes to get it before they ran out of film! I cried that night thinking that I was horrible and begged the director to cut me out of the film. When I saw it for the first time at the Sundance Film Festival and the audience was laughing so hard that lines were being missed, I cried again, but this time with relief and joy. That was another one of my proudest moments.

PM: What do you have in store with your farewell show Bitter, Bothered and Beyond?

CP: That question bothers me because I always want to say,
“Oh for fucks sake, I need to fucking explain it? Just come see the fucking show!” But since you asked, the show is a celebration of theater and survival, a reflection of the past, present and future, laced with a lot of Bronx sassiness, good songs, and heart. It’s not my most hopeful show, given the state of the world, but hopefully the messages will resonate with people and they’ll walk away thinking and reflecting on their own lives. That’s always my goal. I’ve been told its Queer Church and that definitely doesn’t bother me.

PM: What are your plans for retirement? And will Coco make the occasional comeback appearance?

CP: I plan on working less so that I can be more present with taking care of my mom who will be 96 in September. My siblings help as well a great deal, but a girlboy son can’t be beat when it comes to caretaking for their mom, and my mom knows it. In fact, I know what she wants before she does. Years ago, she said that she loved gay people, and when I asked her why, she said, “They notice the details.” So, my OCD works well for her. I also plan on spending more time in Spain with my husband, Rafael, where I’d like to try and write a book. If an opportunity comes along that inspires me, I know Coco will reappear, but I’m okay with slowing down. Still, I know Coco will be a part of me always, and I’m grateful that so many people made Coco a part of their lives too.

Coco Peru Is Bitter, Bothered & Beyond is at the Pilgrim House, 336 Commercial St., Saturday, September 3 through Tuesday, September 6 at 9 p.m. Tickets ($35/$45) are available at the box office and online at For more information call 508.487.6424.

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Graphic Artist

Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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