Interview by Sam Kalidi
Miss Coco Peru has done it all: award-winning shows, scene-stealing appearances in cult movies, guest starring roles on TV shows, interviews with icons like Liza Minnelli, and a popular YouTube channel. Her drag style is one of a kind: she’s funny, political, outrageous, motivational and inspirational.
Flagrant reporter Sam Kalidi caught up with Coco to discuss the evolution of drag, the diversity of her audience, Jane Fonda’s familiarity with cockrings, and her upcoming show “The Taming of the Tension” that she will be performing at The Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Renberg Theatre on Saturdays, September 9 & 16 at 8pm and Sundays, September 10 & 17at 7pm.
FLAGRANT: We are going through some extremely tense political and social times, will this be reflected in your upcoming show, “The Taming of The Tension”?
COCO: Yes, of course! My shows have always had this element but I do feel that in this show I am addressing a lot of things I think the audience will relate to and hopefully by the end of the show we will all leave feeling a little less tense, and I imagine that good feeling will last, at least, until you get back to your car! This is the world we live in now, where I constantly feel assaulted by bad behavior.
FLAGRANT: Your shows are unique in that they are funny but also political and inspiring, was it a gradual evolution or did Coco always have that voice?
COCO: It has always been that way. My first show, “My Goddamn Cabaret,” was born out of my desire to be an activist and in that show I addressed the Catholic church, gender, AIDS. I feel that creating Coco back in the early 90’s gave me back my voice and I haven’t shut-up since!
FLAGRANT: Who are the performers that inspired you and keep inspiring you?
COCO: My earliest inspiration was Bea Arthur. Charles Pierce was also an inspiration. I had seen a TV special as a kid of his one person show and I was completely connected to his humor. This was before you could watch programs at will and I just remember wishing that I could watch it again and again. Also, I had seen Wayland Flowers and Madame and even though Madame was a puppet I was so attracted to the bawdy humor and the fact that it was a man giving voice to that female puppet. However, it was Charles Busch who was my inspiration to finally give drag a try because he showed me that drag could also be theatrical.
FLAGRANT: Your fans, your “Coco Puffs” are incredibly devoted. Can you call upon them to act as a sleeper cell?
COCO: I do love naps! I believe siestas can heal the world.
FLAGRANT: How do you feel about drag going mainstream with thousands of young girls and their mothers showing up to DragCon? Is there pressure to be more politically correct to please this new audience?
COCO: I think it’s pretty wonderful because for me it’s all about self-expression and liberation, so when these young kids hug me and tell me that I inspire them and their parents stand behind their child and look me in the eye and mouth, “Thank you” how could I not love and celebrate that?
As far as the whole politically correct thing, that is not an issue just with a young audience but it is becoming a “thing” and it concerns me. In fact, it’s such a touchy issue for me right now that I still need to work through my feelings about it, but I am realizing that there are people out there that are looking to be offended, looking to feel victimized and they come after people like me, and I think their self-righteous anger is totally misdirected, short sighted and even dangerous as there are bigger enemies out there than a middle aged drag queen who has worked for LGBT rights her whole career. I’ve been thinking recently that if this is the way of the future, it’s a good thing I’m retiring in 6 years.
(Therapist Coco counsels troubled couple Randy Rainbow and Mel Gibson in clip below)
FLAGRANT: Many Drag Race contestants have become internationally famous while the legendary drag performers who influenced them remain unknown to the mainstream. Why haven’t more seasoned drag performers been featured more on Drag Race? Is ageism a problem in the drag world?
COCO: I don’t feel like ageism is a problem. I talk about being old on stage and I think the young kids respect me all the more for it. They’re looking for role models. All I know is that I have worked hard all these years and I am so lucky that I have had a career for as long as I have. The younger queens who want that kind of career recognize that that I am professional, that I am on time, that I don’t cause drama, and that I respect my fans because I know that they have paid my bills. I’m not saying I am 100 percent perfect all the time… but I am 99.9 percent perfect and that ultimately is what can keep a career going this long!
FLAGRANT: Girls Will Be Girls is the definition of a cult smash. Will there ever be a feature-length sequel? Barring that, what about a “Coco” origin story? And who would you like to play “Coco?”
COCO: We did film a sequel on a very small budget that was raised by crowdfunding by fans of the first film and it has yet to be released. Although this is not my fault, I do feel embarrassed and guilty that the project has yet to be delivered to our fans that so generously gave their money.
And a Coco origin story? Really? I’ve been talking about myself for 26 years! I don’t think the world needs more. However, maybe someday I’ll write a book.
FLAGRANT: You’ve interviewed so many legendary gay icons: Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Liza Minnelli, Bea Arthur etc… any memorable moments you could share with us?
COCO: These were all people that I grew up admiring and studying so sitting across from them on a stage with an audience witnessing it all is an experience I will always treasure. I remember that I would be present to the interview but I would have these moments where that kid/fan in me would be thinking, “Oh my God! I’m sitting with Bea Arthur! Lily Tomlin! Liza!”
There was the moment on stage where Jane Fonda said “cockring” and I couldn’t help but think for some reason “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!” There was the moment where Bea Arthur used the word “soporific” and then playfully in her Bea way said that I probably didn’t even know the meaning to that word at which point I gave the correct definition to the word and put THE Bea Arthur in her place! There was the moment where Lily Tomlin took the antique phone I grew up using to imitate her character Ernestine and spoke into that antique phone from my childhood as Ernestine making me feel that my life had come full circle. And there was that moment when Liza Minnelli, who had seen my shows and who was there so that we could celebrate her, sang MY praises to the audience!
I had always imagined that one day I would meet these people, and lo and behold, I did! And I am very aware that it was taking that leap of faith years ago and following my vision to create Coco, that created these moments with my idols.
Miss Coco Peru will be appearing in “The Taming of the Tension” September 9, 10, 16 & 17 at The Renberg Theatre in Los Angeles. For more upcoming shows, please consult her website here.
(featured photo credit: Greg Bailey / Alright Darling)