The drag storyteller serves up tales bitter and sweet at her third Dallas Pride
With her trademark “That Girl” flip and a troweled-on, Italian/tri-state-area accent, diva drag goddess Miss Coco Peru (aka Clinton Leupp) could easily coast by on biting wit and bitchy punch lines. After all, she’s already won the gay popular vote with her infamous “It burns!” semen scene in Trick, and as part of the trio of leading ladies in the (now) cult classic Girls Will Be Girls.
But Peru opts to take her drag to a different — and sometimes darker — level, peeling back the inherent candy-coated cuteness that so often accompanies wigs and heels and delving into stories and songs that address real-life moments and issues. Yet she’s still able to do this all while setting every song in this show to a Barry Manilow tune (by design, nonetheless). It’s a conundrum for sure.
How does one make drag both over-the-top and under-the-skin in the same show? Dallas will soon find out when Coco makes her third appearance for Dallas Pride with a two-night performance of Miss Coco Peru is Present. And in anticipation of unwrapping this sparkly gift, we caught up with the leggy first lady of monologues to see how the world (outside of the great state of Texas) has been treating her.
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— Jef Tingley
Dallas Voice: Coco, we think you may be hooked. What is it about Dallas that keeps you coming back for more? Coco Peru: I love Texas — and I’m not just saying that. For me, it was when I did my first tour around Texas, and I could not believe how really, really excited people were to see me. Every year I come back. Oh, and the fried food was good … and the Mexican food.
Some drink to forget and others watch to remember: what’s new with this year’s show? This show is [going back to] one of the first shows I ever wrote. It’s my most personal — me telling the story of my life. It’s a history of who I am, and all the dark childhood things that make the audience go, “Should I be laughing at this or horrified?” There are really serious parts. One of the things I require of my audience is that I am willing to make you laugh, but you have to listen to the serious stuff as well.
Telling a good story is an art form unto itself; what’s one particular story you share that really resonates with audiences? That’s a hard question! The one thing I will say with my shows is that people say they forget they are watching a drag queen. To me, that is the best compliment — that the drag becomes secondary to the storytelling.
You’ve uttered some pretty quotable one-liners in your career, including the Girls Will Be Girls classic “I’ve had more children pulled out of me than a burning orphanage.” Do you get a lot of people quoting Coco-isms to you? If anyone quotes me, I am excited. They quote Trick or Girls Will Be Girls often, but if they quote my actual show then I am really excited because they’ve only seen it once most likely. Liza Minnelli used to quote my show.
Wow, the Liza stamp of approval, that’s the gayest compliment ever. Isn’t that, though?
If we stuck you on the stage of America’s Got Talent right now, what would we see? I don’t dance. Oh lord, I don’t think I would be a fit for that show. That’s the point with my shows, you have to have an attention span. You remember last year [in Dallas] a guy in the audience did not have an attention span, and he was drunk, which makes it so hard having to deal. Finally the audience turned on him — which is wonderful — and he left. Do you remember that?
We are still talking about it. He was terrible. We expect to see Coco in a lot of places: gay bars, an occasional bathroom stall and maybe even at 3 a.m. eating a Moons Over My Hammy at Denny’s. We did not, however, expect to see — or rather hear — you as the voice of a Mamma Hippo in the Disney flick The Wild. How did that happen? I know the girl that did auditions for voiceovers and another guy who worked at Disney was a fan. As a goof, really, they had me audition and the director liked me and wanted me to do the voice of this hippo. I only had like two lines, but it was very exciting. I had done work for Disney before. You know the movie Tangled? Well, before it was Tangled, Disney has actors who are not known come in and do the voiceover of the characters and the artists draw to that. And then celebrities comes in to do the voice. I was the voice of the evil queen, and then it changed to Tangled. But I got to work with the guy who drew and created the Little Mermaid, which is one of my favorite movies.
You had a similar behind-the-scenes moment with Rent, right? Yes, Jonathan Larson was a friend from college. And then I ran into him randomly in New York one night as I was trying to remember a song of his. It was one of those crazy moments. I was thinking, “God I wonder how I could get back in touch with John,” and then I look in a restaurant and there he was. So that weekend he came to see my show, he told me he was working on a musical and asked me to be in it. And I said, “Sure, why not?” It turned out to be Rent, and I was the first [person to play] Angel. And that was a great experience.
Between Rent and Tangled, you’re like the backbone of blockbusters. [Laughs] Yes, and then I get dropped.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 7, 2012.