Coco Peru, the alter ego of Clinton Leupp, has been entertaining the public for 27 years in some of the most joyous ways. As an actor, comedian and drag performer, she has toured the country and has gone international with her one-woman shows. She has hosted LGBT events, has appeared in films and was one of the six performances featured in the Logo original stand-up comedy series “Wisecrack.” She has also appeared in “Conversations with Coco,” where she interviewed artists including Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Kareem Black, Leslie Ann Warren and Bea Arthur. This year Coco Peru will be bringing her talent to the Winter Rendezvous 2018, the Gay Ski Week at Stowe Mountain Vermont.
Celebrating 34 years of bliss, once again the Winter Rendezvous Gay Ski Week at Stowe Mountain in Vermont will take place Jan. 17-21, 2018. The annual LGBT pride celebration in Vermont coincides with Stowe’s winter carnival and offers a wild time filled with activities, cozy resorts, parties, spa accommodations, prime entertainment and of course world-class skiing. Join hundreds as they engage in five days of a winter extravaganza, this year featuring the world-famous Coco Peru.
I spoke with Coco about the Winter Rendezvous as well as her own career, personal life and a host of other topics. She’s got to be one of
the funniest, coolest and most candid queens I’ve ever had
the pleasure of speaking with.
I tell stories and sing songs. I’ve been doing this for 27 years. I used to sit and tell people that it’s like a group therapy session, only it’s my turn to talk. So people often leave the show feeling really good.
Do you recall your very first show?
I do recall my first show. I had never done drag before. So I had this idea … just to do a photoshoot to do my flyer. Then my first show was really the first time I was doing drag. I’ll never forget it. I was terrified, but at the same time I just had this…it was more than a feeling, I had this vision that it was all going to work out. What I remember mostly about that is that my parents were sitting there in the front. Back then talking openly about people being gay was not something they did. They thought I was throwing my career away, but mostly they were terrified that people were going to throw tomatoes at me. So they sat right down in front, and it was mortifying, but they were there to protect me. When the tomatoes started flying, they were going to stand up and put a stop to it.
Do you have a drag mother?
No, but I do consider Charles Bush if I was going to pick somebody for my drag mother, only because Charles Bush was one of the first inspirations for me to see that drag could be a theatrical experience. I had trained in the theatre and been told to butch up and not be so feminine. It was very shaming. When I saw Charles, that sort of opened up something inside of me to embrace everything I’ve been taught to hate about myself.
Should we get heavy and ask what about yourself you hated?
I grew up in the Bronx in a very working-class neighborhood being gay and always mistaken for a girl, even though I had a boy’s haircut, a boy’s name and boys’ clothes. So I was bullied from an early age, all through high school, and even in the church. So after years of hearing that message, you feel as though something is wrong, and you start to believe it. Then I went away to college for theater, and it was much more open then, but that message was there again. Acting teachers were always drilling it into me: butch up and lose my Bronx accent.
You’re not based in New York now?
No, I live in LA now. I left about 18 years ago.
Have you ever gone to the Winter Rendezvous before?
Not in Vermont; not with this group of people. I’ve done gay ski weeks before.
Do you have a weekly or monthly show in LA?
I travel mostly. I go all over the country. I basically will perform anywhere if someone is willing to pay me. I’ve done big, glorious theatre down to someone’s living room, to a nudist colony here in Malibu.
Can you recall either the best, the funniest or most embarrassing performance that you ever had?
I have so many memories. I can’t really say I have a best.
Then how about a most embarrassing one?
I probably have so many of those. I’m so well rehearsed, because it is theater to me, so my shows, I have to say, I’m pretty consistent. But every now and then something happens. There’s been times when I’ve tripped over wires or I slip across the stage. There was one time when Lily Tomlin was in the audience. That was one of my heroes growing up. I knew she was there, and you are trying to be present in the moment, but your head and brain are freaking out: “OMG, Lily Tomlin is in the audience!” As I went to walk, my heel just hit the wrong way on the stage, and I nearly did a split. The one leg went out from under me. I just thought, “Of all the nights for me to go and slip like that, in front of Lily Tomlin.” But, I know Lily Tomlin knows that that’s something that happens to every actor. You have those moments on stage. … One night I just went blank on stage. I couldn’t remember my lines, and I had to walk off stage with the mic to find my script; that’s how blank I went. Those are rare moments, so I feel like when those moments happen, the audience is actually lucky. They are actually seeing something that rarely happens.
What do you like best about drag?
For me it was a complete calling – you know, like some people have a religious calling? For me it was that powerful. It was deeply healing for me, liberating, and when I go out in public, just to my Starbucks in full drag, it’s a completely different experience. It’s stepping out of reality. The great thing is that people, I think they recognize the courage it takes to step out into the world like that. Something weird in our brains respects courage—and people talk to me. I have these experiences of just talking to strangers that would never have happened if I wasn’t in drag. Drag also cuts through the bullshit. When you’re stepping into the world like that, you know who is on your side and who’s not. I have to say, most people are quite pleasant. Of course, I live in LA and then New York, two great cities. People go to escape.
Everybody needs some drag in their lives, especially the way things are today. You need that happiness.
It’s very interesting what has happened ever since “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” I started doing these silly YouTube videos. I didn’t do them for any reason really, except I thought my fans might get a kick out of it. The plan was really just to do the one. I just thought it was so funny that Target had come out with a Halloween wig that looks just like me. So we made a video of me looking for the wig. All of a sudden people started sending me pictures of this wig that they had found in Target. So my manager said we should make a video of it, and we posted it just for my fans. Then we did another one, and one of them went viral. Now I have teenage girls and their moms bonding over me. Last week I got an email from a woman who said that she was the most conservative Republican and that she always would be, but had a daughter that was bullied so badly in school that she had to pull her out of school. She tried to commit suicide twice. She said, “We watched your videos together, and we have bonded over you. You give us so much joy and strength.” Basically I can present myself to the world in full drag in an ugly Kmart store, and I don’t care what anybody thinks about me. I think these young kids find strength in just being yourself. There’s a world out there where you can do that. The Internet is just amazing, that you can reach people that you would never have reached before. My audience was always gay men and people like yourself who are around that world. Now the audience is so much bigger.