Coco Main Image.jpg

COCO PERU

SHE KNOWS!

TEXT BY
CANDY WARHOL

INTERVIEW BY
FRIENDS OF DOROTHY

28.01.22

A wave of nostalgia and fondness for a simpler time eventually hits everyone at some point in their life. That sudden moment when you look at the younger generation around you and realize you are completely out of the loop. As if Alexis Carrington herself whalloped you with her signature leather glove, you emotionally fall to the floor in a dizziness of Fidget Spinners, Hyperpop and Euphoria. If you didn’t understand any of those references, you may stay. This is for you. On the evenings I spend diligently bingeing on a new box set I sometimes find myself overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choices. The buffet of new content served across thousands of channels and relentless new digital platforms is not only a feast for the eyes but also completely ‘Overserved’, to note another new show.

In the late nineties the marvel of digital television had not yet hit Irish households so when a movie was being shown on the little channels we did have, it was the norm to record it for repeat viewings to the point where a VHS tape was worn out. I was nine years old when I spent a year living with my grandparents and my aunt would always have a new tape filled. I would go through them like a treasure chest, never knowing what I was about to find. Now, it was mostly recordings of Beverly Hills 90210 or a New Kids On The Block music video so I usually came up short. But on one instance I found a tape with a recording of a movie so exhilaratingly different that it threw me through a queer loop and made such an impression on me that it changed the rest of my life. I would watch it twice a day for at least a year, lip syncing each line, waiting for my favourite scenes and finding myself transported to a big and bold beautiful world after school,if only for those ninety minutes. That movie was 'To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything Julie Newmar’.

* * *

 

The opening of the movie centres around New York’s ‘Drag Queen of the Year’ pageant and features an array of drag royalty with cameos from Rupaul, Naomi Campbell and Robin Williams. But the moment Miss Coco Peru sauntered to the end of the runway and crumpled her plastic cup in Patrick Swayze’s face, I was hooked. Who was that queen? I needed to know more. That scene is a perfect example of how the legendary queen can turn a cameo into an iconic moment in queer cinema. That movie changed so many queer people’s lives, and it took Coco Peru on an incredible journey that she is still on today, one cup of Tension Tamer Tea at a time.

“I went to that audition and walked up the stairs as an actress preparing to read a monologue and then I opened the door and it was a dance hall with the creme de la creme of New York drag all competing to be in a big Hollywood movie. Everything in me told myself to turn around and run!’’, Coco told me in our first of two chats this year. “Then they lined us up in rows of two and one by one we had to walk up this imaginary runway. Each queen walked, strutted, dropped to the floor, kicked and death-dropped. I just looked at them and thought, well I don’t do that! I stand and talk on stage in my shows. So I looked over and saw a plastic cup on a table that I thought I could use as a prop, so I ran and grabbed it. All of these queens were giving them everything and I thought, do the opposite and give them nothing! So I walked to one corner and took a sip, then to another corner and took a sip, and then I stood in the middle of the room, finished the drink and crushed the cup. When I walked back every queen said ‘Oh girl that was fierce!’, and I thought even if I don’t get this movie all these queens think I’m fierce. Then I got the movie, and they asked me to recreate the cup crushing on the runway. What they actually cut out was me pulling a pistol out of my handbag and following Patrick down the runway with it because he kept cutting me off. They said it wasn’t family friendly ... because drag is SO family friendly right?!’’.

This was just one of the endless incredible stories she pulled out of her signature wig and I savoured each moment while chatting to the icon.

‘’I TOLD YA SO!’’

A New York native and theatre graduate, Coco Peru made her stage debut with ‘My Goddamn Cabaret’ in 1992. “I loved cabaret shows and knew that was how I wanted to get started, so I called a cabaret club and told them I was going to book a show in three months. I had never done drag but knew I had a date set so I had to create Coco and write the show. Deadlines are the answer to everything and that’s how I still write a show,”she told me. From her early beginnings Coco has always made a statement and in the days before social media, queens had to think outside the box when it came to self promotion. “When I first started drag there was no internet so I would hand out postcards on the street before shows and I would spray paint ‘Miss Coco Peru : She Knows!’ on sidewalks in New York. People would be walking past thinking what the hell does she know and who is Coco Peru? That’s how you did it back then.”

With word of Peru’s theatre brilliance spreading, and her second show ‘A Legend In Progress’ winning her multiple awards, she had become a staple in New York nightlife by the time ‘To Wong Foo’ and ‘Wigstock : The Movie’ hit the big screen. ‘’Honestly, creating Coco during a time when drag wasn’t really celebrated like it is today, I look back on the moments when I’ve been hired to be on screen and I’m grateful for all of them.” In 1999 Coco’s spark for creating movie magic continued with her scene stealing role in the groundbreaking gay movie ‘Trick’ where, in a five minute one take scene, she warns the virginal Gabriel about his soon to be lover.

“Being able to do a monologue in Trick was a great opportunity for me because I perform monologues for a living, so I felt like I really got to chew the scenery and have a Coco moment. I was so proud to be in a gay film made by gay people. I was not in the original script, but I was asked to read for the role that later went to Tori Spelling for the first table reading. After that, much of the feedback was that I should be kept in the script. However, it didn’t make sense for me to play the part of Katherine, so the writer and director decided to write that bathroom scene. I then asked if I could rewrite it and add stuff and make it more of my own and fortunately, they agreed. There was absolutely no improv, like my live shows that is literally word for word what was written,” Coco divulged.

Plans for a confirmed sequel to the cult classic were delayed this year due to the pandemic, but production is still hopeful. ''Yes, the pandemic stopped everything just as we were gearing up to make part two. Over the years, it has always been wonderful seeing the cast because we all really like each other, and we all share the same good memories of working on Trick and the success it had. It was a dream! We were all a lot younger and so much has changed since we filmed in 1998, but our collective memories of that time remain special.”

Another Coco classic, the 2003 cult movie 'Girls Will Be Girls' has finally been added to streaming this year. The brilliantly bizarre movie tells the tale of three competitive actresses living together in Los Angeles. ''Jack Plotnick (Evie Harris) and I were both asked to co-host an event in Los Angeles and something magical happened when we were in front of that big audience! We hoped it would be funny, but the response was amazing, and we could feel onstage between the two of us that something special was happening. Afterwards, people were saying that we should have our own TV show and then Richard Day wrote some scripts and added our good friend, Varla, and then sold them to Showtime! I was so excited, but sadly, Showtime eventually passed on the project. I don’t think back then the industry was ready for drag. Fortunately, Richard decided to make it into a film. By the way, Evie and I hosted that big event again the following year, but we caused a scandal when we wrote a piece that we now call the “Poop Sketch.” We thought it was hilarious, but the organizers were horrified and it was even said to us that the original producer was spinning in his grave! Evie and I were forbidden to ever be a part of their fundraiser ever again... or even attend it! I’m both proud of that and bothered.''

‘’I TOLD YA SO!’’

A New York native and theatre graduate, Coco Peru made her stage debut with ‘My Goddamn Cabaret’ in 1992. “I loved cabaret shows and knew that was how I wanted to get started, so I called a cabaret club and told them I was going to book a show in three months. I had never done drag but knew I had a date set so I had to create Coco and write the show. Deadlines are the answer to everything and that’s how I still write a show,”she told me. From her early beginnings Coco has always made a statement and in the days before social media, queens had to think outside the box when it came to self promotion. “When I first started drag there was no internet so I would hand out postcards on the street before shows and I would spray paint ‘Miss Coco Peru : She Knows!’ on sidewalks in New York. People would be walking past thinking what the hell does she know and who is Coco Peru? That’s how you did it back then.”

With word of Peru’s theatre brilliance spreading, and her second show ‘A Legend In Progress’ winning her multiple awards, she had become a staple in New York nightlife by the time ‘To Wong Foo’ and ‘Wigstock : The Movie’ hit the big screen. ‘’Honestly, creating Coco during a time when drag wasn’t really celebrated like it is today, I look back on the moments when I’ve been hired to be on screen and I’m grateful for all of them.” In 1999 Coco’s spark for creating movie magic continued with her scene stealing role in the groundbreaking gay movie ‘Trick’ where, in a five minute one take scene, she warns the virginal Gabriel about his soon to be lover.“Being able to do a monologue in Trick was a great opportunity for me because I perform monologues for a living, so I felt like I really got to chew the scenery and have a Coco moment. I was so proud to be in a gay film made by gay people. I was not in the original script, but I was asked to read for the role that later went to Tori Spelling for the first table reading. After that, much of the feedback was that I should be kept in the script. However, it didn’t make sense for me to play the part of Katherine, so the writer and director decided to write that bathroom scene. I then asked if I could rewrite it and add stuff and make it more of my own and fortunately, they agreed. There was absolutely no improv, like my live shows that is literally word for word what was written,” Coco divulged.

Plans for a confirmed sequel to the cult classic were delayed this year due to the pandemic, but production is still hopeful. ''Yes, the pandemic stopped everything just as we were gearing up to make part two. Over the years, it has always been wonderful seeing the cast because we all really like each other, and we all share the same good memories of working on Trick and the success it had. It was a dream! We were all a lot younger and so much has changed since we filmed in 1998, but our collective memories of that time remain special.”

Another Coco classic, the 2003 cult movie 'Girls Will Be Girls' has finally been added to streaming this year. The brilliantly bizarre movie tells the tale of three competitive actresses living together in Los Angeles. ''Jack Plotnick (Evie Harris) and I were both asked to co-host an event in Los Angeles and something magical happened when we were in front of that big audience! We hoped it would be funny, but the response was amazing, and we could feel onstage between the two of us that something special was happening. Afterwards, people were saying that we should have our own TV show and then Richard Day wrote some scripts and added our good friend, Varla, and then sold them to Showtime! I was so excited, but sadly, Showtime eventually passed on the project. I don’t think back then the industry was ready for drag. Fortunately, Richard decided to make it into a film. By the way, Evie and I hosted that big event again the following year, but we caused a scandal when we wrote a piece that we now call the “Poop Sketch.” We thought it was hilarious, but the organizers were horrified and it was even said to us that the original producer was spinning in his grave! Evie and I were forbidden to ever be a part of their fundraiser ever again... or even attend it! I’m both proud of that and bothered.''

‘'THAT BOTHERS ME’'

While Coco's television and movie roles have continued over the years, including four episodes of ‘Will and Grace’, she has also successfully toured with her theatre shows. Her 'Conversations With Coco' fundraisers have boasted spectacularly iconic guests such as Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Bea Arthur and now Coco features in many of the Drag Race tours. Then came a twist nobody saw coming, Coco's love affair with Celestial's Tension Tamer Tea catapulting her to the YouTube masses and gaining her an entire new generation of fans.With dozens of videos focusing on Coco's hunt for tea and other kitsch knick knacks in some of America's biggest supermarket chains gaining millions of views, her shows now have a new audience.

 

''Now I have all these teenagers coming to my shows with their mothers and I love it. My goal with drag and my shows was to always reach an audience outside of a gay audience but I will never tone my show down. I'm never gratuitous so if I'm telling a story about cock then there is going to be a reason why and they're going to learn. The great thing about me doing my shows in theatres is that nobody is telling me what I can and cannot say and at the end all these moms and dads leave saying oh what a beautiful show, I'm so glad my daughter got to experience that,’’ Coco shared.

With the world finally emerging from the pandemic, Coco's shows will undoubtedly be in as in demand as ever and with a role in the upcoming Netflix series 'DeadEndia', there's no stopping everyone's favourite flame haired queen. As we come to a close on our second chat with the legend, my love and appreciation for her work is stronger than ever. This is a queen that managed to become a major force in multiple industries before the luxury of social media and the privilege so many of us in the community experience today. Coco has experienced and lived through so many groundbreaking moments, not just within our community but in the entertainment industry. With all of that in mind I wondered what roles she would like to see for herself next?

''So much has changed and when I created Coco that was my goal. I realized that change doesn’t just happen, it happens when each of us decide to be the change we want to see. I think about the first time I was on Will and Grace all those years ago. As groundbreaking as the show was for its time, it was implied that I was a gay man still living with his mother and Jack wasn’t a character that could be sexual or ever kiss another man on TV! Then, all these years later I’m back on the show and given a recurring role where I’m a successful business owner and celebrated and Jack is getting married to a man with me performing the ceremony. I also think back to when we did Trick, the director had wanted to hire gay men to play the two leads, but at that time a gay man playing a gay character could be dangerous for an actor’s career, yet a straight person playing gay was celebrated, so in the end the director had to hire straight actors because gay actors turned the roles down. Fortunately, both JP Pitoc and Christian Campbell were great and sensitive and had gay friends, so it wasn’t completely foreign to them. With more acceptance now I think it’s important to allow LGBTQIA to play these roles and shows like Pose and Veneno prove that. I would love to have a show where I could play a drag queen but show so much more of what my life is like, the comedy and drama, the good, the bad, and the ugly! It’s what I try to express in my one person shows. This is one of the many reasons why I loved Veneno so much, it showed so many levels to the characters' lives. The script was so rich to me, and the fact that all of the trans characters were played by trans women absolutely added to the show's beautiful authenticity. Finally!''

* * *


I recently settled in for a movie night with my drag sisters. My chat with Coco was fresh in my mind, and funnily enough my fellow queens faced a similar debacle -the challenge of choosing the perfect movie. As a drag mother and mentor I decided it was time for a herstory lesson and played ‘To Wong Foo’. The movie began, all of them experiencing its magic for the first time, and as the pageant began to unfold , two of them exclaimed ,’Oh, Coco Peru!’. Now, that’s the power of a legendary queen!

Purchase a limited edition copy of Dreaming Issue One with Coco Peru here

 

Catch Coco Peru on tour with her new show 'Bitter, Bothered and Beyond'. Visit her website for more info or follow her on Instagram.

Thank you to Michael at MW Talent.

RELATED

‘‘People would be asking who the hell is Coco Peru and what does she know?!’’

Coco Imagery.jpg
Clouds_01-8.png
Star_03.png