“Did you ever get cum in your eye, Gabriel? It burns!”
It’s that line from 1999’s Trick that LGBTs will always associate with Miss Coco Peru. But 15 years later, the hilarious drag persona is still a mouthpiece for the LGBT community.
She was in the riotous Girls Will Be Girls (which was so successful it garnered its own web series and soon-to-be-released sequel), has cone several successful tours of her stand-up material and was even guest-spotted on the classic show Arrested Development. Now, with her new live show “Have You Heard,” Miss Coco is traveling to the Sunshine State for a set of shows with stops in St. Petersburg and Orlando. Her performances Friday, Oct. 24, at the St. Petersburg Metro Wellness, and Saturday, Oct. 25 at The Abbey in Orlando on Saturday, Oct. 25, benefit the SMART Ride. She also has stops in Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach.
Before heading from LA to Florida, the performer Lily Tomlin calls “One of the last great storytellers” talked to us about growing older, good drag etiquette and, of course, bodily fluids.
WATERMARK: Tell us a bit about your new show, ‘Have You Heard?’
COCO PERU: Actually, this is a “best of” show. I’m celebrating 24 years working as Coco Peru and in this show I tell some of my favorite stories from different shows over the years. I remember in one of my earliest shows I used to say that “my show is like a group therapy session…only it’s my turn to talk.” And I still feel like after all these years I’m still doing group therapy. So I encourage people to come and laugh and think and leave feeling just a little better about yourself. I mean, let’s face it, the world needs me—and I’m way cheaper than therapy!
How, as a writer, how do you go about incorporating material into your act? How do you test it and how spontaneous is it?
My shows are all scripted and memorized word-for-word. I was trained as an actor in college and I find that my freedom onstage comes from being disciplined and learning my lines! It drives me a little crazy when I see one person shows and people keep referring to their cheat sheets.
I always think, “C’mon, learn your craft and respect your audience!” Even when a show is new and I’m not totally sure of my lines, I refuse to have cheat sheets because I believe that what makes live theatre exciting is to go out in front of an audience and be present and vulnerable. If I screw up I’ll have to deal with that in the moment and my audience will see me screw up and in a way perhaps love me all the more for at least taking that risk.
Also, all of my shows are autobiographical! I usually tell stories to my friends and if they laugh I make a mental note that perhaps that story would make a good monologue for a show someday. Even the line from Trick—“It’s big! It’s beautiful! And you’re gonna love it”—was something someone actually said to me one time and I thought, “Oh, that’s good! Someday I’m gonna put that in a monologue!” The best lines always come from real life.
In your first special “Wisecrack” you said your California friends had a hard time accepting you being called a drag queen, as though the term was viewed as pejorative. Why do you think that happened?
It’s not just California! That remark started early on in my career in NYC. I think people have an idea of what drag is: men wearing dresses and lip-synching in bars. I don’t do that. People considered what I do to be more theatrical and therefore they often think that I’m doing a disservice to myself by calling myself a drag queen. However, it was a drag queen that inspired me to do what I do.
I have always found drag queens to be powerful and I admire them, so much so that calling myself a drag queen was something empowering and something I celebrate to this day. I just think people have to broaden their minds and realize that there are all types of drag queens! We are a diverse bunch of ladies!
In your opinion, what makes a good drag queen and what makes a bad one?
Well, I celebrate all drag and I love any man that puts on a dress and wants to play with gender. However, if a drag queen wants to be professional I really think she should be on time for her gigs, she should respect the people she is working with and she shouldn’t be drunk. Most importantly, she should have a craft! Being “fishy” or just showing up isn’t enough! Also, the goal should never be, “How do I become famous?”
One of the things that makes Miss Coco so unique is she evolved into someone who is self-deprecating, sympathetic and oddly maternal. Was that a planned or an organic shift in your act?
I was always self-deprecating and sympathetic from the time I created Coco. One of the comments I have always gotten after my shows is, “I expected to laugh, but I didn’t expect to get emotional and think about bigger issues!” I still love when people come away from the show surprised. However, I think the maternal aspect of my personality is something that has happened just because I’m getting older and my fans are getting younger.
I absolutely love that younger kids are writing to me and asking if I can be their mom! Getting older and embracing this maternal aspect is something I am very comfortable with. I am inspired by these young kids who are so open and seem comfortable embracing me as a role model!
Your appearances in films (Trick, Girls Will Be Girls) have been distinctly risqué and now are iconic moments in gay cinema; did you have moments where you thought “How will talking about cum in my eye or planned abortions affect my character’s public persona?”
I don’t think about that! I feel like those were roles I played and people can see that. If they believe that those characters are somehow really me then I guess that just means I’m a good actress, right? Although, I did base that “cum in the eye” line on my real life experience, so I know for a fact that it burns!
Speaking of movies, give us the most updated update on the sequel to Girls Will Be Girls!
Richard Day, who wrote and directed it, is back on track working on it and is excited about finishing it, so I expect that he’ll have it completed in 2015! At least, I am praying that he does so that I don’t have to answer questions like this one anymore.
Describe a perfect day off from performing.
Ha! My life is rather normal when I am off and not on the road. Seriously, I love to go to Costco and just walk around and shop. I also love being at home because I miss my husband when I’m away. We’ve been together 19 years and I still miss him! That’s a good thing! Also, the ritual of making and enjoying my café latte at home every morning on my couch is a treat that I never get tired of.
After the tour, what plans does Miss Coco have on the horizon?
I will have a break Thanksgiving weekend and I am going to Vegas! I love it there. I don’t gamble but I love the hotels, I love people watching, I love the restaurants and shows. It is just such a weird place and I love weird!
What are some life lessons Miss Coco can impart to us?
Most of the good things that have come into my life came about because I said “Yes” despite my initial fears. I look back on those moments when I could’ve easily said “No” and I panic a little and think “Oh thank God I said yes!” Those ‘yes’ moments changed my life! So, my advice would be to face your fears and say “Yes” more often.
WHO: Coco Peru
SHOWS:St. Petersburg—7 p.m., Oct 24 at Metro Wellness; Orlando—7 p.m., Oct. 25 at The Abbey