Coco Peru, the retro-chic drag character dreamed up by Clinton Leupp, has lived large in all entertainment media.
Peru is a bona fide star with LGBT audiences after critically acclaimed turns in movies, television and the cabaret stage. His show “A Gentle Reminder — Coco’s Guide to a Somewhat Happy Life” will appear March 17 at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale.
Among his big-screen credits are such films as 2002’s “Girls Will Be Girls" and 1999’s “Trick.” On television, Peru has appeared in a variety of shows, from comedies such as “Arrested Development” and “Will and Grace” to dramas such as “Detroit 1-8-7” and “New York Undercover.” In New York’s downtown cabaret scene, his storyteller/monologue act has been popular since his first show in 1992, creatively titled “Miss Coco Peru in My Goddamn Cabaret.”
Peru recently answered questions via email.
What can you share with us about your show “A Gentle Reminder — Coco’s Guide To A Somewhat Happy Life,” without any spoilers, of course?
Ever since my “Quest for Tension Tamer Tea” video went viral, I gained a whole new audience, and I started getting lots of emails from people who were asking me for advice! Real-life advice! For some reason, they saw in Coco a person who could answer them honestly and give them a little nugget of truth that could help them. So I figured I should write a whole show where I give the audience a step-by-step guide to a “somewhat” happy life. People have been leaving the show asking me to turn the show into a book, because they want to reflect back on it.
You’ve performed in South Florida many times. Is there a favorite place you like to hang out when you’re here?
Most of the time when I’m there, I’m visiting my mom in Palm Beach. And the luxury for me, as someone who is on the road often, is to walk down to the Intracoastal and just relax by the pool. I also love going out for Cuban food. Two words: “fried yuca!”
When did you first realize you wanted to be an entertainer?
I think my mom would tell you I popped out performing. I was putting on shows in our living room ever since I can remember. When I was 2, I was already acting out the entire score of “Fiddler on the Roof” for anybody that would watch. And the story goes that my parents finally took me to see the show on Broadway, and when it was over, I was very upset, and when my mother asked me if I enjoyed the show, I said very dramatically, “I’ve been doing it ALL WRONG!” I also loved dressing up as kid. My mom had a black boa that she had bought for a costume party, and that boa gave me life as a kid. We also had an album of striptease music, so between that boa and that album I was “bearing my all” at a very young age.
When was the first time you won over an audience?
When I was in high school, I was never cast in lead roles in the school musicals. I was always chorus. However, the last year, we did a production of “Guys and Dolls,” and they threw me a small role of the emcee of the Kit Kat Club, and I ended up stealing the show. In fact, I got a standing ovation in the middle of the show! It was deeply satisfying, and I learned firsthand at a young age that there are no small roles.
How did the character Coco Peru begin and evolve?
Early on, I wanted to be both a performer and an activist, and I knew that storytelling was a powerful way to communicate and bring people together. And so I created Coco as way to be both the activist and performer. In a way, not much has changed as far as my style of performing. I think my writing has gotten better, and I just think that as the world has changed, I have evolved along with it. I also think as you grow older you speak your mind, and there is an extra level of liberation that comes along with that.
I read that you were a theater major and went to college with Jonathan Larson (“Rent”). Is that true?
Jonathan Larson graduated the year before I got to university, but he came back to [musically] direct some of the cabaret shows that I had been cast in, and that is how we became friends. I was obsessed with Jon’s music and was thrilled when he later asked me to do the first reading as Angel in his musical “Rent.”
Would you consider your live act more of a theatrical monologue or standup comedy?
I have always considered what I do more theatrical monologues with elements of standup comedy in it. My stories are all autobiographical, but I try to make it feel universal, like we’re all in this thing we call life together.
In the 25 years you’ve been entertaining, what are some of the largest changes you’ve seen with LGBT audiences?
I am in awe of the changes! The biggest change for me is seeing how young LGBT people are coming out. I didn’t come out until I was 23, and I meet kids nowadays who have come out at 11 and who are so comfortable with being gay or trans. I think it’s important for young people to know their history, and as Coco, I try to work that into my shows nowadays.
I understand that you feel strongly about millennials’ penchant for posting videos taken with their smartphones. True?
It’s a battle! I just don’t understand why people can’t be present and just watch a show and live with the memory of it. Nowadays, they want to record it and put it out there so they can get all these “likes,” and it really bothers me. They’re also giving away my material that I work really hard on writing and rehearsing and this is how I make my living, so it really has become a problem for me, and I am afraid it is just one of these things that I can’t control.
According to IMDB.com, your live-interview talk show “Conversations With Coco” is going to be a movie this year. Is that true and, if so, what more can you tell us about it?
It’s not a movie. It is a pilot that we are trying to sell so that it might become a regular TV series where I do in-depth interviews with celebrities I admire. I did the pilot with Lily Tomlin, who is one of my biggest supporters.
You starred in one of my favorite movies of all time, “Girls Will Be Girls.” There was talk of a sequel. Whatever happened to that?
I hear that it is due to be released when hell freezes over, and the way the world is looking, that’s just around the corner. In the meantime, what the world needs is a few gentle reminders on how to have a somewhat happy life, and I know just the queen who can deliver that, See you soon, Fort Lauderdale. Get the fried yuca frying.