Over 25 years ago, actor Clinton Leupp gave birth to the famed drag queen Miss Coco Peru. And ever since, the celebrated superstar, who has appeared in a plethora of movies (Girls Will Be Girls, To Wong Foo, Trick) and TV shows (Arrested Development, How I Met Your Mother, Will & Grace), has been entertaining audiences all across America with a variety of one-woman shows.
Her latest string of performances bring her back to the Big Apple, where she’ll headline four shows at Birdland Theater from September 26 through September 29. We chatted with the legendary Peru about what audiences should expect from her one-woman show, her obsession with Tension Tamer tea, and her favorite drag superstars.
You’ll be in NYC at the end of the month for several performances at Birdland Theater. What should fans expect from your latest performance?
COCO PERU: This show “The Taming of the Tension” is a show I did last year at the older space upstairs in Birdland and I was asked back to do the show again in the new space downstairs. I don’t usually like to go back to a city with the same show, but this particular show really spoke to people and some fans expressed that they would like to see it again, and when I recently did it in Provincetown I had people come see it two and three times! This show really made people think about their own lives and the power of being present in a world that often makes us very tense.
What’s your process when putting together a show? What’s funny to you?
CP: I just sit down and start writing and try to trust that a show is somewhere in the hundreds of pages I come up with. Slowly the themes begin to pop out at me and I edit all of that down to about 30 pages. I grew up around a lot of funny people in the Bronx who were great storytellers and they were able to talk about very simple, everyday things and somehow make them hilarious.
Sometimes there are moments onstage where you can feel that a performance is as close to perfect as you can get it, but how do you know when to push or not to push beyond that on stage?
CP: That is part of being in the moment and making that connection with the audience. It’s an energy thing and you just have to walk out onstage and commit to giving yourself up to that moment and that particular audience.
Your YouTube videos are hilarious, but where did this obsession with Tension Tamer come from?
CP: Tension Tamer tea is actually a tea that my family drinks and I just thought the words were funny so I always managed to make it a running gag in my shows. So, when my manager said we should do a shopping video, it just seemed natural for me to search for tea that had gone missing from my store shelves. I do think ever since my video, Tension Tamer tea has made a comeback!
You’ve worked with so many amazing talents, but was there one you found most complementary to your own particular style?
CP: I love working with Peaches Christ and Varla Jean Merman because they both understand that we can all have a moment onstage to shine and if we all get that moment it makes us all look better. It’s generous and I love working with people who understand that.
Do Drag Race and Dragula permeate your world much?
CP: Yes, on some level they do. I think the audiences for both of those shows have become more and more aware of some of us older queens who have worked steadily without the benefit of a TV show and they respect us. I love that a younger generation of people look up to me a “drag legend!” I was thrilled that the Boulet Brothers included me as a judge on their show and invited me to host their event Queen Kong in L.A. show when they were out of town. I think it’s important for me to connect with younger people.
There was a rumor that RuPaul might commit to a legends-only season of Drag Race. If he asked you to compete, would you?
CP: I’m not sure there is any truth to that rumor. I’m not a competitive person but I would do the show because as a solo performer, I love the opportunity to be around other queens and it would be great exposure despite all of my fears that I would be the first to sashay away! And with my bad left leg and sensible heels, I’m not even sure it would even be a sashay!
Are there any queens that impress you?
CP: Yes! Lady Bunny! Peaches Christ! Jackie Beat! Varla Jean Merman! Dina Martina! Miss Richfield! Sherry Vine! Bianca Del Rio! Alaska Thunderfuck! Willam! Shangela! Alyssa Edwards! Bob the Drag Queen! Ben De La Crème! Jinkx Monsoon! The list goes on and on and on.
After 25+ years in show business, are there still things in the back of your mind you’d like to accomplish?
CP: I feel good where I am. Anything more is icing on the cake as my mom would say. I’ve been very lucky. I think the next step would be to write a book.
Where do you enjoy visiting when in NYC?
CP: I enjoy going back to my old neighborhood in the Bronx. I visit my dad in the cemetery and then go to the City Island diner and just walk around. I also love getting an Everything Bagel with a smear of vegetable cream cheese in Grand Central Station. Heaven!
For more information about Miss Coco Peru’s upcoming shows at Birdland Theater or to purchase tickets, visit birdlandjazz.com.