Miss Coco Peru

Miss Coco Peru, who is no stranger to South Florida audiences, returns with her hit show “The Taming of the Tension” for one night only at the Sunshine Cathedral (1480 SW 9th Ave, Fort Lauderdale) on Saturday, February 17 at 8 p.m.

Coco Peru aka Clinton Leupp has appeared in many films and TV shows but is perhaps best known for her role in 1999s “Trick” which also starred “Beverly Hills 90210” alum Tori Spelling. Her very popular “Conversations with Coco,” is a successful internet series that has put Miss Coco in front of legends like Liza Minnelli, Jane Fonda, and Bea Arthur.

It was a pleasure to chat with Miss Coco Peru for this Hotspots exclusive interview.

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Were you always an entertainer, even as a child, or when did you get the bug? 

Yes, I was always an entertainer. I was obsessed with the musical Fiddler on the Roof and apparently had memorized the entire soundtrack by the age of 2. I would act it out for my family and anyone who would watch and so my parents finally took me to see it on Broadway and when it was over I was pouting. My mother asked, “What’s wrong? Didn’t you enjoy the show?” and I answered, “I’ve been doing it all wrong!” I’ve been a perfectionist ever since.

When and how was Coco Peru born?

In late 80’s I was very inspired by the AIDS activism in NYC. I decided I wanted to combine my love of performing with activism and having been shamed for being effeminate my whole life I figured one of the most powerful, radical things I could do at that time was to be an openly gay performer. I then decided to take it a step further and embrace what I had been taught to try and suppress and instead glorify it.  I know nowadays it may seem that being an openly gay performer and a drag queen is not that big of a deal, but back then there were not the opportunities or even the visibility so it really was a leap of faith. However, I knew in my heart that it was the right thing to do, not just for myself but for future LGBT people.

Did you do “other drag” before you created Miss Coco Peru? 

No. Coco was the first creation and she immediately resonated with people, because I was telling autobiographical stories and that wasn’t something drag queens were doing at that time. I was talking about the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, I was talking about AIDS, I was talking about my family and growing up gay in the Bronx. I was giving a voice to what a lot of people were feeling and my shows sort of became a big group therapy for the audience and me.  In fact, I used to say, “Let’s pretend that this is a group therapy session, and it my turn to talk.”

How did you come up with the name and were there any other choices?

My first boyfriend was Peruvian and we went together to visit his country and I met a very cute boy named Coco who later came out onstage as this glamourous drag queen! I could not believe the transformation and I learned that he was very famous in Peru. It got me asking, “How could a gay man in drag get famous and be loved and celebrated in such a Catholic, homophobic country (at that time you had to knock on doors to get into the gay clubs), and I decided that there was a power in having the courage to embrace 100 percent of who you are and that human beings are wired to respect that courage.

You are an interview pro at this point after spending more than 10 years doing “Conversations with Coco”. What are some of the standouts? 

Of course, being able to interview my idol, Bea Arthur, was amazing. However, they were all wonderful. Sitting with my friend, Allison Janney, is great because she is naughty in the best way and wants to have fun. Liza Minnelli was amazing because I was able to show the audience how thoughtful Liza is when she actually has time to think about her answers rather than 10 second soundbites on camera. Lily Tomlin is another idol and she just has the best stories and she loves to laugh and it helps that she is a fan of my work. I am very proud to say that Jane Fonda said cock ring during our interview, so I feel like only in an interview with Coco are you going to get someone like Jane Fonda to feel comfortable enough to say cock ring! It was pretty amazing!

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Are there any new conversations in the works?

Not right now because I am trying to sell the TV pilot I did with Lily Tomlin.

You have toured all over, do you have favorite cities and/or theaters to perform in? 

Actually, last year when I performed in Fort Lauderdale in the Sunshine Cathedral I was a little bit freaked out that it was a church! I mean, drag plus church somehow doesn’t add up to me. The fact that my mom was in the audience made it even more stressful! However, as soon as I walked out and heard the roar of the audience it felt like church, and it made sense and I was so comfortable. People even said afterwards that, in a way, what I delivered was a sermon. I’m excited to present this new show The Taming of the Tension in this space because I really feel that what I am saying in this new show has been speaking to audiences. Also, I’m celebrating my 27th year working as Coco, I’m not getting any younger, I address my inevitable retirement in this new show so I encourage people to embrace the moment and see this show while I am there. Plus, it would make my 91 year old mom really happy to see my show sold out!

What would be the ultimate place for you to perform in? 

Radio City Music Hall with the Rockettes.

Tell us something about the man behind Coco?

As you grow older there are so many things along the way that can corrupt your love for what you do, so I always try to remember that boy who entertained his family by singing the entire soundtrack to Fiddler on the Roof. I remember those Aids activists and those that came before me that made my life easier, and I try to get back to why I originally created Coco, so that when the business makes me crazy I will ask myself, “Why did you get into this business?” After 27 years the answer has always been the same, “I want to entertain, to feel a connection with my audience, and I want to leave the world just a little bit better than I how I found it.” It may sound corny, but it’s important for me to keep things in focus.

What can the Fort Lauderdale audience expect from your show: The Taming Of The Tension

I feel like the world is a little tense and I am coming there to ease some of that tension! I can say that audiences that have seen it feel that what I have to say is very current, funny, moving, they love my song choices and that this new show is like one big group therapy session. Or gay church! But, always remember the one important truth when seeing my show; it’s my turn to talk!

For more information on CoCo, you can visit her website at: Misscocoperu.com.