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17 Oct 2017

Coco's Story: Drag Icon Coco Peru Brings Her One-Woman Show to Palm Springs as Part of the Outlandish Series

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Coco Peru. Coco Peru.

One of them is a small-town pageant winner, circa 1981, who now peddles gay travel on TV. One of them has an obsession with Celestial Seasonings’ Tension Tamer tea. One of them knows all about Sordid Lives. And one of them has become an Internet sensation thanks to his melding of politics and show tunes.

What do they all have in common? They’re the four performers in Logo founder Matt Farber’s Outlandish series, coming to the Camelot Theatres on four consecutive Saturdays, starting Oct. 28 with Sordid Lives creator Del Shores. He’ll be followed by drag star Miss Richfield 1981 on Nov. 4; and drag storyteller Miss Coco Peru on Nov. 11. And on Nov. 18 … the good news is political satirist and show-tune expert Randy Rainbow will be here; the bad news is the show is sold out—as is a second show added on Sunday, Nov. 19. (A small number of series passes, which include Randy Rainbow’s Sunday show, were still available as of this writing.)

I recently had the pleasure of talking to Miss Coco Peru (aka Clinton Leupp) about her upcoming show. One of our discussion topics: Barbra and Liza, and how they are gay-icon stereotypes. Barbra has that nose, and Liza has those big eyes … and that hair! They own those attributes and never apologize for them; Barbra’s album covers even show her profile!

Peru also knows something about a big nose, big hair and big eyes, and she is becoming a gay icon herself. The star of stage, screen, television and the occasional kids’ parties writes all of her own one-woman shows. Her Bronx accent gives away the fact that she started her career on the East Coast—but she has now lived in California for the last 18 years.

She is no stranger to performing in the Coachella Valley; the tea-obsessed Peru has even performed at … several recovery facilities?

“Working with people in recovery—they can go there with Coco,” she said. “I joke that we’re all so fucked up, and they really get it. They want to poke fun of themselves. When you hit rock bottom, and the only way is up, Coco really connects with that for them.”

Her new show is Miss Coco Peru: The Taming of the Tension, and it covers “different themes, including difference between the being present and showing up,” Peru told me. “I take months to write a show so that when people leave my theater, they are rejuvenated and happy. Well, for at least six minutes, before the shit hits the fan again after they leave. That’s just the world we live in now.”

What’s her creative process for creating a show like this? “I usually start with over 100 pages, and then I start to edit them down. I end up with between 20 and 30 pages, including songs which are sung live,” Peru said. “For me, it’s group therapy, and now it’s my turn to talk. Most people will go through a full range of emotions in the hour and 15 minutes of the show.”

Coco Peru has received rave reviews from audiences, and from her good friend Lily Tomlin, whose character Ernestine served as an inspiration. Tomlin even called Peru “one of the last great storytellers”—and indeed, she is.

We talked about the trials involved with growing up gay.

“I had to find my voice—and this was it,” she said. “I talk about how everyone made fun of me, saying I was a girl. I just got to a point where I thought, ‘I am going to show you just how big of a girl I can be.’ So, like the nose, I own just how big of a girl I am! When I accepted who I am, it just felt like I became balanced.”

Peru said she aims to be a positive voice. “I can be bitchy and angry, but my show runs the full gamut of emotions, from being very funny to people getting very emotional during my show. The point is leaving the audience feeling great and leaving the show with a real positive feeling.

“I don’t pick on anyone in the audience; I am way too self-absorbed.”

Peru said her show points out how we’re all connected.

“In today’s world, there is such a disconnect of people. I discuss the ideas we’re all thinking, but I vocalize them,” she said. “We are constantly bombarded with news and information. It’s crazy. There are too many things to try to focus on, then when something happens in our community, it’s easy for (those things) to just slide on by. I also talk about (playwright and female impersonator) Charles Busch and how much he was an inspiration to me. He showed me that you can do theater with a female character and be fabulous.”

The Outlandish series takes place at 8 p.m., Saturday, from Oct. 28 through Nov. 18, at the Camelot Theatres, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets to individual shows are $30 to $60 (although both Randy Rainbow shows are sold out); series passes start at $100. For tickets or more information, visit www.outlandishps.com.

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