Drag entertainer and monologist extraordinaire Coco Peru talks about her writing process, Lady Bunny, and whether the torch she carries for Trick still burns.
Before there was Drag Race, there was Coco Peru — redefining what it meant to be a queen from stage shows to films. With the long-hoped-for sequel to Trick finally in the works, it seemed time for a trip to Peru.
METROSOURCE: You’ve seen drag move from the margins of society into the mainstream. Do you attribute that to greater LGBTQ visibility in general, or shows like Drag Race and Pose becoming a part of straight America’s viewing habits?
Coco: I think it is a combination of it all. Certainly, World of Wonder, the company that created Ru’s Race, had a vision for what the future could be just as I did when I created Coco Peru. I was inspired by the activists and queens that came before me. I saw the work they had done, and the courage that they had to do it and it inspired me; it propelled me to want to take what they had done and push it even further. I wanted young people that came after not to have to waste so many years questioning whether they were okay. I wanted them to grow up knowing they were able to be themselves and even create themselves. I remember when I first created Coco, my parents were very nervous that by my talking openly about being a gay man and doing it in drag, that it would alienate a straight audience. I knew early on that my audience would mostly be an LGBT one, but I told my parents that it would be a matter of time that straight people would recognize that my story is essentially their story, despite our different experiences and how we choose to dress. I grew up watching straight families and characters on TV and I could relate to it, and I knew that Coco would be relatable to everyone if they would just give me a chance and listen to my story.
Were you always attracted to drag or did not being the most butch guy on the block nudge you in that direction?
As a kid I was attracted to both male and female toys and clothing, but I was denied the female side of things, so I think drag is a way to make up for all that was lost and celebrate it.
How often does your show change? Nightly? Seasonally?
A show’s energy can change depending on the audience of course, but each of my shows is scripted, memorized, rehearsed and then it’s about engaging with an audience, so that it feels like I’m saying it all for the first time, and when an audience is present and engaged it does feel like I’m saying it all for the first time. It’s sort of like group therapy or gay church!
So much of your act comes out of personal experience. Are you always on the lookout for new topics to discuss?
When I sit down to write, memories pop up and I have to trust that they are popping up for a reason. As I write more, the memories begin to make sense as to why I want to share them with an audience. Other times, I’ll tell a story to friends about something that happened, and if it gets a big laugh, I’ll mentally make a note that this could possibly be a story for a future show. Because my shows are all autobiographical, it does surprise me that so many people think that it’s fiction. Sometimes when I introduce my husband Rafael to the audience after the show, people are shocked that he really exists! That bothers me.
People may be surprised to know that you’ve been in the same relationship since before Trick, and that Rafael travels with you and is part of your career now. How have you two made that work?
My husband is a professor in a college, so he doesn’t get to travel with me that often, only when school is on break. We are complete opposites and we both appreciate what each of us brings to the relationship. He enjoys the excitement/madness of my entertainment world, and I enjoy the daily structure he brings to my life.
Interesting. So what’s the one thing about being a drag queen you think that no one would know who’s never been around it?
Stepping outside the box is where the magic happens. Oh, and sharing a dressing room with Lady Bunny is traumatic.
You talk about Coco as something you put on, like a wig or dress.
I’m not pretending to be a woman or anyone other than a heightened version of myself. As Coco, I talk about being a man, so I’m really embracing a sort of third gender where as Coco I get to be both male and female and that in the end, that really doesn’t even matter on some level. We’re all human beings … except for Lady Bunny. That is not human.
More than one person has said you pretty much steal the movie Trick. How did become part of the film?
I was not part of the original script. But Jim Fall, the director, asked me to read the part of Katherine, later played by Tori Spelling, in the first public reading of the script. Afterwards, everyone said to Jim, “You’ve gotta keep the drag queen in the movie.” So, a part was written for me and then I asked if I could rewrite it and that is what became the bathroom monologue.
Do people still quote your lines from the first movie to you?
Yes, people still quote “IT BURNS” and “It’s big, it’s beautiful and you’re gonna love it.” And I love it. I’m flattered that 20 years later, lines that I wrote and performed still resonate with people. It’s amazing. Seeing the cast again all reunited recently just felt … right. So much had changed in the last 20 years and this new script really addresses that while celebrating all the good stuff that never changes.
Last modified: September 20, 2018