Karine Jean-Pierre
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A Conversation With Coco Peru

Coco Peru

Courtesy of Steven C. De La Cruz.

In a red flip hairdo, Coco weaves tales and busts guts in ways that have gotten her noticed, whether it be in cult indie movies or in the interviewer’s chair for her Conversations With Coco series of live Q&As in Los Angeles. We switched seats this time, and I grilled Coco for some secrets.

The Advocate: Hello, Coco. You’re a sardonic monologuist, not someone engaging in bitchy comedy or lip sync. Has that made you rise above the pack?
Coco: I don’t think so, but I do think hard work and developing a craft is important for the long haul. I’ve been working 25 years as Coco, which, I think, in drag years is 967, although math was never my strongest subject, so I can’t be sure. I went to college for theater, and it was there that I first worked on these very political-social cabaret shows that we had to create in two weeks. Jonathan Larson, who later became famous for writing Rent, was our musical director, and he would write these amazing songs that supported the theme of the shows. I knew then that I wanted to be in that world where entertainment and activism blended together. Back then, I don’t think people quite expected a drag queen to tell autobiographical stories that were both political and personal. Doing something that was different certainly helped get me on the map of that drag explosion in early-’90s NYC, and then having some lucky breaks along the way has kept me, at least, running with the pack. 

Your hair design has stayed with you all this time, but if you had to change it by law, would you do a Miley? Sharon Osbourne? Farrah?
1970s Farrah is tempting, although probably best for just around the house. I think a Miley look is too young for me, so a nice, age-appropriate Sharon Osbourne would be my choice. Of course, I’ll never change my hairdo, if only to piss off Jackie Beat. 

Your ongoing live interview series has nabbed some considerable names. What have been the most shocking things you’ve been told by Jane Fonda, Allison Janney, etc.?
What I have been most surprised by is that all of these very successful people who we see as strong and powerful all seemed very vulnerable to me. Despite their success and the fact that the audience was there to celebrate them, backstage they were nervous. It made them very real and human to me, and I wanted to take care of them. Witnessing this has made me feel better about my own stage fright. Oh, and Jane Fonda said “cock ring” on stage, so you’ve got to love that she knows her audience and how to play to them. Pros! Every one of them! 

You’ve appeared in gay cult movies like Trick and Girls Will Be Girls, which constantly resurface. What reactions do you get from people who’ve seen them?
Trick came out in 1999, and people still come up to me and say, “You must get tired of hearing this, but… it burns!” Honestly, I never get tired of hearing it. I love it when these kids tell me that Trick was their first gay movie and that it helped them come out. And as a person who writes monologues, I was so lucky to do a monologue in that movie. Any movie! And Girls Will Be Girls is full of one-liners that fans love quoting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a fan come up to me and, in their best Coco Peru voice, say, “Still raped here.” 

I always loved that you’re a political drag queen. Do you think the apolitical ones need to be schooled?
I don’t think they need to be political on stage if that’s not their thing, but when I was young, I was schooled about the LGBT movement and the queens that came before me. Knowing my history was always important, especially early on, when I was searching for my identity. Learning all that gave me a foundation with which I could steady myself and then build upon. 

If you were a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race, what would you tell some of those girls?
I would tell them to be kind and professional and show up on time! I can’t stand people who are late—it’s disrespectful and unprofessional. Also, my husband and I loved the article where you called out queens who ask their audience, “Are you having a good time?” We agree that if you have to keep asking your audience that, chances are you didn’t do your homework as an artist.  

What’s the biggest difference you see in the LGBT community from the 1990s to today? 
Back then, we had to move to big cities in order to feel connected to a larger community. There was no Internet then. Now, people can turn on their computers or TVs and see gay characters or watch the queens on Ru’s Race being self-expressed. I’ve met kids now who are out at 11 years old. I can’t even imagine! I would also say that, in the early ’90s, I was inspired by the AIDS activism that I was witness to at that time. People were literally fighting for their lives. It wasn’t uncommon to see a friend one week, and a week later they were gone. The presence of death demanded us as a community to find our voices. I know it inspired me to want to be a part of creating change. 

Do you like the young gays you meet?
I do. A lot of them ask if they can call me Mom, and I really love that. I’m trying to embrace aging, and I’m lucky that I’m still around and working and able to connect with these younger kids. Some of them have introduced my YouTube videos to their parents and they bond over Coco, and some parents even bring their kids to see my shows. My audience has gotten younger, thanks to the Internet. I once had a mom ask me to write to her son to convince him to write a report that was due for a class, so I wrote him with my thoughts about school and learning and hard work paying off and respecting his parents, and he sent me back a photo of the completed report and I got a lovely thank-you from the mom. I should start a business! Sometimes I do worry about the future when I see that these kids can’t put their phones down and are addicted to selfies and how many “likes” they get, and I really worry when I see them celebrate reality TV “stars” with questionable talents as celebrities. Of course, I also have to remember that I was once young too and that older queens were worried about the future of queer culture and exasperated when I defended Madonna as “a singer”! But why worry? After all, Jane Fonda said “cock ring,” and, on some level, that’s comforting.

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