Queen of New York | Performance | Style Weekly

Donning the pumps, coiffures and dresses that drag queens are known for takes no small amount of courage, but for Miss Coco Peru, the decision coincided with her onstage debut.

“I actually decided I was going to be a drag queen and booked my first show before I’d ever even done drag, which was crazy,” says Peru, reached by phone from Florida where she splits time with her siblings taking care of her 96-year-old mother. “I gave myself three months to write my first show.”

That show, 1992’s “Miss Coco Peru in My Goddamn Cabaret,” was a hit, running for two years at a Greenwich Village cabaret. Since then, Peru, the drag persona of Clinton Leupp, has done well for herself, appearing opposite Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo in “To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar,” as well as “Will & Grace,” “Arrested Development,” “How I Met Your Mother,” the cult comedy “Trick” and delivering perhaps the most memorable line in the gay-themed rom-com “Trick.”

This week, Peru comes to Richmond Triangle Players for a three-day performance of her new cabaret “Miss Coco Peru is Bitter, Bothered and Beyond!”

Growing up, Peru recalls being afraid to rent a gay movie, then bringing one home to watch when her parents weren’t around. Someday, she thought, she would appear in a gay movie.

“I was a child that didn’t fit in and ended up bullied in my neighborhood in the Bronx,” Peru says. “I was inspired by a drag queen who made me look at things differently, and I decided to embrace everything I had been taught to hate about myself and instead celebrate it.”

Peru was also motivated by the AIDS activism of New York City in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and the idea that coming out to the world was in itself a form of political activism.

“I feel like I’ve been very fortunate to not only achieve a lot of my dreams and meet so many of my idols, but that I’ve also done it in drag, which everyone told me was the nail in the coffin of my career,” Peru says.

These days, with season 15 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in the making and “Pose” and “AJ and the Queen” on Netflix, it seems that times have very much changed in the past 30 years.

“It’s wild,” says Peru of the ascendancy of drag in pop culture. “I always knew that drag had the power to do that and draw people in. The drag community is very, very diverse, but [the rise of drag culture is] almost like gay marriage; it’s something you know will happen one day, and that you hope that you will see in your lifetime, but then when it actually happens [you can’t] believe it.”

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Of her current cabaret, Peru says its similar in humor and heart to her past shows.

“This is sort of a response to the pandemic and the changes that I feel,” she says. “It is probably my least hopeful show, but it still has hope.”

Lately, Peru has lent her voice to Pauline Phoenix, the central antagonist of the animated horror comedy “Dead End: Paranormal Park” on Netflix. The two main characters in the show are a gay, transgender boy and a Pakistani American girl who is autistic and bisexual. As someone who fell in love as a child with Ursula, the sea witch in “The Little Mermaid” – a movie that has a special resonance with many queer people – being able to play an animated villain has the feeling of everything coming full circle.

“The show is in total alignment with everything I’ve worked for these last 30 years,” Peru says of the show’s representation. “At the core of it, it’s all about family and our deepest fears, and trying to fit in when you live in a world where you don’t always feel like that’s possible.”

For a time, there was discussion of turning her “Conversations with Coco” series into a TV show, but that didn’t work out. The series, held at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, featured Peru in conversational interviews with celebrities as a fundraiser for homeless LGBTQ+ youth.

For the first installment of the series, Peru asked Bea Arthur to sit in the interview chair. Arthur, Peru says, was a shy woman, but was ultimately convinced by the series’ charitable aims.

“She did it, and, of course, she cried at the end,” says Peru of the star of “The Golden Girls,” “All in the Family” and “Maude.” “She loved it, and she even said to me, ‘Well, I guess we’re bosom buddies now.’ As a kid who was obsessed with her and of her and of her in the musical ‘Mame’ [which features the song “Bosom Buddies”], that was just one of those surreal moments for me.”

Other installments featured Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Liza Minnelli, Charles Busch and Allison Janney, among others.

At this point in her career, Peru says she’d love it if a network wanted to film one of her cabarets or offer her a sitcom, but she doesn’t have her heart set on it.

“I feel very satisfied with my career,” Peru says. “Part of the beauty of getting older is that I feel like anything else that might come my way is the icing on the cake, because I’ve been so fortunate.”

“Miss Coco Peru is Bitter, Bothered and Beyond!” runs Oct. 27-29 at Richmond Triangle Players, 1300 Altamont Ave. For more information, visit rtriangle.org or call (804) 346-8113.

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