This article was originally published on May 8, 2016.
Drag superstar Coco Peru needs you!
Legendary drag queen Miss Coco Peru has been entertaining crowds across the country, and the globe with her wit, charm and talent. You may have seen Coco in such films as To Wong Foo and Trick – or in the camp classic Girls Will Be Girls. You may have seen her amazing one-woman show, or you may have seen her awesome viral videos on YouTube. Well, Coco has started a Kickstarter campaign (link) to fund her latest project, “Conversations with Coco”. The series, which started as an LA-based theater event is now going worldwide, and Coco needs your help. I had a chance to chat with Coco about the project, and, on the eve of the new season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the current state of drag.
Socialite Life: It’s great to chat with you about Conversations with Coco. How far along are you with the fundraising on Kickstarter?
Coco Peru: We’re almost there. I think we’re only about $7,000 short of the goal.
SL: How did the “Conversations with Coco” series come about in the first place?
Coco: Well, originally the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center had asked me to be interviewed by another person, the author Dennis Hensley, so we did an interview that was a fundraiser for the Center where Dennis interviewed me and we reflected on my career. It was very successful. So then the Center got the idea that it would be great if we could continue a series of these kind of interviews and it would be great if Coco would do it – because, at the time, Dennis was busy doing something else. So, they asked me and I said “Sure!” So then we came up with the title “Conversations with Coco” and it was all about trying to find who would be the first guest and I happened at that time to know Bea Arthur and I asked her if she would do it. She didn’t want to but she was so sweet and she loved gay people, so she said yes and that’s how it got started.
SL: Who else did you interview for the LA shows? I remember seeing you had interviewed Allison Janney.
Coco: Yes, in fact, I just posted a video of Allison and I this morning (link). She came over to my house the other day to help me pitch this Kickstarter campaign. I also interviewed Jane Fonda, Charles Busch – who is my drag hero, Lesley Ann Warren, Lainie Kazan, Karen Black and Lily Tomlin, who is returning to do the Conversation again so we can film it. Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot to mention Liza Minelli. How could I forget Liza?
SL: Those are all amazing performers. Was there one interview that was a favorite of yours?
Coco: Did I have a favorite? No. they were all wonderful in their own way and because they were all people I admire so much. I was just in awe that I was sitting on a stage with them. So I really can’t say I have a favorite. They were all special in their own way. The conversations were all so intimate – that’s probably what is most special about them. [The celebrities] feel so loved by me and the audience that it actually turns out to be – at least in the live stage show – a somewhat moving experience for them. And to see them also go through something so unusual with an interview that it was wonderful.
SL: Did the audience members have a chance to ask questions after your conversations? Is that something that would be a part of this new series?
Coco: I have no idea what the new series will be like, except that it will be similar to what we’ve done with the live stage events, but, no I have never given the audience the opportunity to do that – probably mostly because I feel like the conversation between me and this one person is what people are coming to see, but also we end up having so much to talk about that most of the time, I don’t even get to ask all of my questions! And, well, I guess you could edit it out, but sometimes I find people want to make it about themselves sometimes – when you open it up to an audience – and I’ve seen awkward things happen like that and, because I care about our guests so much, and they’re doing us a favor, I think it’s better just to focus on them and the relationship between them and myself. I think the audience doesn’t even think about asking questions. I think they are just there to witness Coco Peru interviewing an icon.
SL: Is the new series also going to benefit the LA Gay and Lesbian Center?
Coco: Yes, we worked it out with the Center that they will still be a part of the series. It will still be filmed at the Center, and they will still be receiving a portion of the proceeds if this ever goes to series. So, yes, they’re still involved. There’s no way I would ever, ever do this without the Center still being involved because it was created at the Center and I feel the Center deserves to be a part of it and I’ve always been an activist on some level so to be able to still give back to the community is amazing. And I want to keep it real that there are still people out there who still struggle and my show’s proceeds have always gone to homeless kids that get rejected by their families…I still feel very strongly about giving back to the community.
SL: If I can ask a selfish question, what’s going on with “Girls Will Be Girls 2”?
Coco: Well, it’s still being worked on and I know the director, Richard Day, wants to finish it, but I’m sure he’s like “Oh, my God, I’m so sick of this movie!” So, we raised the money to finish it, but unlike the first movie, which had a huge budget for an independent film, and it had a whole crew of professionals and was edited by a film editor. So, with the Kickstarter, we only raised a portion of what we had for the first one. Everyone that worked on [the sequel] was a volunteer, a fan of the movie. And Richard wrote a bigger movie than the first one, so a lot of it was shot in front of a green screen and now he’s having to learn all of these programs (to finish the post-production). And, I think at one point, he lost everything he had done and had to send his computer away to have it all retrieved. And then, most recently, Richard has a cancer diagnosis, which he is recovering from – and it’s just been one mishap after another. But it is still in the works, he has not forgotten about it!
SL: As far as your career (and I’ve been a fan of yours since Trick), do you have any plans to do more acting?
Coco: Well, I still do shows all over the country and I just wrote a new one, well, I wrote it last summer and I’ve been performing it this past year. I’m really proud of this new show. And I know there’s talk of Trick 2 in the works, so hopefully, that will see the light of day someday. They’re writing the script now. That would be exciting to have the whole cast re-assembled all these years later – to see what happened to all of those people.
SL: I love your YouTube videos. How did those come about?
Coco: Years ago, Target put out a wig for Halloween that looked very much like Coco and even the woman modeling the wig was doing a very Coco-looking face. So, all of a sudden, people started sending me pictures of this wig – and I thought it was a joke at first. Then my manager said, “Why don’t we make a little video of you looking for it?” So, that’s what we did (link) and we never expected it to go viral – it was really just for my fans – and then they went crazy and the guy who filmed it, our young friend Garrett Watts, said, “Let’s make more” and I said, “Okay” and he said, “Well, what do you think would be funny?” I said, “Well, what if I went on a quest for Celestial Seasonings Tension Tamer Tea?” – because I was really upset that they discontinued it in my stores. So we did that one (link), and it went really viral because of Tyler Oakley, who posted it. I haven’t done one in a while because I’ve been so busy – and usually because I get kicked out of the stores!
SL: I’ve spent a lot of time covering RuPaul’s Drag Race for this site. What do you think about the show and the up and coming drag performers who compete on the show?
Coco: I think there’s still a wealth of creativity in the drag community and I would say that RuPaul’s Drag Race has brought drag back into the mainstream in a huge way and it has made young kids feel comfortable with expressing themselves – and I include all kids, I’m not just talking about little gay boys. I see young, teenage girls that are finding inspiration in drag and even teenage girls coming to see my show now – it’s amazing to me…and the fact that they want to call me “Mom”! It’s wild.
I would say that the only negative thing that I feel about it – and it’s more about reality TV, in general, is that sometimes I think people get addicted to wanting to be a celebrity more than having a craft and working on it and our society celebrates people who are on TV. When you look at the Real Housewives, they make thousands of dollars to show up at a club and you’re thinking, “but they’re not offering much of anything.” Except that people get to post a photo of them on Facebook – and that’s enough for people nowadays. When I was young, the only way you were going to become a celebrity or get noticed or have anything that was worth celebrating was that you had a craft, and you had to work hard on your craft. So I would say with reality TV in general that people have gotten dumbed down a bit as far as what they’re choosing to celebrate. And I’m not saying those people don’t deserve to be celebrated. I’m just saying to me, and I certainly don’t want you to think this is a negative against Drag Race, I think more good came out of it than negative. And I encourage all of the young queens who want to go on the show to go on it. I think it’s smart to go on that show.
SL: Now, going back to Conversations with Coco, what celebrities would you love to be able to interview?
Coco: Of course, Dolly Parton would be great and Shirley MacLaine is a big one for me because I love her so much. There’s just so many people – and even my friend Zachary Quinto, even though he’s younger, I still feel like he’s an icon in many ways and he was a fan of mine before he became famous and he’s been so sweet to me. I’m interested in people’s journeys and how they got from their childhood to where they are now.
SL: Have you had a “wow moment” in any of the conversations you’ve already had?
Coco: Certainly a “wow moment” was when I heard Jane Fonda use the words “cock ring”! (Laughs)
SL: I love Jane and I’m excited that Lily Tomlin is going to be the first guest on the series.
Coco: I am too. That’s what I was talking about, craft. I feel like Lily has a craft and that lasts a lifetime. It carries you through and gives you a long career. And that’s why I’m so excited to see Lily even today still producing work that matters.
SL: Is there a message you’d like to share with your Socialite Life “Coco Puffs”?
Coco: I am so grateful that I’ve been around for 25 years and I’ve had such supportive people – whether they’ve followed me from the beginning of my career or just discovered me on YouTube. I’m so grateful for their support!
You can check out Miss Coco Peru in New York: