After everything that’s been going on in the world, Miss Coco Peru is ready to unleash her thoughts about the past, present, and future in a brand-new production entitled Bitter, Bothered & Beyond, which will tour across the country and stop at several iconic venues including New York’s Birdland Jazz Club.
Known for her quirky personality, fabulous sense of style, and amazing comedy chops, Coco has been a household name in the LGBTQ community for nearly 30 years. Starting in the early 90s as a downtown favorite in the New York cabaret scene after writing, producing, directing, and starring in her first show, Miss Coco Peru in My Goddamn Cabaret, she has since enjoyed an expansive career ranging from intimate stage productions to appearing on film and television.
In addition to receiving worldwide acclaim for her work, Coco has become a viral sensation on social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube and is also known for her long history of passionate activism. She isn’t considered “the hostess with that something… extra” for nothing!
Instinct caught up with the drag legend to talk more about Bitter, Bothered & Beyond, as well as tour life, appreciating the old and new ways of drag, and other projects like her voiceover role in the upcoming animated Netflix series, Dead End: Paranormal Park.
Thank you for taking some time to chat with me, Coco! What can audiences expect from your brand-new tour, Bitter, Bothered & Beyond?
In many ways, it’s like the previous Coco shows. Autobiographical monologues and songs that I pay a lot of money to have tracks made. However, after living through lockdown and COVID, I found it very difficult to come up with something. I always find it difficult to write a new show, but I found it particularly difficult this time. I try to be hopeful with my shows, and in this case, I wasn’t feeling very hopeful.
I forced myself to sit down and write, as many writers do, and I’m happy with what I came up with. I feel like I’m also exercising demons and really saying what I want to say. I had the pleasure of opening the show in San Francisco to a great audience at a great venue. You never know how an audience is going to respond, but the response was great. I felt like I was saying a lot of what other people wanted to say.
Ultimately, what do you hope audiences take away from the show?
I hope they take away that despite everything we’re going through, we’re survivors. Especially the queer community.
This is your first major tour since before the pandemic. What have you missed the most about performing for live audiences?
I feel like every theater performer says this, but it really is about the connection you’re making with the audience. You can feel when that connection is made, and I imagine that’s what church is supposed to feel like. Everybody suddenly becomes united in the same thoughts. That’s why I hate when people bring phones in. So, I would say that’s what I miss. I certainly don’t miss the anxiety that I get from live performing, but my husband keeps telling me that’s because I care so much.
You will be appearing at several venues across the country with this production, but one you are familiar with is the Birdland Jazz Club in New York City. How excited are you to return to this historic stage, and what makes this place so special?
I love Birdland for many reasons, but I’ve had a lot of magical moments there. From sharing a dressing room with Chita Rivera, to just being a native New Yorker being able to perform in such an iconic space. When I think back 30 years ago when I created Coco, I never thought that I would last this long. So, it’s always wonderful to come back to the city where I created Coco, and it’s always a time of reflection for me. I’ve come pretty far doing drag without being on a TV show. I’ve had a career, and New York is always a reminder of that for me. Also, when I say that I’m performing at Birdland, people, mostly in the business, always go, wow! Okay! It has that cachet.
What do you love the most about touring?
I love getting to meet my fans. They make me feel so appreciated, and that is the best gift from them. The other thing that’s wonderful is, although I’m able to perform in big cities like Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, a lot of people laughed at the fact that Galesburg, Illinois was on my calendar. Let me tell you, when you go out to these smaller cities, you often feel even more appreciated, and people will literally drive six hours to come see you and rent hotel rooms. That’s a different experience. These smaller cities have beautiful, gorgeous theatres and they’re happy to open their grandest venues to you. I’ll go to some of these big cities and have to perform in shitholes [laughs].
We love your live performances, but one of your most celebrated productions is the Conversations with Coco series. The last one you did was in 2015 with Allison Janney. Any plans to revive it?
We tried to make it a television show, and that was a very crazy experience to go through. I feel like any time I’ve tried to work within the Hollywood machine, it’s just never worked out for me. I feel like it’s the universe’s way of saying you don’t belong in that. That’s not where you belong. They try to change things or stile you and whatnot, so it didn’t work out in the end.
I would love to bring it back just as a live show because that’s where I feel like the magic happens, and the audience that gets to see it loves it. It really is up to the gay and lesbian center, and because things are just starting to reopen, I think it remains to be seen if that will happen again.
The last time we chatted, we talked about your notable role starring in Jim Fall’s 1999 film, Trick. Do you know if a sequel is still in the works?
Again, I think COVID put that way off track. I don’t know what’s happening with Trick 2, and I feel bad that they announced that it was happening in such a big way. That’s not the way I do things. I keep everything a secret, and then once I know it’s happening for sure, that’s when I’ll push it. I think people’s expectations were really high, but I’m not sure where it stands now. Although, I will say, I did have a monologue in it that I wrote, and I was looking forward to doing it!
We also talked about how drag has become more mainstream. Do you still have mixed feelings about that?
Yes. I think everything is always gray and it just depends on what you choose to focus on. I really choose to focus on myself, doing my own thing, and celebrating others. I listen to conversations about the state of drag and whatnot, and at the end of it, I’ve always said this: I’m lucky to have been working for 30 years. That’s the main thing. Drag is going to evolve however it evolves, and the fact that I’ve survived for this long is where I choose to place my focus on. I do think it’s interesting that a lot of fans will constantly ask when some of us older queens are going to be on television. Like we can pick up the phone and make that happen! [Laughs].
Do you ever feel like old school drag is kind of fading away?
No, but I guess I just don’t think about it that much. I do feel like there is a younger generation of drag queens who look up to us older queens. When I did my show, I don’t think there were any other drag queens that did autobiographical shows, and now there are. I think there are younger queens out there who want to take drag in a more theatrical direction, but then there are some that just want to be famous and look beautiful. That has its place too. It’s really about the general audience and what they want to celebrate. What do they want to spend their money on? Sometimes, that’s where I get a little disappointed, but it is what it is.
You were supposed to perform on a special Legends of Drag cruise last month. Did that happen?
No, that got canceled. I think they said it was because of COVID, but I think it was really because they didn’t sell as many tickets as they wanted to. I told them early on, you really need to think about this. First of all, it was announced during the whole Black Lives Matter movement, and I said, do you realize you don’t have one person of color on this cruise? I was embarrassed by that. You have to think about these things nowadays and be thorough because it’s the right thing to do.
The other thing was, I had hoped they would have invited some younger queens to join. Drag queens who are future legends. Queens that are creative and you can see their career path happening. So, who knows? Maybe they’ll reformulate it. It was a great idea, and I was honored that they thought these older drag queens like myself, Lady Bunny, Jackie Beat, and Varla Jean Merman deserved to be celebrated. I thought that was lovely.
What advice can you offer to the newbies hoping to make it big drag today?
I always say: show up on time, be prepared, and I know people will roll their eyes because I sound like an old granny, which I am, but I encourage young drag queens not to drink as much because in our community, especially in the venues where we’re performing, those cocktails are very available. They can help relax you, but it can turn into a bad habit. I’ve seen many a drag show where the queens are up there drunk, and they think they’re so funny. I’m just like, girl. Drunk is what you are.
So, don’t fall into a bad habit. Be conscious of that. Your audience deserves the best of you, even if you are nervous. I think it’s better to go out there a little bit more vulnerable and have that nervous energy, because that nervous energy can be very exciting.
You will be in a new animated series called Dead End: Paranormal Park on Netflix. What can you tell us about this?
I am so blown away that I am a part of this! Hamish Steele, who wrote the comic books, is such a wonderful, kind person, and he’s so creative. He created these comic books, but then translated it into this animated show that is both funny and dark. There’re demons, there’re monsters, and yet, it has this whole queer throughline that is just so beautiful to me. I was able to watch pieces of it, and I expected to laugh and for it to look beautiful, but I was very moved by some of it as well.
Who do you play?
I play Pauline Phoenix, who is the owner of the theme park. I’m a ghost, and apparently a woman!
Before we wrap up, are there any other upcoming projects or anything else you would like to mention or plug?
No, I just hope that people will come out and support my show, especially younger kids. I will say this. In San Francisco, I was amazed at how many young people not only came to see the show, but they took the time to write me afterwards. They wrote beautiful things about how they didn’t know what to expect from the show and they were still thinking about it days later. How they were inspired, and it made them think about their own lives.
That’s the whole point of my shows. Although it is my story, it’s always meant to make people think about their own lives. So, I really hope that young people who are maybe used to seeing a RuGirl will come out to see me as well. I’d like for them to come see an old school drag queen.
Drag is such a positive influence on young people, especially kids.
Oh, yes! I was kind of embarrassed when people only knew me through my YouTube videos, but I realized those YouTube videos had value for people not only because they thought they were funny, but also because I was a drag queen out in the world in places where I clearly didn’t fit in. Yet, I made myself fit in. I claimed my right to be there. I claimed my space in the world, and I think that’s powerful for a young person to see. I certainly didn’t have those role models or the internet growing up, so I felt very isolated. The fact that these kids can feel safer now, be celebrated, and see examples of themselves is really wonderful. So, you owe me! Come spend a few dollars on Coco Peru!