Q&A with Miss Coco Peru

In the second of my summer interviews with the leading ladies of Provincetown, I sat down with the one-and-only Miss Coco Peru. More of a comedienne (or monologist, technically) than lip-syncher (although she can also sing), Miss Coco is a different breed of drag diva, whom Lily Tomlin called one of the last great storytellers. Since bursting onto the scene almost 20 years ago with her one-woman show, Miss Coco Peru in My Goddamn Cabaret, the ginger-wigged, Stepford Wife-styled spitfire has performed to sold-out crowds all over the world. (Don’t miss her in Miss Coco Peru’s Glorious Wounds this November.) Not bad for a gal born and raised in one of the down-and-dirtiest places on earth…

Seeing as you’re from the Bronx, have you ever been in a fight?
No, but in high school this girl did slap me. I slapped her right back and she fell backwards down the steps. It was wonderful.

In a bitch fight between you and Varla Jean Merman, who would win?
Varla and I are like sisters, so we would never fight. However, if we did, Varla would have a lot of advantages: her high kicks, her big hands, her female wrestling background. But after all her posturing I’d pull a gun out of my purse and shoot her. Actually, Varla and I would probably make up and just brush each other’s hair. And we don’t even have to be in the same room!

Was it tough being a pretty girl in the Bronx?
Actually, it was when I finally admitted that I was a pretty “girl” that things finally got easier. There’s something about owning and having the courage to be 100% of who you are and taking back your power that people respect.

What was your first trip to downtown Manhattan as Coco like?
As a child, my parents used to take me to Radio City Music Hall to see movies. It was there that I saw Auntie Mame, Funny Lady, and What’s Up, Doc? However, the real thrill was that grand staircase. I used to walk up and down it like I was in a big musical. So when I finally dressed up as Coco and went out for my first time, there just happened to be a big staircase there and I took to it like a fish to water. All eyes were on me and I loved it.

If you could make someone over, who would it be and what would you do to them?
Snookie from Jersey Shore. She just reminds me of the girls I grew up around and if, as a society, we’re going to make celebs out of people who have nothing to offer us, can they at least look like a celebrity? The one thing I would do, besides the obvious sandblasting to remove the bad makeup and fake tan, would be to stick her on a rack, the one used to torture people, and I’d stretch her. Not only to make her taller, but to teach her manners.

Who do people say you resemble?
It used to be Tina Louise. Now, Kathy Griffin.

When do you feel your prettiest and what is it that takes you there?
When I’m walking down a street and a hot guy pulls over in his car and offers to pay me for sex. I know I should be offended, but I love it. And yes, it still happens, even at my age!

What’s a look you had to abandon?
Big Ann-Margret hair. Early Coco was all about big hair. It was a nuisance to take care of and Coco was always meant to be a “less is more” kind of a lady.

What was your first dress and where did it come from?
I bought my first dress in a dress shop in the Bronx. It was a red beaded gown. I loved it and all the little old Italian ladies that ran the shop were so excited to help me. They were throwing dresses at me, and although there were other women in the shop trying things on, the Italian ladies ignored them because that day it was all about me, as it should be.

Do you sew?
Not one stitch! Ever!

What was your worst fashion disaster? Where was it and what were you wearing?
It was at my show at the Westbeth Theatre years ago in New York City. I wore a very short skirt onstage one night and my stockings slid down below the hemline of the skirt and although I was aware that it was happening, I thought no one would notice. After the show my straight New York City police officer brother pointed and whispered, “low crotch.” I was mortified!

What was your most glamourous moment?
Being honored by the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center at their annual gala for my work in the community. I was very moved not only by the recognition, but that Zachary Quinto took the time to present me with the award, that Liza Minnelli sent me a quick video greeting, and that Lily Tomlin wrote that I was one of the “last great storytellers.”

What does Coco wear when she cleans house?
Au naturel!

When it comes to beauty, who has been your biggest inspiration?
Daphne Ann Blake from Scooby Doo! Seriously, I used to stand in front of the television every Saturday morning and act out her lines after she said them. Look at her online, she is the cartoon version of Coco.

Any makeup secrets for us?
Fingernails! They are the last things to go on but they are so important in completing the transformation. So many times I see my sisters onstage looking like beautiful women and all of sudden, man hands! They should continue the illusion right up to their fingertips.

Who did you have on your walls growing up?
Are you kidding me? Do you really think Helen let me hang things on my walls?

Who did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be funny. I wanted to be like Barbra Streisand in What’s Up, Doc? By the way, she was gorgeous in that film. Also, Bea Arthur, who made me laugh from the time I first heard her voice on a comedy album my parents had, called the Jewish American Princess. 

What’s a look you wish you could pull off?
Las Vegas showgirl or burlesque. I love the art of the striptease and I would love to learn it in my next life.

Men’s or women’s room?
Depends on the line.

Sit or stand?
Really? Is this the level we’re sinking to?

Who’s your ideal woman?
Penelope Cruz.

Your ideal man?
I have this weird thing for Dwayne Johnson. You know, The Rock?

Spit or swallow?
So we’ve sunk. Swallow. I’ve been with my husband for 15 years, it’s the least I can do. I’m a giver!