The world according to Coco Peru

  • by Richard Dodds
  • Tuesday October 7, 2008
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Clinton Leupp was standing in a Florida shopping mall, located unfashionably between Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, having sent   his mother off to shop so he could do a phone interview. With the sounds of mall bustle ebbing and flowing in the background, Leupp wistfully recalled his early days performing as Miss Coco Peru.

"I was going to change the world and make everybody love gay people," Leupp said. "I'm still trying to change the world, but standing here in Boynton Beach Mall, I have to tell you I'm feeling very lonely. I'm looking around thinking there's no way I can save any of these people."

Despite the physical transformation into a kind of Marlo Thomas-That Girl look, Leupp says there's not much difference between his own persona and that of Miss Coco Peru. "But I can definitely get away with saying some things that wouldn't go over too well if I just did them as myself," Leupp said. "I think it also works as a safety net for the audience because they're allowed to laugh at things I get enraged about because I'm in drag."

Leupp is bringing his newest Coco show to the Rrazz Room for a three-week run beginning Oct. 15. Its title, Ugly Coco!, is meant to work on several levels.

"First of all, the TV show Ugly Betty used some of my material in an episode, which isn't the first time something like that has happened, and I address that. But I'm also addressing how I'm always dealing with my demons, and that's where the ugly part comes in as well, because as good as I try to be, I never quite achieve the goodness that I hope is in there. It always seems to turn black and sour."

Leupp, who still sports his native Bronx accent both in and out of character, first began performing as Coco Peru in the early 1990s. "I trained to be an actor in college, and then I realized really fast that I was never going to get hired to play a straight person. I realized I was going to have to create something for myself if I was ever going to work as a performer."

His eureka moment came during a vacation in Peru when he met a drag queen named Coco. "He was very famous in this homophobic, macho country, and he was working on television all the time. There was something  about owning who you are 100% and putting it out there that people respect."

The look that became Miss Coco Peru was an evolution toward simplicity. "Although I love what other drag queens do, I wanted to create something different from the expected. The show wasn't going to be about the fabulous costumes, it was going to be about the stories."

The stories that make up a Coco Peru show are "99% true," Leupp said, though they didn't necessarily happen when he was in his Coco persona. "In this show I talk about being friends with Liza Minnelli and Bea Arthur, and the Los Angeles Times, in its review, said, 'his friends, real or imagined,' and I was so angry at that because it wasn't imagined at all."

And it confounds Leupp that audiences think that Coco's frequent references to a boyfriend named Rafael are just part of the show. "They think I've made up this man I've been with for the past 13 years," he said. "I'm performing autobiographical stories, and I just assume that everybody knows that."

Leupp and his partner recently bought a house in the San Fernando Valley, not far from the community college where Rafael teaches. They met on a beach at Fire Island. "He came out of the water completely naked, and I thought, 'You know, I've got to touch that.' I invited him to my show, but didn't tell him anything about it, and about 20 minutes into the show, he realized, 'Oh my God, that's Clinton.' He sort of freaked out and didn't want to see me again, and I gave him a good tongue-lashing and called him on his bullshit, and he got it."

Leupp doesn't perform as much as he would like, and despite guest spots as Coco Peru on such TV shows as Will & Grace, Boy Meets Boy, and Arrested Development, he's frustrated that he's given the brush-off when he has pitched ideas for his own projects. He's also had major roles in such films as Trick and Girls Will Be Girls with Varla Jean Merman, and the latter is in continuing production as a web series available on YouTube.

"I do count my blessings that I get to work as much as I do, and one of the themes in Ugly Coco! is that I've had all these amazing experiences because I did drag. I've had younger drag queens come up to me and say, 'I want to do what you're doing,' and it helps keep things in perspective. I even got an e-mail from an 11-year-old who had watched my Logo special with his parents. He wrote to thank me for everything I do for the LGBT community. I wanted to write back, 'How the fuck do you know what the LGBT community is?'"

Ticket info for Ugly Coco! is available at

'Heart' strings

While Moby Dick! The Musical continues an extended run through Oct. 19 on its main stage, Theatre Rhino has a new play moving into its Studio theater. Local playwright Jerry Metzker's His Heart Belongs to Me begins a three-week run starting Oct. 23.

The play deals with the personal upheavals a gay man must face following the sudden death of his partner in an accident. The setting is a Midwestern state that provides no legal protection for a surviving gay partner, and beyond his personal grief, he must deal with family members who try to take control of his life, and the two children he and his partner were raising.

Matt Weimar, a Rhino regular, plays the surviving partner, and other cast members include Chrys-Anthony Booker, Amanda Lee, Norman Munoz, Danielle Perata, and Joan Saunders. Maureen Studer is directing the play, produced by Rhino in association with Metzker's own Grooviness Productions.

Tickets are available at 861-5079 or

Richard Dodds can be reached at [email protected].