Miss Coco Peru has already cast her magic spell on Charlotte, helping to launch the new Queen City Theatre Company last year with a sold-out fundraiser at Actor's Theatre. Now QCTC is an established fixture, with Side Show and Dog Sees God among its homegrown hits plus Emily Skinner and The Kinsey Sicks added to its roster of distinguished guests. Miss Coco, nee Clinton Leupp, regally returns this Saturday night to see what she started -- and astonish us once again.
The Stonewall Street venue was too small to fully embrace Coco and her worshippers, so Ugly Coco will move the congregation to McGlohon Theatre at Spirit Square. Evening With Coco, seen in March 2007, was a mishmash of three Coco oldies, but Ugly is a stand-alone string of personal revelations written a couple of years ago during a summer in Spain, sprinkled with different Coco-flavored covers of showtunes.
Speaking with Coco a couple of weeks back, I asked what Ugly Coco is in response to -- were there people complaining that she was too wholesome and clean? Surprisingly, I had hit the mark.
"For years, I've always been the nice drag queen," she pouted, "the drag queen you can take your mother to! Then with this show, I've gotten a couple of reviews where people thought, well that was a little bit saucy, and I don't think so at all. There's one moment where I tell a humiliating story, but it's a story people can either laugh with me about or think, 'Oh my God, I've done something just as embarrassing.'"
There is also an element of vengeance in this show. Watching TV one night, Coco saw a moment on Ugly Betty that had obviously been ripped from a Coco floor show, either witnessed live in Los Angeles or on the Logo cable channel. Previous instances of piracy had been shrugged off as coincidences, but this was blatant.
"So because I felt so powerless in that moment, I thought this was a way of getting back some of my power -- name my show Ugly Coco, and steal from them! But it worked well because that's part of the comedy of Coco, the struggle between wanting to do the right thing, and always ending up reacting in the completely wrong way to certain things."
Coco pooh-poohs the notion that she is a phenomenon or an irresistible force. She soberly describes herself as a drag queen/monologist/world savior. Not surprisingly, this Bronx-born messiah had a life-transforming episode of her own, an epiphany that fixed her missionary path.
Back in the 1990s, Clinton went to visit his boyfriend down in Peru. There he encountered a famous drag queen named Coco, who often appeared on television.
"I was just amazed that this gay guy created this character that was celebrated in a country that was so macho and so Catholic," Coco recalls. "I thought, 'OK, there's something there about not doing something halfway but going all the way over the edge, and the courage that takes, that I think human beings are just wired to respond to and respect.' When I made the decision to do drag, I sort of embraced everything I was ashamed about, and kind of put it out there in the world and glorified it. And I found that people celebrated it and wanted to be a part of it."
Friends thought Clinton was crazy to transform into Coco. Save the world? First Coco had to break the news at home.
"I certainly changed my world, and I certainly changed my family's world," Coco recounts. "My father was a truck driver, fought in World War II, didn't have much of an education. My mother was a housewife and worked when we needed cash. They were simple people and survivors. And the great thing is, not only did my parents accept me and accept what I did, they loved it. They were afraid people were going to throw things at me, and when they sat in the audience and watched the reaction -- or people came up to them and thanked them -- they were moved by that. They've found a lot of joy in it, and I think that's how we change the world, through storytelling."
From the beginning, Coco says she had a vision that things would work out. Call it role modeling or storytelling, but Coco cannot only count the receipts, she can cite the feedback that confirms her calling.
"Recently, I had an e-mail from 11-year-old who had seen a special that I did on the Logo Channel, who wrote to me thanking me for everything that I had done for the LGBT community. He watched the show with his parents, and of course my first response was, How the hell do you know what an LGBT community is?"