Theater Interview: CLINTON LEUPP (MISS COCO PERU: THE TAMING OF THE TENSION)

by Samuel Garza Bernstein on August 22, 2017

in Interviews,Theater-Los Angeles,Tours

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SHE WHO CAN’T BE TAMED

Clinton Leupp may not aspire to self-help guru status, but his upcoming appearance as Miss Coco Peru in The Taming of the Tension is driven by a definite sense of mission. “I want to unify people,” he says. “We can’t truly get together as human beings until we understand how fear separates us, and find a way of moving beyond it.”

We met poolside in Valley Glen at the gracious home he shares with husband Raphael. As he elaborates on his worldview, he’s funny, sarcastic, garrulous, wise, and deadly serious. “Make the conscious choice to love,” he adds, opening his eyes wide, as if surprised that anyone might make a different choice. “Look up from your goddamn phone, and be present in your own life.”

The fact that he gets a little cranky about it, doesn’t in any way lessen the higher consciousness at work. “Actually, I think my audience likes that I’m New Yorky and a little bit cranky. Especially the young people. They’re making up such a large portion of my audience these days. For a while, my audience was aging with me. But now with the Drag Queens of Comedy shows, Ru Paul’s Drag Race, and some of the events I host, the younger generation has discovered me. They call me ‘Mom’ and say I’m their spirit animal. Isn’t that amazing?”

Though he thinks his young fans are wonderful, he does worry a lot about how often they’re buried in their phones. “Of course, I’m just as guilty of it sometimes. But there is an art to face-to-face conversation. Nothing can replace that. I grew up around people who had the gift of small talk, which is really about intimacy. And intimacy, is really about mindfulness.” Which brings us back to the positive message he hopes to spread in his upcoming appearance at the Renberg Theatre in The Taming of the Tension.

“It’s all new material,” he says with pride. Though he rarely knows at the time of booking Miss Coco appearances what the shows will be about in advance. “I’m one of those people who needs a deadline. Once I know I’ve got to show up at a specific place on a specific date, then I know I’ve got to come up with something to say, something to sing, something to wear…”

The “something to wear” part hasn’t changed a lot in the 25 years since Leupp wrote, produced, directed, and starred in his first show, Miss Coco Peru in My Goddamn Cabaret. “It’s always been all about the silhouette for me,” he says. “I wanted the character to have this long, thin, particular kind of look. The same with the hair, long, sleek, and then with the flip. And the silhouette isn’t just a visual thing. It’s part of who Coco is. Somehow her whole essence and being is in that silhouette.”

Leupp has never tired of the character, though of late he can find the work it entails wearying. “Sometimes the idea of getting up and shaving and plucking and doing the makeup and getting into a dress is torture,” he says with a mischievous grin. “So much work!” Other drag performers I’ve met have often had little or no body hair, but at the time of our interview, I noticed Leupp was attractively hirsute. “Oh, in the summertime I like to be more of a boy. And that’s how my husband likes me. We spend two months in Spain with his family every summer, and I get to let it all hang out, so to speak.”

He and Raphael have been together for almost three decades. Leupp is clear that Raphael fell in love with Mr. Clinton Leupp, not with Miss Coco Peru. “He loves my act, and is very supportive, but at home, at night, it’s the real me he’s in love with.” Though Leupp does acknowledge that gender fluidity can be part of attraction. “I talk about it in the new show,” he says, “and I’ve known men who are attracted to that sort of third gender idea, the boy dressed like a girl. And that can be great. It’s just not how it is with us.”

But back to tension and Tension. “Whether it’s political stress or social stress or stress with our families, I just feel like we’re in this incredible moment of confusion and unhappiness. People go on the internet and let loose with so much invective. I’ve done it myself. I made a comment the other day without reading the whole thread of a post, and it turns out I really hurt someone’s feelings. I called her up and apologized. Isn’t it wonderful to be of an age when you can just cut the bullshit, and say, ‘Hey, I was wrong and I’m sorry,’ instead of trying to defend the indefensible?” She pauses, sipping her iced tea as she lets that sink in. “The point is, what do we do with all this tension? Do we let it boil up and become World War III, or do we find a way of living with one another in love and understanding?”

Again, for Leupp, the choice is obvious. And if making that choice for yourself motivates you to embrace that higher truth by coming for a visit with Miss Coco at one of her four performances at the Renberg, well, so much the better. There’s more than one way to get yourself woke.

photos by Andrew Putschoegl and Jose A Guzman Colon

Miss Coco Peru: The Taming of the Tension
presented by Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center
L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s Renberg Theatre
at The Village at Ed Gould Plaza in Hollywood
plays September 9-10 & 16-17, 2017
for tickets call 323.860.7300 or visit LAGLC Theatre

for info on upcoming shows, visit Miss Coco

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