Spring is here and nothing kicks off the silly season better than the We’re Funny that Way (WFTW) comedy festival running Wed, Apr 30 to May 3. Among this year’s funny stars will be Miss Coco Peru and Alec Mapa.
With memorable appearances on Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty, Mapa is excited to be returning to Toronto for another WFTW appearance. “I love Toronto,” he says. “You’re very smart. In fact I find everyone in Canada is funny. You have a real sharp sense of humour. Canada is what America would be if we weren’t so stupid.”
During the recent writer’s strike in the US Mapa worked the cruise ships which provided tons of new material. “I saw and did a lot of things a lady is not supposed to,” he says with a laugh. “When you are surrounded by 3,000 gay men you make a lot of discoveries. It’s really like the last 10 years of the Roman Empire — even the gay and lesbian moms and dads can get pretty trashy.”
Speaking of trashy things I grabbed a moment with New York drag performer Miss Coco Peru (To Wong Foo) to see what she has in store for us. The Bea Arthur-obsessed comedienne confesses to listening to the Broadway soundtrack of Mame over and over trying to get Arthur’s timing down; she watched Maude religiously. “I was probably the only boy growing up in the Bronx who when scolded by my parents responded, ‘God will get you for that, Walter.'”
She likens her attraction to drag as more of a calling. “As I accepted everything that I had been taught to hate about myself — being effeminate and not butch enough — and then glorified it, I experienced a liberation that allowed me to know that there was no turning back,” she says.
“I wanted people to watch my show and forget they were watching a man in a dress and instead relate to the story. If they could do that then perhaps we could remember that what matters in life and in our relationship with others isn’t really what’s on the outside but what’s on the inside.”
Mapa agrees. “I feel with each new role I take on, like in Ugly Betty, I’m the one telling the joke as opposed to the joke being on the gay character. When the audience laughs they are now laughing with the gay character as opposed to at them — that’s really powerful when you can identify and form a rapport with them. There’s no need for me to subvert my identity as a gay man anymore.”
Both relish their connection to comedy. “Sometimes you can feel helpless, what with all the stuff we’re up against. Being involved in events like WFTW is a great way to feel proactive,” Mapa says.
“People tell me that my show inspires them to do something courageous in their own lives, like coming out to their family,” says Miss Peru. “On three separate occasions I’ve had mothers at my show, who suspected that their young sons were gay say to me, ‘After seeing your show I am going to buy my son the Barbie Doll he’s been asking for.’ Nothing is more rewarding than knowing that some young boys out there got the Barbie Doll I always wanted.”
“The gratification is immediate with comedy,” says Mapa. “You’re basically performing for a room full of people that are already funny. Gay people are quick so you really have to be on your toes. I can never underestimate the intelligence of gay people, it’s short-attention-span theatre.”
WFTW is the creation of resident funny gal Maggie Cassella, who has sworn to keep the event accessible to all with pay-what-you-can tix for most events. In order to pull off this feat, she hosts a star-studded opening dinner gala where tables are sold at a premium price (a fundraiser for the WFTW Foundation, a charity that funds initiatives in smaller communities like $35,000 to the Okanagan Rainbow Coalition). West Hollywood Squares returns this year as the proven way for the audience to interact with the headlining celebs like Peru in between laugh-a-minute sets by special guests.
Still hemming and hawing? Miss Peru sums it up best when she says, “Get a goddamn ticket for my show or I’ll cut you. And I mean that in the most loving way, of course.”