Piff the Magic Dragon is not only a brilliant illusionist, he’s also hilariously funny. Always interested in both comedy and magic, he worked a day job in IT for many years.
“Magic was the first thing, but I never did that seriously,” says the London native, whose real name is John van der Put.
Speaking from Las Vegas, where he now lives, he continues: “I mean, I took it seriously, but I never performed it seriously. The comedy was always there, really, but then it got stronger and stronger over the years.”
He gradually started booking small paying gigs while still working his day job.
“I sort of started working in restaurants and performing at weddings and things,” van der Put says. “I did that for a few years before realizing I didn’t really enjoy it. And then one day I came up with the idea of the magic dragon thing and I was able to start doing that in comedy clubs.”
The dragon costume wasn’t totally random — his sister had a dragon outfit that he decided to wear to a costume party.
Unfortunately, no one else was in “fancy dress,” as the Brits say. Van der Put stayed at the party anyway. “One of my friends said, ‘You should do that in your act.’ He knew what I did for a living. He said, ‘You could be Puff the Magic Dragon,’ and I said, ‘Or I could be Piff the Magic Dragon.’ ”
His next big break came when he appeared on Penn & Teller Fool Us, which taped its first season in London. The premise of that show involves magicians performing a trick or illusion that the famous duo can’t figure out.
Those who are successful get to open for Penn & Teller at the Rio Casino in Las Vegas. Piff almost pulled it off, duping Teller but not Penn, who at the last second figured it out.
“After I did that show, someone saw a clip and asked if I could do a show in Las Vegas,” van der Put says. “They flew out to see my full show in Australia and offered me a gig in Vegas at The Cosmopolitan, originally. I came over and did that, and also became friends with Penn and Teller.”
Shortly after starting his residency at the Cosmopolitan, van der Put was booked on NBC’s America’s Got Talent, where he had quite a successful run. Knowing that he was mates with Penn and Teller, the producers of America’s Got Talent asked the duo to appear on the show and assist Piff.
Van der Put didn’t make the show’s top five, but he is doing quite well. Thanks to America’s Got Talent and Fool Us, the London native is becoming well known in America.
Between his appearances on those two programs, he has become a popular headliner in Las Vegas and has gotten quite comfortable in The Meadows. He currently performs at the Flamingo Hotel & Casino on the Vegas strip.
“I do the show in Vegas half the week: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and the other half of the week we tour all over,” van der Put says.
Being based in Vegas is ideal. “I love it — nice hot weather, and living out here in the Mecca of magic is great because we get to hang out with the world’s greatest magicians. It’s great to be a part of that.”
He does miss London, though. “I try and go back at least once or twice a year and do shows there,” he says.
Van der Put performs with his assistant, Mr. Piffles — a chihuahua who functions as his sidekick, who joined the act a few years back.
“The first time I did the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I thought the act was missing something,” van der Put says. “I needed a gimmick, so I found a chihuahua and put him in the act. It was really funny, so the next day I went out and bought Mr. Piffles and he’s been in the act ever since.”
Mr. Piffles being described as a gimmick seems odd coming from a bloke dressed as a dragon. That whole bit came about quite serendipitously.
“It was pretty funny immediately,” he recalls before correcting himself. “Well, no, it was promising immediately, and then over the course of one or two years it started developing, and then I stared getting a lot of work form it.”
PIFF THE MAGIC DRAGON performs at Funny Bone Liberty Friday-Sunday. More info: liberty.funnybone.com.