When Piff the Magic Dragon made what would be his final appearance on NBC’s America’s Got Talent, he had help from his famous friends, and fellow illusionists, Penn and Teller. “Yeah we’re buddies now,” he says from his home in Las Vegas. “I did their show, Fool Us, in the UK last year, and then I moved to Vegas where they live, and we became friends.”
Knowing they were all mates, the producers of AGT asked Penn & Teller to appear on the show and assist Piff. “It was a lot of fun,” he adds, even though he didn’t make it to the show’s top 5.
Indeed Piff, whose real name is John van der Put, is doing quite well. Thanks to AGT and Fool Us, the London native is now becoming quite well known in America. Between his appearances on those two programs, he became a popular headliner in Las Vegas. In a somewhat ironic journey, it was Fool Us, seen in this country on the CW network, that brought him to where he is now, but not in the way he originally thought it would.
On Fool Us, magicians perform for Penn and Teller in the hope that the duo won’t be able to figure the trick out. If Penn and Teller are fooled, the magician gets to open for them in Las Vegas, where the duo has had a permanent show for over a decade. Piff didn’t fool them. However, he did well enough to raise his profile and book more gigs in his native England, where the program also airs, as well as Australia.
“After I did that show, someone saw a clip, and asked if I could do a show in Las Vegas," he explains. "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.” He obtained his green card before that first show closed, and wound up on America’s Got Talent. He currently performs at The Flamingo right on the strip. “We’re booked for a whole year now or something crazy like that.”
When he says “we,” he is referring to himself and his assistant, Mr. Piffles, a chihuahua who functions as his sidekick. He joined the act a few years back. “The first time I did the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I thought the act was missing something,” he 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 the gimmick seems odd coming from a bloke dressed as dragon. That whole bit came about quite serendipitously. After doing magic for a few years at restaurants and weddings, van der Put realized he wasn’t enjoying the performances. Then one evening he went to a costume party. “My sister had dragon outfit,” he says, but as it turns out, he was the only one in costume. “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.’ I said, ‘Or I could be Piff the Magic Dragon.’”
That allowed him to start doing the act in comedy clubs. “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 from it.” That included the invitation to be on Fool Us.
Now Piff and his sidekick are living the good life in Nevada. “I love it,” he says. “Nice hot weather and it’s the mecca of magic. It’s great hanging out with the with the world’s greatest magicians and to be a part of the whole scene.”
IF YOU GO:
Piff the Magic Dragon
Rick Bronson's House of Comedy
408 E. Broadway, Bloomington, Level 4, Mall of America
Wednesday through Sunday, December 13
For tickets and more info, call 952-858-8558 or visit houseofcomedy.net