It’s not easy to be the hardest working magic dragon on the Strip. When Las Vegas Magazine caught up with the only mythical creature to have earned a Las Vegas residency, Piff the Magic Dragon had just completed a whirlwind four-state, six-date tour in which he brought his brand of sleight-of-hand and comedy directly to fans who follow his guest appearances on America’s Got Talent. He has a television special in the can, the chilliest Chihuahua in entertainment for a partner, the piffiest podcast, and is the only magician who flaps his wings while interacting with audiences.
Flight, unlike magic, is not something John van der Put, the human inside Piff, has mastered. He’d probably get paid more if he could do card tricks while suspended in midair during his performances at Bugsy’s Cabaret inside the Flamingo, but as it stands he’s doing pretty well donning a dragon suit and exuding cheeky attitude with his dog Mr. Piffles strapped to his chest.
“It’s amazing how having a show in Vegas and then touring every week, which we’ve been doing for the last four years, has sort of kept us in the public consciousness,” says van der Put. “Vegas has been sold out basically all year and we’re now moving into theaters on tour and that’s been great, too, so it definitely seems to keep building.”
There was no blueprint for success. Piff the Magic Dragon’s path was marked by happy accidents and opportunities taken. If it weren’t for van der Put’s sister having a costume of a mythical fire-breathing beast, if he hadn’t worn it to a party where he was the only one in costume, and if a friend hadn’t suggested the aspiring magician wear the outfit during his act, it’s very likely Piff the Magic Dragon would have never existed, let alone being named in June as one of the Top 10 comics to watch in 2019 by Variety.
His act isn’t sorcery meets stand-up, though. It’s magic with a disarmingly disgruntled attitude, a canine partner, showgirl assistant Jade Simone and “eunuch in a tunic” Francis the Squire (Brett Alters). Van der Put started out as a magician and pivoted from an early backup career in IT to studying drama. He found his natural inclination to be humorously offensive went over much better when dressed as a dragon, and a character was born.
Piff’s journey led him to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and then Vegas, where he was part of risqué cabaret show Vegas Nocturne at The Cosmopolitan. He decided to stay in Vegas at the end of Nocturne’s run, appeared on Penn & Teller: Fool Us and AGT, then moved into Bugsy’s Cabaret. He regularly records The Piff Pod podcasts and is currently shopping the special, which stars Penn Jillette. If all works out fans can watch it next year as van der Put continues to evolve Piff.
“Obviously I have a lot of plans, and it’s always interesting to see which ones work out and which ones fall by the wayside,” says van der Put. “But I’d like to do a TV show. The sky’s the limit, really.”
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