Plodding grumpily onstage in a dragon costume, getting Heidi Klum to join amazing magic card wizardry with dry British bantering aimed at Klum and the “America’s Got Talent” judges. (“It was either this or ‘Game of Thrones.’”) Then standing before them as they wrote their scores, while nonchalantly peeling and eating a banana, was a brilliant ploy for Piff the Magic Dragon, a.k.a. John van der Put, during his AGT audition. The audience and the judges couldn’t stop laughing or cheering in 2015.
Since then, he’s racked up a number of major awards and venues, performs 250 shows annually, and now lives in Las Vegas, where he’s had a residency at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino for seven years. Locally, you can catch him at Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts in “Piff the Magic Dragon & Puddles Pity Party” on Sunday, May 22 with Mr. Piffles, the rescue chihuahua, performing his hilarious tricks, accompanied by his wife, Jade Simone. Plenty of audience participation is planned, so be prepared for belly laughs.
The Long Island Advance recently spoke to van der Put by phone.
Long Island Advance: I read that you borrowed a dragon costume from your sister for a party, and that started the Piff persona from there.
Van der Put: Yes. But they changed the party’s theme without telling me. So, I was doubling up on my normal grumpy self when I went and my friend said I could do this act as Puff the Magic Dragon, and I said, “Instead, I’ll be Piff.”
LIA: What was it about magic shows that attracted you?
VDP: I saw a couple of people doing shows on TV (“Stuff the White Rabbit” with Jerry Sadowitz) performing close-up magic, just with a deck of cards, and that caught my interest. In the beginning, I learned sleight-of-hand magic. I was 15 when I started and used to practice for hours.
LIA: I understand you grew up in London, became a member of The Magic Circle (the most prestigious magical society in the world), got a computer science degree, began a career in IT, then after two years of re-thinking your goals, learned performance methods at Central School of Speech and Drama. Were you the youngest member of The Magic Circle?
VDP: The Magic Circle is the oldest magic organization in the world, and you have to pass exams to become a member. It’s a place where you can meet other magicians and exchange tricks. You have to be a certain age to become a member; it’s 18, so I was 18 when I joined.
LIA: What year did you officially launch Piff?
VDP: I think 2008 was the first show I did in the dragon outfit. It was a local standup comedy thing. It was the next year that I got Mr. Piffin. He was a rescue dog from a shelter in Dundee, Scotland. He’s 14 and 1/2 now. He seems to love it, and he’s done thousands of shows over the years and doesn’t complain.
LIA: You’re planning a TV special. How is that going?
VDP: It’s finished; we’re putting the final touches. It’s an hour and it’s ready to go.
LIA: Can you give us a peek regarding the upcoming Patchogue Theatre show? Couples therapy? (Piff has been a magical therapist, helping a couple “fix” their relationship, complete with olive branches outfitted with rubber gloves on the ends, and some music by Enya.) Will you pull a stuffed dragon out of someone’s head?
VDP: Every show is different because we use different people from the audience, and with this one, we’re also doing a mixed show with Puddles Pity Party. He’s a clown from AGT and sings songs with an amazing show; he’s doing half the show and I’m doing half. It will be an hour and a half with intermission.
LIA: How is Mr. Piffles? What will he do?
He’s very well, and he will be doing a couple of his old favorites. He’s a performing chihuahua and likes to keep the surprise for the show.
For tickets, go online at patchoguetheatre.org. Box office is open Wednesday through Saturday noon to 6 p.m. Or call, 631-207-1313.
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