British magician and comedian Piff the Magic Dragon has been compared to Larry David in a dragon suit. He’s performed with Penn & Teller, opened for Mumford & Sons’ 2012 Tour of Two Halves and made a name for himself as a finalist on the 10th season of NBC’s America’s Got Talent. Born John van der Put, the 35-year-old is best known for dressing in a green, red, and yellow dragon costume with his sidekick, Mr. Piffles, a white Chihuahua that assists Piff with his performance.
Folio Weekly Magazine spoke with the grumpy yet somehow likable personality when he was in Erie, Pennsylvania, getting ready for a couple of shows. Here’s part of that conversation.
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Folio Weekly: You’re playing at a comedy club for this week’s Jacksonville shows. How do you tailor your act for a smaller space?
Piff the Magic Dragon: Well, we’ve been doing comedy clubs for more than eight years. I’ve toured the UK a lot doing these smaller shows, so we just use tricks that sort of work better in the smaller rooms.
I’ve read you got into magic as a teenager. Tell me about that.
I got into it as a hobby. We would sit around and play card games all day and I’d cheat at cards. And in the end, I would do these magic shows and just sort of carried on doing it when I left university.
Then you studied performance methods while a drama student at the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama.
Yeah. I went to drama school when I was 24. For me, the performance part of it is what I enjoy most. But for other magicians, it’s the magic.
Your stage persona, Piff the Magic Dragon, was created in 2008. Nearly eight years later, do you have any regrets when it’s time to put on
[Laughs.] No. No. Because it lets me do things that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to do without the costume. I can sort of be a lot funnier and I can get away with a lot more than if I wasn’t wearing the costume.
Your act includes self-deprecating humor and deadpan delivery. Are those two facets of your existing personality or are they part of the act?
I think most of it is a part of my existing personality, but maybe just a bit more amplified.
How did your assistant, Mr. Piffles, come about?
In 2009, I thought, “You know what my act needs? A gimmick.” So I got Mr. Piffles onboard as the world’s only magic performing Chihuahua and we’ve been together ever since. He’s pretty much always with me. I can’t remember the last time that he’s missed a show.
You’ve worked with Penn & Teller over the years. How did that happen?
They were shooting this TV show in 2011. I auditioned for it and then performed in it – it was a pre-recorded show – and when it came out a few months later, it got a huge amount of attention. Penn & Teller got in touch and told me how much they loved my act. When I came over to Vegas in 2014, I ended up becoming friends with them.
What’s it like living in Las Vegas? Is it a culture shock from living in the UK?
No, not really. I really like it there. I’ve got some nice friends there. There’s a great group of magicians there and it’s a lot warmer than England. It’s a great place to perform. I do a show there every week.
Is Mr. Piffles a good chick magnet?
Yeah, he sure is. Yep. He gets a lot of female attention.
You appeared on the 10th season of America’s Got Talent and had a great rapport with the judges. Was that part of the act or are you a generally likeable person?
[Laughs.] I think I’m reasonably likable. But yeah, they [the judges] were all great and the production team were really great. I’m still in touch with a lot of them. I made a lot of friends on that show.
You’ve worked on a lot of different projects over the past 10 years. What’s next?
We’re touring for the rest of the year and then we’re working on a TV show, which will come out at some point. What’s really great for me is that we’re here in Erie at the moment and all of these shows are sold out for the weekend. Wherever we end up going, we generally end up selling out the room, so it’s great for us to be able to perform all over America and sell out these shows. That’s the exciting part for me.