Just For Laughs: Making magic with Piff the Magic Dragon
By Stuart Nulman – mtltimes.ca
This year marks the Just For Laughs debut of British comic magician Piff the Magic Dragon. And, no pun intended, for a comic’s rookie turn at this prestigious festival, Piff is on fire.
His three show run as host of the Midnight Surprise played to sold out crowds at the Theatre St. Catherine. Tickets for his three-show solo gig at the La Chapelle Theatre from July 25-27 sold out before the festival began; it got to the point where two late shows had to be added on July 25 and 26, plus he will be part of the line-up of the Nathan Lane Showstoppers Gala on July 28. That’s pretty damned good for an individual who performs unique acts of magic, coupled with a deadpan, self-deprecating sense of humour, while dressed in a dragon costume, and accompanied by a dragon costume-clad Chihuahua named Mr. Piffles, the world’s first magic performing Chihuahua.
“I actually fell into magic. I always practiced magic tricks and watched such magicians as the Amazing Jonathan and Gerry Sadowitz perform on television, and they both inspired me to become a magician,” said Piff, who was born in London 36 years ago under the name John van der Put, and actually possesses a degree in computer science and pursued a career in information technology before taking up his dragon costume, Mr. Piffles and a deck of cards.
And speaking of the dragon costume, it all came about during a situation that could have taken place during a classic TV sitcom: he wore the dragon costume to a party … that wasn’t actually a costume party.
“The costume was the result from that misunderstanding. It was a Christmas party, and as the hours went by, I was drinking a lot of red wine and becoming more and more grumpy. Then a friend of mine came up to me and said ‘It’s Christmas, and dragons are not Christmasty.’ He then suggested I should wear the costume in my act,” he said.
After adopting the costume and Piff persona in 2008 – and purchasing Mr. Piffles shortly afterwards as a gimmick – he began to appear on various British TV shows, Fringe Festivals and tours across the UK and Australia. He moved to Las Vegas at the end of 2013, where he appeared at The Cosmopolitan. After that gig ended, Piff was cooling his heels in Las Vegas, looking for something else to do, and that’s where “America’s Got Talent” came calling. He appeared throughout season 10, as he dazzled viewers, the studio audience and the judges with his unique, somewhat twisted, take on the most basic and simplest form of magic: card tricks.
“Throughout my time on America’s Got Talent, I thought it would be more interesting if I lost the competition, which is why during the semi-finals, I did a trick in which I shot Mr. Piffles out of a cannon. Mission accomplished,” he said. (By the way, a ventriloquist won the season 10 finals).
Piff is aware that magicians are usually associated with performing at kids’ parties, and believes that it takes a lot of effort in order to attract more adult audiences. “If you want to succeed as a comic magician, you have to be prepared to face any challenge and work hard at it,” he said. “Your act has to be unique. It has to have tricks that other magicians can’t really copy.”
As well, he said that it takes about two or three years for him to develop and perfect his magic tricks. And the one he remembers the most was one of the first tricks he developed when he was only 19, which was a card trick that involved the out of the ordinary way he identified a card selected – and signed — by an audience member that he first incorrectly identifies. He performed it on the British TV series “Penn & Teller: Fool Me” (in which the legendary comedy magic duo had to guess the secret of a certain magician’s trick), and later used it for his America’s Got Talent audition piece, which prompted guest judge Neil Patrick Harris to use the Golden Buzzer and fast tracked Piff to the quarterfinals.
Once he’s done at Just For Laughs, Piff and Mr. Piffles will take their comedy magic act back on the road, including stops at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, as well as parts of North America and the UK before he caps off the year with his continuing gig at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas.
“It’s really a good time to be a dragon-costumed magician,” he said.
For more information – or to purchase tickets for any Just For Laughs show – go to www.hahaha.com.