Piff the Magic Dragon has appeared on America’s Got Talent and Penn and Teller’s Fool Us, garnered millions of hits on YouTube, played comedy clubs and theatres all over the world, and even toured as an opening act for the platinum-selling British folk music act Mumford and Sons.
Today, when not at the Flamingo hotel in Las Vegas – where he performs three nights a week – Piff (aka John van der Put) and his sidekick, Mr. Piffles, take their act on the road. He’ll be in Vancouver Feb. 18, performing at the Vogue Theatre (918 Granville St.) as part of this year’s JFL NorthWest Comedy Fest (Feb. 16-25). We talked to Piff about the World’s First Magic Performing Chihuahua, dragon costumes, and old tricks in new garb.
Q: Can you tell us about the origin of your act, and how it came to involve both a costume and an animal?
A: I was working as a magician for about 10 years, and I kept getting fired from everywhere for being too grumpy. Because I’m English and I’ve got a sort of resting grumpy English face. I’m not actually grumpy, I just look grumpy. I’d do all these parties, and people were like, “Why are you so grumpy?”, and I’d end up with no work.
Then one day I went to a costume party in a dragon outfit because I didn’t have anything to wear, and my sister had a dragon outfit. Don’t ask me more questions. And I get to this party in the dragon outfit and no one else is in costume, just me. Everyone else is wearing normal clothes.
Q: Like that scene in Bridget Jones’s Diary.
A: Exactly. It happens all the time in England, apparently. So one of my friends came up to me and said, “What are you supposed to be?” “I’m a dragon.” “Well, you could be Puff the Magic Dragon. You could do this in your act.” And I thought, “Wait. I could be Piff the Magic Dragon. You might have heard of my older brother.” (Pause.) “Steve.” I decided to give it a go, and it was an instant success. Before, I was just a grumpy dickhead. Now I’m a dickhead with a dragon outfit, and that’s hilarious.
Q: Where does Mr. Piffles come in?
A: In 2009 I did the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was my first hour-long show, and I thought this set needs something extra, It needs a gimmick. There was this chihuahua in the same venue. I did a couple of jokes. It was so fun that the next day I went out and got Mr. Piffles. He was a rescue dog. That was seven years ago.
Q: Do you find because of the costume and dog there’s certain types of jokes you have to stay from?
A: I’ve never found it limiting, really. I’ve always come up with more and more ideas. But I think it definitely helps with magic. In magic, everybody takes themselves too seriously. People come onstage saying that they have these magical powers. I find that going onstage and claiming that I’m a genuine magic dragon helps the audience understand how ridiculous the whole concept is anyway.
Q: As opposed to David Blaine or Criss Angel.
A: Right. Who are just magic dragons without the suit.
Q: In magic, are there new tricks or just variations of old tricks?
A: There are definitely new tricks. A lot of the tricks are also variations. It’s the same in comedy. In comedy there are topics that are considered maybe hack-y, like differences between men and women or flying in an airplane, but every once in awhile a comedian comes along and does something different with those subjects, like Louis CK when he’s talking about airplanes. Magic’s the same way – there are definitely some classic bits, and the challenge is make that feel new and fresh and relevant every time.
Q: This will be your first time playing Vancouver. What have you heard about the city, and is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to when you come here for the JFL Northwest comedy fest?
A: We love Canadians, because they blend the best of America and British humour together, which is a good fit for us. Sometimes I’m a little too sarcastic for the Americans. And with the British, they’re a bit too skeptical for the magic. Canadians fit right in between – the perfect mix.
For more info on JFL NorthWest, including a full lineup, schedule, and tickets, visit jflnorthwest.com.