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Piff The Magic Dragon: Know The Man Behind The Magical Costume
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Piff The Magic Dragon: Know The Man Behind The Magical Costume

Performance

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The Magic of Piff the Magic Dragon

Piff the Magic Dragon logo

As the audience cheered to welcome the next act on stage, their applause gave way to laughter as the contestant appeared from behind the red curtain.

Donning a green, red, and gold dragon costume, the man swung a red briefcase as he pottered out to the center of the stage, puffing his cheeks with a look of mild boredom, unfazed by the rapturous crowds.

The judging panel exchanged befuddled expressions, watching as the man in the dragon suit casually flipped out a stand from his red case, propping it up to reveal the word “Piff” on the side.

America’s Got Talent provides a stage for some wild and wacky acts, allowing them to reach global audiences every year. Many flop, and vanish into anonymity immediately, never to be seen again.

But some stand out a little more than others.

This was to be one of the latter, much to the surprise of many people.

Piff’s Stint at America’s Got Talent

Piff the Magic Dragon with his dog

Waiting for everyone to settle into their seats, the man stood by the microphone, nonchalantly shaking one hand in a faux-gangster fashion, drawing giggles from the crowd.

As the judges greeted him, the man responded with a thick London accent and deadpan delivery.

“My name’s Piff the Magic Dragon. You might have heard of my older brother…. Steve.”

Breaking the ice, Piff soon had the audience and judges laughing, revealing he had a choice between America’s Got Talent and Game of Thrones, opting for the former because he wasn’t ready to die yet.

Soon, Piff enlisted the help of judge Heidi Klum, ushering her on to the stage to be his assistant.

Piffles in Treasure Chest

While magicians are a dime a dozen, the trick that Piff played out was one that had everyone raising their eyebrows.

After making an initial prediction with a larger card, which he put face down on his red case, Piff then held a deck of cards out for Heidi, requesting she picked one.

With a quick choice and signature, Heidi marked the King of Hearts. Piff then revealed his prediction to be the Seven of Spades.

Disaster?

Perhaps not.

A Flawless Execution of Comedic Magic

After first telling the audience that it wasn’t his fault, and that Heidi was wrong, Piff then cued some music and set to work on transforming the King of Hearts before everyone’s eyes.

With a few folds and quick fingers, he revealed the Seven of Spades, complete with Heidi’s signature at the top.

Flabbergasted, the audience responded with a standing ovation.

Finishing off, Piff tried to charge Heidi $12 for the card, before strolling down to the judge’s table to hear their feedback, while casually munching on a banana.

According to Piff,” Dragons love snacks”.

Magicians come and go on talent shows like this, and many of them deliver tricks and performances that we’ve grown tired of, or surely witnessed some version of before.

This was different. This was fresh – and funny.

This was Piff the Magic Dragon.

Flight of the Dragon

Drawing comparisons to Larry David and Jack Dee, Piff has gone from strength to strength on the back of his success in America’s Got Talent.

The modern-day obsession with social media and video content has helped his brand massively, and his YouTube channel has racked up well over 100 million views.

His lovable sidekick is Mr. Piffles, The World’s Only Magic Performing Chihuahua™, who regularly joins Piff on stage dressed in a matching dragon suit. Together, they have conquered the world, selling out shows in iconic venues such as the O2, Sydney Opera House, and Shakespeare’s Globe.

Mr. Piffles, The World’s Only Magic Performing Chihuahua

His lovable sidekick is Mr. Piffles, The World’s Only Magic Performing Chihuahua™, who regularly joins Piff on stage dressed in a matching dragon suit. Together, they have conquered the world, selling out shows in iconic venues such as the O2, Sydney Opera House, and Shakespeare’s Globe.

Tours of the UK, Australia, Canada, and the US followed, before Piff and his pooch settled in Las Vegas, becoming residents in the Flamingo Hotel and Casino.

In an age when magicians don’t quite stand out like they did a generation ago, Piff will turn heads everywhere he goes.

As the New York Times so succinctly put it, "How are you going to top a guy in a dragon suit?"

Life Before Piff the Magic Dragon

John van der Put was born on June 9th, 1980. Hailing from the United Kingdom, he grew up in southeast London.

Unlike many other magicians, van der Put was not obsessed with magic from an especially young age. He found his inspiration in his teenage years, after watching the television show, Stuff the White Rabbit, starring Jerry Sadowitz.  Once he turned 18, van der Put joined The Magic Circle, becoming one of their youngest ever members.

College and an IT Career

John van der Put

His parents weren’t completely sold on the idea of their son becoming a magician, and so, at their behest, the young van der Put enrolled at college to study a degree in Computer Science. He graduated thereafter, and pursued a career in IT.

Magic took a backseat for a couple of years, until he was struck down with pancreatitis. Taking time to reassess his life, he quit IT and decided to chase his dreams. He started learning performance methods at the Central School of Speech and Drama.

Return to Magic

Together with several others, he founded a theatrical cabaret company, ‘Standnotamazed’, fulfilling the role of artistic director. They enjoyed some success, winning a few awards that acknowledged their writing and production abilities.

From there, Van der Put worked hard to elevate his status as a professional magician, taking roles on cruise ships, in restaurants, and plenty of corporate gigs including PR stunts, product launches, and tradeshows.

However, it wasn’t until he went to a party with some friends that his best idea came to him.

With a little luck, a star was born.

How the Magic Dragon Was Born

Turning up to a house party as the only person in costume could prove to be embarrassing for some people. In 2008, when van der Put arrived dressed up in a dragon costume, he discovered he was one of a kind.

With everyone else having a laugh at his expense, he became grumpier throughout the night, retorting with self-deprecating jokes and deadpan humor. However, this was no act. Not yet. Van der Put was basically being himself, fulfilling his reputation as someone with a “resting grumpy face.”

When a friend suggested he use this skit in his act, the idea took hold.

He wouldn’t just use it in his act.

This would become his act.

Making a play on the famous song, “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” van der Put created a new stage persona for himself, one that would take his career to the fame he longed for.

Accompanied by his pet chihuahua, Mr. Piffles, van der Put steadily grew a reputation on smaller circuits.

Piff the Magic Dragon and Mr. Piffles

The Early Road to Magical Success

Making his debut at the Free Fringe Festival in 2009, he soon became a regular, propelling forward from a record-breaking night. It was to be a big year for him, as he scooped the Best Comedy Show award at Buxton Fringe Festival, as well as seeing his cabaret company win an award for the production, Love and Other Magic Tricks.

The popular comedy entertainment show Penn & Teller: Fool Us began in 2011, and during the first season, Piff was invited on to perform. His act was the same phased transformation of a signed card that he would later use on America’s Got Talent. However, the experienced magicians Penn and Teller weren’t so easily fooled.

Despite figuring it out, they were impressed with the performance, as were the crowd, making the showing another success for Piff. Penn and Teller even voted Piff as their favorite act of the whole season, lauding him as a “stunningly good magician".

Channel 5 featured the act on TV's 50 Greatest Magic Tricks, and a magician from the Ukraine then copied the act on a Russian talent show the following year.

In 2012, Piff was nominated at the inaugural event of the Time Out and Soho Theatre Cabaret Awards show, before joining Mumford & Sons on tour. During a nationwide tour of the UK, he was their support act, and even found his way onto the cover of the band’s award-winning album, Babel.

This move helped him become the most famous UK magician.

Big things were coming.

Lighting up Las Vegas and Global Fame

His tour of Australia had perked the interest of headhunters, who snapped him up for a club in The Cosmopolitan, called Rose. Rabbit. Lie.

And so in 2014, Piff moved to Sin City.

Joining many other performance acts on the Las Vegas strip, he took his shot at the big time, grabbing the opportunity with both hands.

The Spiegelworld Vegas Nocturne show boosted his reputation in Vegas. Later that year, he opened shows at The Venetian. Settling in quickly, Piff became a regular fixture in Vegas, making it his home.

Piff the magic dragon and mr. piffles

When the chance to appear on season 10 of America's Got Talent came around, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

His audition with Heidi helped Piff get through to the next stage – the Judge Cuts round. There, he introduced the world to Mr. Piffles, before pulling a signed card from a sealed can of dog-food.

Special guest judge Neil Patrick Harris was blown away, using the Golden Buzzer to fast-track Piff to the quarterfinal stage.

In the final eight, Piff stepped up his game from card tricks, bringing a big show to the stage and inviting judge Howie Mandel up in front of the audience. With four hanging boxes overhead, Piff announced that Mr. Piffles was inside one of the boxes, and that Howie would need to save the little dog by guessing correctly.

One by one, each box was chosen and destroyed. The first was stamped on by a female assistant, the second box smashed open by a baseball bat and the third dropped into a woodchipper.

To the relief of Howie and the audience, Mr. Piffles was found alive and well in the one remaining box. The act earned Piff and Mr. Piffles safe passage through to the semi-finals, where some more card magic earned them a spot in the Final.

In the final, the poor suffering dog was fired from a cannon, and Piff pulled a card from a walnut. Unfortunately, this time it was not enough to win on the night, but it mattered not, as Piff the Magic Dragon had cemented his place in the history of the show.

Since then, he has returned to make guest performances on subsequent seasons of America’s Got Talent. Meanwhile, his Vegas career has continued to flourish.

Other Magic Acts by Piff

Aside from his main gig as Piff the Magic Dragon, Van der Put has found work as a magic consultant to Penn and Teller, the famous double act who took a shine to him in his 2013 appearance on their TV show.

He has also worked for a number of theatre companies, with notable works including Faust and The Drowned Man, with immersive theatre company Punchdrunk, and his association with Theatre-Rites for the production Mojo.

Piff and Mr. Piffles

This enabled him to play a great venues such as the Salzburg Festival, The Barbican Theatre, and New York's New Victory Theatre.

Van der Put has collected several major accolades, including:

  • British Ring - Close-up Magician of the Year - 2008
  • The Magic Circle - Close-up Magician of the Year – 2011
  • Stage Magician of the Year -  2012
  • Carlton Award – 2013
  • The Magic Circle – Welcomed Piff into their Inner Ring with Gold Star - 2013

The Man Behind the Magic

Many people may wonder just how long an act like this can continue for. How long can a grown man in a dragon costume make a living for himself?

Piff the Magic Dragon has been playing on stages since 2008, rising to stardom, to securing a regular gig at the Flamingo in Vegas, and wowing global audiences in huge venues, week after week for over a decade.

It’s fair to say that life is pretty good for John van der Put right now. It’s certainly a far cry from the dull days of IT work in London.

While the touring can take its toll, the 37-year-old shows little signs of slowing down.

In a 2017 interview with ABQ Journal, he remarked, “Before, I was just a grumpy guy,” he says. “Now, I’m a grumpy dragon.”

As far as magic dragons go, it’s never been as real as Piff the Magic Dragon.

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