STORY WRITTEN BY ED CONDRAN
For Digital First Media
Grumpy magicians are rare since they’re not very employable. “It’s true because I was once that sort of magician,” Piff the Magic Dragon aka John van der Put said while calling from London. “In my early days, booking me was like booking the Eeyore of magicians.”
Van der Put, who will perform April 28 and 29 at Punch Line Philly, was an edgy, cranky magician during the dawn of the century. All of a sudden his gigs were declining. “It was due to how angry I was,” van der Put said. “I wasn’t getting booked and I was getting fired.”
Van der Put’s life changed when he attended a party in 2007. “I was dressed as a dragon and someone said, ‘you should perform as Puff the Magic Dragon,” van der Put recalled. “I said, ‘no, I’ll be Piff the Magic Dragon.’ The crazy thing is that the grumpiness worked since it became really funny all because I started to wear a stupid outfit onstage. I was rebooked by everybody who I had worked with.”
Van der Put’s career started to take off in 2008, which was when he started sporting the dragon costume and worked humor into his act, which the audience embraced. Few entertainers are able to successfully combine humor and prestidigitation. There’s the incredibly consistent Penn and Teller and few others. “Penn and Teller are two of the greatest magicians who ever lived,” van der Put said. “I can’t tell you how much I admire them.”
The feeling is mutual. Van der put appeared on the first season of “Penn and Teller: Fool Us” and he did exactly that when he fooled Teller with some sleight of hand. “Penn took a wild guess and figured out the card trick,” Van der put said. “However, when I tricked Teller, that was just amazing. He’s so hard to trick.”
Penn dubbed Van der Put ‘a stunningly good magician and the duo noted that Piff the Magic Dragon was their favorite act of the season.
“All those kind words were an honor,” van der Put said. “It certainly helped.”
Van der Put’s career also received a boost when he was selected as the support act for Mumford & Son’s 2012 tour but the big bump he received was when he performed on the tenth season of “America’s Got Talent.” He earned standing ovations from judges Howard Stern, Heidi Klum and Howie Mandel.
Van der Put also made it to the final round but lost. “That was intentional,” van der Put claimed. “There is nothing funny about winning so I did something that would cause me to lose.”
Mr. Piffles, a chihuahua van der Put rescued from a London shelter in 2007 and is part of his act, was fired from a cannon during the finale. “That was fun but that was designed for laughs.”
Van der Put has been scoring laughs during his Las Vegas residency at the Flamingo where he has performed for a year-and -a-half.
“I enjoy Las Vegas but I also love being on the road,” van der Put said. “I’m having a blast going out with Mr. Piffles. We’ve been together for seven years. It’s the longest relationship I’ve ever been in. We can do anything together. We make magic together.”
He is often asked what can he do to make Donald Trump disappear. “Nothing since I can’t do miracles,” van der Put cracked. “But it’s a crazy world. Look at what Britain did. They went with Brexit. I don’t understand all of that. But what I’m here for is to take you away from all of the news headlines. Come see me to escape.”