By JACKIE MOE
Piff the Magic Dragon has got to be one of the most bizarre, hilarious and incredible shows you can catch in Las Vegas today.
Brilliant magic tricks performed by a notoriously grumpy dragon suit-wearing magician-comedian is already unique, but Piff (who’s real name is John van der Put) adds his sidekick “magical chihuahua” Mr. Piffles to the mix, for an overall hilariously fun show.
And now Piff and Mr. Piffles have hit the road to perform their wild show at venues throughout the U.S. — including Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa on Sept. 27-28.
With more than 12 million YouTube hits Piff, the standout star of “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” and NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” has performed to hundreds of thousands of people in prestigious venues such as Radio City Music Hall, the O2 Arena in London, and Sydney Opera House. The Magic Dragon performs nightly at his residency at the Flamingo Casino in Las Vegas in the newly renamed Piff the Magic Dragon Theatre.
“The Lucky Dragon Tour” mixes wizardry, wit and sarcasm that ignites a one-of-a-kind comedy magic show. We chatted with Piff about where he got the emerald green dragon onesie, his current tour and what’s in store for the dragon.
Let’s discuss the dragon in the room — where did the inspiration of performing in this costume come about?
I just kept getting fired everywhere. I was a regular magician and you know, as always, I was a little bit grumpy and sarcastic to people, so people would just never employ me. Then one day I went to a costume party and I didn’t have a costume to wear. I said this to my sister and she said, “Oh, I’ve got a dragon outfit.” So I went in this dragon outfit and suddenly, I realized I could be as sarcastic as I wanted and people thought it was hilarious.
Is this the same costume you wear as Piff?
Nah (laughs), I’ve had like 10 to 12 dragon suits since that original, but all similar.
Oh yeah, and it takes quite a while to make each one. But it’s seriously the comfiest thing I’ve ever owned.
It looks comfortable! And I guess if you’re going to be selling out shows on a regular basis, you may as well do it in a onesie.
Oh yeah, exactly. It’s like going to work in your pajamas.
What does the audience experience on The Lucky Dragon tour?
So whenever we go on tour, we always try and do like a bunch of new tricks and a bunch of the old favorites so that people who’ve already come to Vegas and seen me on stage can experience something different. There’s always something new for them to see. But a lot of the time people bring along their friends, so they also want to see some of this stuff that they might have seen before, so I try to mix it up. Every time we do a show, we use different people for each trick, so you know, every show ends up being almost unrecognizable from each other.
When you look out into the audience, do you see a lot of younger kids and families attending because you’re in a cute dragon costume?
Like we always say it’s kind of like a PG-13 show, so you know, we find like kids from eight years and up love it. They probably love it because it’s a little open, edgy and different or whatever. I mean it’s no Louis C.K. or like Dave Chappelle (laughs). But, you know, the kids still kind of like that edgy side of it. But I suppose that we have also made a few 5-year-olds cry. So I would definitely say if they’re younger, then forget it. Probably best not to bring the younger kids.
You’ve had great success in just the last few years, from performing on America’s Got Talent to your Vegas residency; do you hope to continue to do the Piff act or do you have other ventures?
I love performing live. So that’s why I went on America’s Got Talent, in order to try and get a live show in Vegas and be able to perform. So, you know, I hope that continues as long as I’d like it to. But obviously maybe as a 75 year old, going through a dragon phase is probably not a good idea. And, you know, Piffles is almost 12, so he’s got a retirement in a couple of years.
What are your favorite moments on stage?
It’s any time something unexpected happens. Like yesterday I had this couple from Latvia; I had pulled them on stage and they were so grumpy, I actually had to recast them, and I got them to be played by a 7 and an 8 year old from the audience. It was really fun. This couple was so grumpy though, even grumpier than me.
Anything else you would like readers to know?
One of my favorite things about doing the shows is that I can have the freedom of performing. Obviously in America’s Got Talent, I only had a certain amount of time so I couldn’t do everything I would have liked to do. So the great thing about live is, I can be completely unfiltered, and it’s like an hour and a half, so we get to sort of give them the full Piff experience as opposed to the pint sized version.
Piff the Magic Dragon’s “The Lucky Dragon Tour”
Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: Friday, Sept. 27 at 7 & 9 p.m.; Saturday, Sept 28 at 7 & 9 p.m.