One of the busier dragon-based magicians, John Van der Put’s character, Piff the Magic dragon, has made his way from the UK and into the hearts of his fans with a mastery of sleight of hand, wry humor and his adorably enchanting Chihuahua, Mr. Piffles. This weekend he'll be headlining Tampa's Side Splitters Comedy Club.
Outside of the mystical properties his costume clearly provides, Van der Put is an accomplished magician in his own right. He won the 2011 Close Up Magician of the Year at the prestigious Circle Magic in London and was one of the youngest people to lecture there. Just one of his many YouTube videos have garnered an impressive 4.4 million views and his appearances on Penn & Teller: Fool Us and America’s Got Talent have only added numbers to his considerable fan base.
Piff has amassed a following in his new home in Las Vegas by performing in such shows as Vegas Nocturne at Rose.Rabbit.Lie. and X Comedy Uncensored Fun at the Flamingo Las Vegas.
CL caught up with Ven der Put to find out a little more about the man behind the dragon.
CL: How long have you been in Vegas?
VDP: I moved here in November of 2013.
How do you like it compared to the UK?
I love it. Much hotter. Less rain and more heat.
What were you like as a child?
It was a smaller dragon outfit.
Were interested in magic even then?
Not really. I didn’t start doing magic until I was about 15.
What was it that sparked your interest?
I was just bored. There wasn’t much to do in England, so I took up magic.
I read somewhere that you had gotten a Computer Science degree. What was your intention when you got it?
To have a backup in case the magic didn’t work out.
How old were you when you knew magic is what you wanted to do for sure?
About 22. I liked doing it and figured, well, let’s forget the backup and do this.
Did your family support your career choice?
Yeah. I mean I could always pay my bills, so they were happy.
How did you end up on the Mumford and Sons CD cover (Babel)?
I went on tour with them. We did a gig together in Radio City, we did the Amnesty International's Secret Policeman's Ball together in 2012, and they were like, you should come on tour with us. I went on tour and then they were like, ‘What are you doing Monday?’ I said nothing and they said, ‘Oh, you should come do an album cover.’ And that is how I ended up on the cover.
Have you toured with any other musical bands since?
No, I’m more focused on doing my own stuff. But it was fun touring with them, it was really good fun. Although, there were sometimes the audience would be like, ‘what the fuck is that dragon doing?’
Sounds like a pretty amazing experience.
Yeah, we played for 150,000 people in less than a month. I thought well, I don’t know if I’m ever going to do anything bigger than that. Back to my day job.
Is that something that happens in the magic world, people buying tricks from one another?
I saw that! Where was he from?
That shows your performances have a wide reach then…
Yeah. It’s the Internet. I blame the Internet.
You mentioned in a 2008 article (we-love-magic) that performing in the same play for months at the Edinburgh Fringe made you “stir-crazy.” Do you foresee that happening with your Piff character?
No. I really like what I do now. I really wasn’t doing much Piff work back then. Now I like the idea of being set in one place. You know, it’s been my life’s calling.
What’s the best thing about being a magician?
I don’t know. I’m a magic dragon.
What’s the best part about being a magic dragon?
Everything! It’s the greatest thing in the world. I get to hang out with a fun, little Chihuahua, do magic tricks... what more could you want?
How did Mr. Piffles come about?
He’s a rescue Chihuahua. In 2009 and I thought it would be funny to have a Chihuahua in my act, so I went out and bought Mr. Piffles.
You randomly thought your act needed a Chihuahua…?
Yeah. And I think it’s worked out pretty great.
What advice would you give an inspiring magician?
Don’t become a magic dragon, ‘cause I’ve got that market sewn up.
Performances are Oct. 15, 8:30 p.m.; Oct 16, 8, 10 p.m.; Oct 17, 6, 8, 10:15 p.m.; Oct 18, 7 p.m. $18 for general admission tickets, $20 for preferred seating. All shows 18 and older. Contact Side Splitters at 813-960-1197 or visit sidesplitterscomedy.com for tickets.