Hoopla

Breathing life into Piff the dragon

Cranky and magician should be mutually exclusive terms.

Christopher DeVargas photo

Piff The Magic Dragon combines comedy, magic and his sidekick Mr. Piffles in his act. The London native, born John van der Put, will perform Saturday (3/2) at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City.
Christopher DeVargas photo Piff The Magic Dragon combines comedy, magic and his sidekick Mr. Piffles in his act. The London native, born John van der Put, will perform Saturday (3/2) at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City.

“There’s no doubt about that,” Piff the Magic Dragon — aka London native John van der Put — said by phone from his Las Vegas home. “I’m living proof. I started out as a miserable magician. Bad idea. You need to be upbeat if you want to be a magician.”

Van der Put’s career as a surly prestidigitator was short-lived during the dawn of the century.

“I wasn’t getting gigs and the gigs I got I was fired from,” he said. “I was absolutely unemployable.”

Fortunately, his life changed dramatically when he was trying to find a costume for a party.

“I told my sister that I needed something to wear, and she said that there was a dragon costume under her bed,” he said. “Someone at the party said that I should work as Puff the Magic Dragon. I said that I would work as Piff, and it’s been great ever since. My crankiness, the material and the costume was a perfect combination. It gave me a life as an entertainer.”

The edgy British comic-magician, who will appear Saturday (3/2) at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City, performs 350 to 400 dates a year.

“That’s nothing compared to David Copperfield,” he said. “David does about 700 dates a year. I feel lazy compared to him.”

Most of van der Put’s performances are in Las Vegas, where his show has been based the past five years at the Flamingo.

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“I love living and performing in Las Vegas, since the climate is good for a lizard like myself but it’s also good to get out on the road,” he said. “I enjoy seeing America. Your country is huge. There’s so many places to see. I’ve never been to Iowa.”

When van der Put, 38, performs in Iowa City, he’ll mix in old and new bits.

“I’m always working on fresh material,” he said. “It keeps me sharp.”

While rising in the ranks, van der Put has become friends with powerful folks in the industry. Howard Stern, Heidi Klum and Howie Mandel are fans after witnessing van der Put perform on “America’s Got Talent” in 2015.

“I can’t say enough about that experience,” he said. “Howard, Howie and Heidi are three of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.”

Acclaimed comedic magicians Penn & Teller are his close friends.

As much as he enjoys his celebrity pals, van der Put is closest with Mr. Piffles, a chihuahua he rescued from a London shelter in 2007. Mr. Piffles is part of his act.

Don’t expect van der Put to perform as Piff the Magic Dragon in his 50s.

“I see myself doing this 10 more years and then I’ll retire and lay on a big pile of money in the middle of the desert and just bask in the sun, like a happy lizard. I can’t think of a better way to go out.

“The best thing about my career is that I came to America ... Life is great here for a guy who somehow found himself as a comedian/magician in a weird costume. That proves that anything can happen in America.”

Get Out!

•WHAT: Piff The Magic Dragon

•WHERE: Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City

•WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday

•TICKETS: $15 to $50, Englert Box Office, (319) 688-2653 or Englert.org/event/piff-the-magic-dragon/

•ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Piffthemagicdragon.com

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