Piff the Magic Dragon
Piff the Magic Dragon
John van der Put
9 June 1980
|Residence||Las Vegas, Nevada|
John van der Put (born 9 June 1980) is a magician and comedian from the United Kingdom who performs under the stage name Piff the Magic Dragon. A winner of multiple awards from British magic societies, he toured as a supporting act for Mumford and Sons, and has appeared on Fool Us and America's Got Talent. He lives in Las Vegas and is resident at The Flamingo.
Early life and career
Van der Put was born in London on 9 June 1980, and grew up in its southeast. As a teenager, he was inspired to become a magician after seeing Jerry Sadowitz on the BBC2 show Stuff the White Rabbit. At the age of 18, he became a member of The Magic Circle, and was one of the youngest members to have lectured there.
His parents persuaded him to have a back-up career, so he completed a Computer Science degree, and began a career in IT. After two years, a bout of acute pancreatitis caused him to rethink his life goals, and he quit IT to learn performance methods as a drama student at the Central School of Speech and Drama.
With fellow alumni of the CSSD Alexis Terry, Maya Politaki, and Lucy Cullingford, he co-founded the theatrical cabaret company standnotamazed, becoming their artistic director. The company's Love and Other Magic Tricks, starring Politaki and van der Put and described in a WhatsOnStage review as "a show of subtlety and magic rather than drama and showmanship", won the Time Out Critic's Choice award as well as the 2009 Buxton Festival Fringe's award for Best Production, and was nominated for the Festival's Best New Writing award. Van der Put also had a supporting role in Derek Walcott's 2008 operatic production of Seamus Heaney's The Burial at Thebes at Shakespeare's Globe.
Van der Put credits Fay Presto for enabling him to become a professional magician. Jobs included restaurant close-up performances for tables of diners; cruise ship work; and corporate work including "product launches, PR stunts, tradeshows and internal presentations" for global companies.
In 2008, he created the stage persona of Piff the Magic Dragon (a spoof of Puff, the Magic Dragon), dressing in a green, red and yellow dragon costume, with self-deprecating humour and deadpan delivery. He is assisted by "Mr. Piffles", a chihuahua in a matching dragon costume. The character was created by happenstance, when van der Put was the only one to arrive in costume at a fancy dress party. "I spent the whole night getting more and more grumpy. And then my friend said, 'you should do this in your act'".
Piff the Magic Dragon has appeared regularly in shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, debuting at the 2009 Free Fringe Festival with a solo show that broke the record for highest takings in one night, and being nominated for the inaugural 2012 Time Out and Soho Theatre Cabaret Award. His show at the 2009 Buxton Fringe won the award for Best Comedy Show the same year that Love and Other Magic Tricks won. He has had national tours of the UK and Australia, including runs at the Soho Theatre and Sydney Opera House.
In 2011, Piff appeared on the first season of Penn & Teller: Fool Us with a phased transformation of incorrect card to signed card, a performance that according to Metro saw him "steal the show" with a routine that would "have been as welcome on a small stage at a comedy festival as it would a Vegas stage". Although his card trick segment of the performance fooled Penn and Teller initially, the pair seemed to figure it out and were therefore "not fooled" by Piff's own admission on stage. Penn subsequently revealed the method they gave on air was "kinda sorta wrong" and Piff just played along. The duo rated the act their favourite of the season, and Piff "a stunningly good magician". The routine was subsequently voted onto Channel 5's TV's 50 Greatest Magic Tricks. The next year, his routine was plagiarised by a Ukrainian magician on the Russian TV3 show Surprise Me! (Russian: Удиви меня!).
As Piff, he was a support act for band Mumford & Sons on their 2012 Tour of Two Halves. The band first discovered him when they both appeared in the benefit concert The Secret Policeman's Ball 2012, and included him in their Galway Gentlemen of the Road Stopover and on the cover of their album Babel. Together with his other 2012 performances, these appearances made him the UK magician seen live on stage by the most people that year.
Van der Put moved to Las Vegas to join The Cosmopolitan's Rose. Rabbit. Lie club and its 2014 Spiegelworld Vegas Nocturne show, having been headhunted while on tour in Australia. In December of that year, he opened for Human Nature's December 2014 Christmas shows at The Venetian.
In May 2015, Piff appeared on the 10th season of NBC's America's Got Talent. His audition, a repeat of his Fool Us routine with a phased transformation of incorrect card to signed card, was unanimously selected for the Judge Cuts round. In that round, a signed card reappeared in a sealed dog-food can, with special guest judge Neil Patrick Harris using his Golden Buzzer to send Piff straight to the quarterfinals. In the quarterfinals, three hanging boxes selected by judge Howie Mandel were violently destroyed, while the fourth unselected box was revealed to contain Mr. Piffles. This received sufficient votes to send him to the Semifinals, where his revelations of three selected cards earned him standing ovations from judges Howard Stern, Heidi Klum and Howie Mandel, and sufficient votes for the Final round. That week's act, which involved firing Mr. Piffles from a cannon and the reappearance of a signed bill inside a walnut, did not receive enough votes for him to win, and instead placed him in the Top 10. He returned as a guest performer on AGT's 2016 America's Got Talent Holiday Spectacular and in 2017 during Season 12.
Van der Put has been magic consultant to Penn and Teller, Heston Blumenthal and his restaurant the Fat Duck, and company Theatre-Rites for their production Mojo, which played at The Barbican Theatre, the Salzburg Festival, and New York's New Victory Theatre.
Van der Put won the 2008 British Ring Close-up Magician of the Year, while The Magic Circle awarded him their 2011 Close-up Magician of the Year, 2012 Stage Magician of the Year (as Piff), and 2013 Carlton Award. In 2013, the Circle also inducted him into their Inner Ring with Gold Star.
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