While very few people can say they’re able to make a living out of purely being grumpy, Piff the Magic Dragon has done just that.
“I just have a resting bitch face,” John van der Put said during a recent interview. “I used to get fired from job after job because I always looked like this. People were always like, ‘What’s your problem?’”
But make no mistake, he doesn’t always have that distinctive scowl on his face anymore. Every once in a while, he actually smiles.
Heck, you might even catch him laughing out loud.
PIFF THE MAGIC DRAGON When: May 24-26 Where: Chicago Improv, 5 Woodfield Rd., Schaumburg Tickets: $28 Info: Chicago.Improv.com
“I end up breaking character a lot during the shows now,” chuckles van der Put, a native of England who gained stardom while performing on Season 10 of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” “Audience participation is just part of the show, and people can really say the craziest things, especially at the late shows. That’s really the great thing about the show. Every single night, it’s a completely different show. You just never know what you are going to get, whether I end up pulling the most excited person up to the stage to the worst person up on the stage.”
The dragon-costume-wearing comedian-magician, now appearing at the Chicago Improv in Schaumburg, discovered his shtick in the most unusual of ways.
“I had gone to a costume party dressed up as a dragon and once I got there, I realized no one else was dressed up,” recalls van der Put, who used to practice his magic tricks at weddings and bar mitzvahs in England before moving to the states. “There I was, a grumpy guy wearing a dinosaur costume, and my friend told me that I should do that in an act. And the rest is history.”
Indeed, that party snafu resulted in quite a career for Piff the Magic Dragon, who has sold out shows around the world and amassed over 100 million views of his online videos. The current The Dog Who Knows 2018 Tour features the tricks and jokes of not only Piff, but also his trusty furry sidekick Mr. Piffles.
“We pretty much spend 24 hours a day together,” van der Put says, laughing out loud about his equally grumpy canine friend, who in this tour shows off his latest disguise as a mind reader. The show also features Las Vegas showgirl Jade Simone and Francis the Squire, aka the Eunuch in a Tunic.
“I think I fill that gap between people who either like comedy or like magic, because I’m a little bit of both,” says van der Put, whose residency at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas was just extended through the end of 2018. “I kind of work for both [fan bases], no matter what you might like.”
Van der Put says comedy has become a bit more complex in recent years. “My act is not that political, but there was a time when people would laugh about both sides. These days people are very decisive,” he says. “It’s like they are not in the mood for it anymore. They are sick of just thinking about our differences.”
So instead, they laugh at a guy in a dragon suit.
“Its very difficult to take a guy who is wearing a dragon outfit seriously,” chuckles van der Put, who appeared on “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” and is now working with that series’ Penn Jillette on a new television show. “It used to be people would get their big breaks from shows like ‘The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson’ and shows like that. The fact that I lived in everyone’s living rooms for a summer and ended up becoming a star is really cool.”
Tricia Despres is a local freelance writer.