Dry humor is the real trick in this dog-and-dragon magic show.
Seriously, England? You’re strange. We’re friends, right, we can say that? Thank God you’re so freaking funny and creative.
Piff the Magic Dragon is the stage name of John van der Put, a short, dumpy Brit who performs magic in a dime-store dragon costume/onesie. His primary assistant is a long-haired chihuahua named Mr. Piffles, who wears a doggie dragon costume. Carrying Mr. Piffles in the crook of one arm, a small suitcase that collapses into a table in the other, Piff takes the stage at the Flamingo Las Vegas with an exaggerated look of boredom on his doughy face, as if to say “Here we go again.” The suitcase looks like nothing so much as a lunch pail, Piff looks like he is arriving for another boring day at the factory. The only thing out of place is the dragon costume.
There’s a reason this guy has opened for Mumford and Sons and worked as a consultant for Penn and Teller. It’s a stellar gag – the humdrum, over-it vibe juxtaposed with the howling goofiness of the dragon suit. It’s the perfect framing device for a hilarious night of simple but effective magic, butted up against dragon puns, deadpan humor, and cheeky narcissism. In one of his more famous bits, Piff chooses an attractive female for his first volunteers. Suppose her name is Gina. “Gina,” Piff exclaims, with well-rehearsed fake surprise, “that’s my wife’s name! … Well, not actually my wife yet, we’ve only just met.” He then conjures a cheap-looking fake bouquet for the volunteer. Instead of giving it to her, though, he tosses it over his shoulder, saying “Just kidding, you haven’t got a chance.”
Other than the blue-collar dragon and his furry friend, there’s Jade, an full-on amazonian showgirl with the sparkly bustier, heels, and feather headdress. She towers over Piff, doing splits and adding more hilarious incongruity – what is a Vegas showgirl doing in this nose-thumb of a show? Francis, the opening act, is more of a piece with the stupid dragon conceit – a lute-playing minstrel in a ridiculous bowl cut. The funny part about Francis is his earnestness, cast up against Piff’s utter indifference.
You’ll love this if you love British humor. Even if you are not a die-hard for Monty Python or BBC, this act could win you over. It really is unique, with no obvious precedent outside of the TV show Wilfred combined with the joke in Shakespeare in Love about how audiences love “a bit with a dog.” Mr. Piffles seems as “over it” as Piff does. This is not a showbiz dog – Piff has clearly put the minimum amount of effort into training him. Say this for Mr. Piffles – he’s adorable, not spooked by the crowd, and hangs in there as Piff levitates him and asks him to help identify an audience member’s card selection. Mr. Piffles sometimes can’t be bothered, though, and Piff makes a big show of covering for the pup’s laziness.
Mr. Piffles is also patient about being held, which you can do yourself as a VIP ticket-holder when you pose for pictures with Piff and Mr. Piffles. Tickets start at $76, for which you could probably have bought five of those dragon costumes yourself. The VIP package is worth it, though, for priority seating. Otherwise, seats in the tiny theater at the Flamingo are first-come, first-served, and you want to be up close for some of these tricks. They’re mostly card tricks – good card tricks, but nothing jaw-dropping. That’s part of the joke – this whole slapdash dog-and-dragon presentation, only to do card tricks?
The humor is more the point than the magic; Piff weaves it bitingly and hilariously through every setup. He disappears a $20 bill provided by a volunteer … and then doesn’t give it back. “That’s magic, b*tch,” Piff deadpans.
Verdict: If you love sarcastic humor, check out Piff the Magic Dragon at the Flamingo Hotel Las Vegas. With magic shows, there’s fire and then there’s funny. For a Dragon, Piff brings the funny more than the fire. And what a big funny it is.