If you’ve never witnessed a Piff the Magic Dragon show in Las Vegas or elsewhere, you are in for a real treat. The recent “triple crown” winner in the 2019 Best of Las Vegas Awards for Best Comedian, Best Magician and Best Headliner is coming our way. Piff will be performing at Park City Eccles Center on Sunday, December 22nd at 8pm. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy the holidays than at a Piff the Magic Dragon show. In advance of his appearance in Utah, I sat down with Piff in Las Vegas for a chat.
TS: Congratulations on winning the triple-crown in Vegas. You won for best magician, best comedian and best headliner. Which takes more work: magic or comedy?
Piff: When you talk to stand-up comedians, they always talk about turning their material over every year. And that is much more achievable in comedy than in magic. Because in comedy, if you have an idea, you can try it tonight and find out whether it’s funny. Whereas in magic, if you have to have an idea, you have to make it work first, and that can take, you know, three or six months … or a year. And that’s just to get the idea working. Then you have to take it on stage to see if anyone even likes it.
TS: Confession: The only magic I really watch is Penn and Teller and you. So this might be a rookie question, but, for example, the notorious “urine” trick that you recently did with Penn Jillette in Florida is a variation on an already existing trick. So the question is: is all magic and illusion a variation on something that’s been done before? Or is it still possible to create something that’s brand new?
Piff: I guess you can. Like, with any sort of writing you’re using the same alphabet. But you can reconfigure it into a way that is new. So, it’s the same with magic; there are building blocks, but it’s the way you put them together. Penn and Teller are the kings of that. Everything they do looks like nothing else; they really put their stamp on it.
TS: You were raised as an evangelical Christian. I ran across this term reading about you. What is “gospel magic?”
Piff: Gospel magic is when you use magic tricks to spread a bible message … to preach with magic tricks.
TS: You went through a very serious bout with acute pancreatitis some years ago. This was before Piff came into existence. Did all that ordeal lead to Piff the Magic Dragon as a career?
Piff: Maybe. It just meant that certainly I would rather concentrate full-time on something that I’d been doing part-time. So I quit my IT job and I really tried to make a go of the magic. And then also, it encouraged me to not take things for granted. You know, not be like, ‘Well, I’ll try it but if it doesn’t work out then I can try it next year.’ I was a bit more like, ‘Maybe we should try and get this working today.’
TS: I was looking at your America’s Got Talent videos on YouTube where some 10.5 million people have viewed your performances and there are, like, 5700 comments. Oddly, the first one you see is from a guy who wrote this about you: “He has the energy of a man who has had to perform as a dragon for way too many kids’ birthdays and is now officially done with life.”
Piff: Yup. I spent 10 years doing restaurant magic … doing the same 10 minutes over and over again, 10 or 15 times a night, 5 nights a week. And so yeah … I definitely felt like ‘this is Groundhog Day.’ I thought it would be funny to put that onstage and build a character around that vibe.
TS: A reader wanted me to ask you: Was it difficult to adjust to moving from “moist” England to a place like Vegas, with a climate that’s closer to the surface of the sun?
Piff: No. Every year I used to tour Australia in January and February and March, because I was so fed up with the English winters. So I was very happy to get out here and I love it.
TS: Do you get recognized in public without your dragon frock?
Piff: Not very often, but more than I’d like. I love being anonymous.
TS: I feel like somewhere lurking within Piff the Magic Dragon, there’s some bawdy, ribald material wanting to get out.
Piff: You know, I like trying to tread the line. And in our shows we can sort of dance around that line, whereas on shows like America’s Got Talent you have to be very clean. But you know, honestly, for our shows we get kids and we get families and I quite like those dynamics.
TS: You have a way of blindsiding your audience with your humor and comedy. They don’t see the jokes coming and you don’t telegraph them. Do you work at that? Like, when you do a card trick and tell the audience member on stage that they picked the wrong card.
Piff: Right. I don’t know, I mean I think there’s a thing in the world of magic where magicians go on stage and they tell the audience they have these amazing powers and then when things to wrong, the magicians I’ve seen kind of have a tendency to blame the audience. And I just thought doing that intentionally would be really funny.
TS: One of our readers said he suspects that you have a ‘punk’ sensibility. Maybe that comes from the PiffPod podcast theme song.
Piff: There’s definitely like, that iconoclastic element to it … I always try to question things. In magic, people are always like, ‘Well, this is how you should do it.’ And I’m always like, ‘Really?’ And sometimes it’s funny and sometimes I end up going, ‘Oh, now I understand why you should do it that way.’ There’s a technique in magic where before you do a ‘reveal’, you recap what has happened in order to fully maximize the applause. And I prefer to not explain or recap [he says, laughing]—to do the reveal and then berate the audience for not fully understanding what happened. That’s much funnier to me. So that would be an example of doing things backwards in magic. Magic 101 would be ‘maybe you should explain what happened before you do the reveal.’ I’m on Magic 102.
TS: You’re coming to Utah just before Christmas. Do you have anything special lined up for the holiday audience?
Piff: We’ll probably do a couple of Christmas-y tricks. The great thing is that we put these shows together and we do a mix of old favorites and new tricks on the road. So every time someone comes out to our show, there’s usually at least half of it they haven’t seen before. And every time we do a trick, we use someone from the audience. So it’s always different anyway. It’s always amazing to me how different each night is.