'AGT' Loser Piff the Magic Dragon Reveals Why He Got Fired Repeatedly in His Early Career

·8 min read

If you loved his blend of comedy and magic on season 10 of America’s Got Talent, you are going to love Piff the Magic Dragon’s new YouTube comedy/magic special, Reptile Dysfunction, which features a special appearance by Penn Jillette.

Filmed in the Piff the Magic Dragon Showroom at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas pre-COVID shutdown, Piff posted it on YouTube in July, so his international audience would have free access to it.

“We wanted to give it as a gift to the fans who supported us over the years,” says the British magician and comedian. “We wanted to make it as easy as possible. So, you just go to YouTube.com Piff the Magic Dragon and you’re there.”

As for the name, Reptile Dysfunction, it has been something he has kept in mind for years.

“My brother came up with it years ago,” Piff said. “He used to introduce me on stage, and he used to say, ‘He’s got reptile dysfunction, please welcome Piff the Magic Dragon.’ So, it came from that. I liked it so much I thought, ‘Let’s call the special that.’”

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Piff is joined onstage by Jillette, who he considers a friend and mentor, as he has known both Penn & Teller since 2007—before he auditioned for AGTwhen he guested on their show Penn & Teller: Fool Us. He didn’t fool them, but the seeds of their friendship were sewn.

“They did discover me,” he recalled. “They were really nice, they said, 'Hey, look, if there’s anything we can do for you let us know.' I moved to Vegas, and we’ve become friends.”

But it was really his appearance on America’s Got Talent that he credits for changing his life, which he talks about in our conversation below, as well as how he got into the dragon suit in the first place, when Mr. Piffles became a part of the act, why he does magic with food, and the disasters that sometimes happen because he uses real people in his act.

Did this idea come to you because of the Las Vegas shutdown during COVID?

We shot it before the shutdown. The Flamingo hotel has two showrooms. One of them is a small showroom, which was called the Piff the Magic Dragon Theater. And then they have this massive other showroom, which Donny and Marie Osmond used to play in. Donny and Marie Osmond ended their show and then during COVID, we got asked to move our show into the bigger showroom. We had to come up with a completely new show, which we’re now doing. After COVID I thought, “Now’s a good time to release a special because it’s a nice record of that time when we were playing the other room, doing the other material.”

When you were a little boy and you first discovered magic, did you dream of having a Vegas show? If you even knew what Vegas was at that time. So, are you living the dream now?

Yeah. For magic, it’s the peak. The highest you can get in magic is to have your own Vegas show. So, every day I wake up and I’m amazed it happened.

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You bill yourself as an AGT loser. You had some traction in your career before you did the show. How big of an impact did it make going back to Vegas after AGT? How much did AGT affect you getting to where you are now?

Well, I moved to Vegas in 2013 to be a small part in a big show. That show closed after several months. But I loved Vegas so much I thought, “I want to find a way to stay here.” So, I did AGT, and I thought it’d be really funny to get to the finals and then go down in flames.

[Season 2 winner] Terry Fator had this billboard in Las Vegas and it was, “The winner of America’s Got Talent, Terry Fator.” I thought it would be hilarious to have a billboard that said, “The loser of America’s Got Talent, Piff the Magic Dragon.” I went on AGT, got to the finals, shot Mr. Piffles out of the cannon and the very next day after I went down in flames, I landed my show at the Flamingo. It was a game changer.

What came first for you, comedy or magic?

Magic. But the problem was I was always really sarcastic when I did magic. I would make all these jokes and people would get offended, and I would get fired because people thought I was taking a piss. And then one day I went to a costume party, and I said to my sister, “I need a costume.” She said, “I’ve got a dragon outfit under my bed.” I didn’t ask any more questions, I said, “Great.” So, I went to the party in the dragon outfit and no one was in costume, it was just me. I said, “What’s going on? It’s supposed to be a costume party.” They said, “Oh, we thought that was a bit childish.”

Then my other friend said to me, “You should do this in your act. You could be Puff the Magic Dragon.” I said, “Wait, I could be Piff the Magic Dragon. You might have heard of my older brother, Steve.” And I thought, “You know what? That’s funny enough to try.” I tried it and suddenly all my sarcasm was funny again because no one could take me seriously in a dragon outfit.

So, since your sister was partly responsible for you channeling your inner dragon, have you done something special for her?

I flew her out to Vegas and took her on a helicopter ride to the Grand Canyon.

The blend, adding the comedy to the magic, it makes it so much more interesting to watch. Was there somebody who inspired you to add comedy to magic? Somebody else you’d watched maybe as a kid?

I used to watch this show called Stuff the White Rabbit and it had all these magicians who were also comedians. Names that maybe people in America wouldn’t have heard of. That was sort of what started my love of it. I could never take magic that seriously because it was a ridiculous art form.

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Why do you use food so much in your act? Is food intrinsically funny?

Yeah, I guess so. It’s a good way to deflect attention while being judged. On these shows, there’s always that sticky moment where somebody gives you their opinion and I was never terribly interested in that opinion, so I thought I’d eat my way through the pain.

Mr. Piffles is just as big a star as you are. Talk about your decision to add him to the act.

I did the Edinburgh Festival for eight years in a row. The first year I went, I had this show and it was okay, but I thought it’s missing something, it needs another component. The girl who was running the venue, she had a Chihuahua. My publicist said, “Why don’t you put the Chihuahua in the act while we’re here?” So, we did and it was a big hit. The next day I went out and found Mr. Piffles. He was a rescue dog from Dundee, Scotland. He went into the act the day after, and he’s stayed in there ever since.

He’s getting up there.

He’s 14 and a half.

Do you ever watch AGT to see the magicians coming up who might be gunning for your spot at the Flamingo?

I still watch AGT because I like seeing what people are doing out there. And AGT’s this amazing showcase of what’s coming up.

Who are some of your favorite AGT acts?

There’s an act called Sethward, who every year just crashes and burns. I love watching it.

What was your worst disaster? You mentioned your sarcasm got you fired, but did you have a big disaster as a magician, a trick that maybe didn’t work or a funny story?

Oh, yeah. There’s been a ton of disasters. In the Vegas show we have tricks that don’t work all the time and we just have to stop in the middle of the show and go, “Well, there’s no happy ending for that moment.” The audience sort of thinks it’s a joke. You have to go, “No, we’re just going to move on.” I use members of the audience and I use kids in the show. I’ve had kids vomit on the stage, pee themselves on the stage, I had one kid punch me in the stomach. You never know what’s going to happen on the next show and that’s what keeps it alive.

You mentioned sometimes an act doesn’t work. Is that how you came up with the idea of the wrong card and then you change it from the wrong card to the right card?

That was a trick that I came up with in my early 20s. It was an idea I had, and it became my signature trick. It also gave me my big break on America’s Got Talent and on Penn and Teller: Fool Us. So I’ve always been quite grateful for that trick.

Piff the Magic Dragon’s comedy special, Reptile Dysfunction, is available on YouTube.

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