“Wear some pants. For the love of God, wear pants,” advises Piff the Magic Dragon, the America’s Got Talent comic who is putting on a Zoom show for Ruth Eckerd Hall where he can interact with the audience.
In a telephone interview from his home in Las Vegas, where he was a headliner at the Flamingo before the pandemic, the comedic magician talked about finding new ways to perform since casinos and performing arts centers have gone dark since March.
He has come up with one of the more unique niches by building a TV studio in his garage. Using several monitors, he invites the audience to buy a ticket to a live show where he can see and hear the audience and even “bring them on stage” with some technical trickery.
He has had as many as 150 people tune in, though he said 50 is a more manageable number for this kind of show. Ruth Eckerd Hall is selling tickets for $35.75 per household to watch his one-hour show online at 7 p.m. on Aug. 9 and 12.
Ticket buyers will be sent a link to a Zoom meeting and the video will be live. Your microphone will be muted to begin, but he said he likes to unmute them as much as possible so he can hear the audience laugh and he will engage with them.
“You don’t want to do this naked,” he advised. “We will see you.”
The London native, whose given name is John van der Put, has toured as a supporting act for Mumford and Sons and has appeared on Penn & Teller: Fool Us, but it was his run on the 10th season of America’s Got Talent in 2015 that put him on the entertainment map. He drew disapproving looks from the judges as he walked on stage dressed in a green, red and yellow dragon costume. He introduced himself as Piff the Magic Dragon and said, “You might have heard of my older brother... Steve.” He charmed the judges and added an assistant, “Mr. Piffles,” a chihuahua also clad in a dragon costume.
He made it to the top 10 in that season’s finals and soon after landed a residency at the Flamingo in Las Vegas. But first he did a tour of comedy clubs — Tampa’s Side Splitters Comedy Club was one of his first stops for a series of sold-out shows. He said he has a strong affection for the Tampa Bay area for supporting him early.
He’s riding high in the comedy world these days having won the inaugural Tournament of Laughs on TBS. The March Madness-style bracket competition pitted some of the top names in comedy against each other in a tournament hosted by Jason Sudeikis. And last Sunday, the dragon slayed, beating Jim Norton’s character Chip Chipperson in the finals.
Van der Put said he launched this series of Zoom shows as a way to help out performing arts centers across the country who likely won’t see their doors reopen any time soon. He’s doing four to five shows a week, with the tickets sold through the box offices of each town’s performing hall.
“These places can’t open their doors so we are selling the tickets through them, which gives them a revenue stream,” he said. “We need those places. They need performers but we heed them for when we come back.”
He wouldn’t let on about the jokes he is writing for the Clearwater shows, but said he does have some material lined up that is specific to the local audience.
“Tampa was one of the very first places we came to after America’s Got Talent and so it’s kind of been a bit of home away from home for us,” he said, “so we have a lot of material for that area.”
Tickets are $35.75 per household at rutheckerdhall.com.