But one day about nine years ago, van der Put attended what was billed as a costume party but had no costume. So his sister lent him a dragon costume. He then showed up, Elle Woods style, as the only person in a costume. But when he started doing magic tricks at the party, he got far more laughs than he used to. Why? The incongruous nature of his almost languid presence vs. his ridiculous outfit.
Piff the Magic Dragon was born and the gigs started coming in By the time he tried out for NBC's "America's Got Talent" two years ago, he had his act down. In his audition, he opened with "you might have heard of my older brother... Steve." When asked why he was on this show, he said, "It was either this or 'Game of Thrones.' "
He then did a simple card trick with judge Heidi Klum. Klum picked a king of hearts and signed it. He chose a 7 of spades. So he took Klum's card and "changed" it to a 7 of spades. And that was all. While the judges spoke, he ate a banana. "Dragons love snacks," he explained.
Ultimately, his presentation is what got him through, not the trick itself.
"This guy is hysterical," said Howie Mandel. "You have my silly, stupid sense of humor," Mel B said. "I love how much you smile," Heidi said. And Howard Stern closed with: "You're a phenomenal act. You will go far in this."
Indeed, he did. Guest judge Neil Patrick Harris in the next round moved him straight to the live shows. Piff the Magic Dragon eventually made it to the final episode.
"Things just clicked into place," van der Put said.
He said overly sincere animal lovers didn't like him placing his dog Mr. Piffles "in a box" for Mandel to smash during the quarterfinals. "It's magic, people"! he said. "It's not real!" When he still made it into the finals, he decided to make fun of those folks by shooting Mr. Piffles out of a cannon. Of course, it was obvious he shot a mechanical dog out of the cannon, not his dog.
Winning was not his intention, despite the $1 million prize. The TV exposure is what mattered and all the finalists received the same amount of airtime. "I couldn't afford the risk of accidentally winning it," he said. "There's nothing funny about winning for a comedian."
Rather, there were billboards in Las Vegas touting him as "the loser of 'America's Got Talent.' "
van der Put said he has been touring constantly ever since, building his audience one silly joke and grimace at a time. "I had my best touring month ever in March," he said.
His mentors are Penn & Teller, who do magic with a wink of an eye. "They bring in people who accept the fact magic is not real and Penn & Teller don't pretend it is," he said. "It's about the comedy."
He has become friends with them and performed with them during an "America's Got Talent" Christmas special this past December.
"Being a genuine magic dragon," van de Put said, "makes it a little more obvious I don't take it that seriously."
van der Put said being a dragon suits him right now. "There will be a time when it is no longer appropriate," he proclaimed. "We'll then have to do a special, 'Exit the Dragon.' "
Piff the Magic Dragon
8 p.m. Thursday May 11
8 p.m., 9:45 p.m. Friday, May 12
8 p.m., 9:45 p.m. Saturday, May 13
Punchline Comedy Club
3652 Roswell Rd, Atlanta