It’s no illusion that the fur babies are the stars of the show

Howie Nave / Columnist
Piff and Mr Piffles

Most entertainers know the old adage, “never work with children or animals.” That quote was from the famous W.C Fields because kids and critters are unpredictable and completely scene-stealing.

That makes sense as it has happened to me before. I mean, who wants to hear a stand up comedian after hearing a beautiful children’s choir singing about kids waiting to be adopted? Yeah, that went over well. And at an outdoor festival no less!

Comedy works better with no lighting at night. I don’t know of any stand ups out there that have an animal in their act but I do know two illusionists that have dogs in their act and both didn’t start off with a fur baby, they just got wise.

Master illusionist Alex Ramon (who’s on my morning radio show every week for our Magic Monday segment) has been a close friend for years. Alex is no stranger to the Tahoe area having performed up here countless times and currently has a residency at Harveys in their Cabaret Room through Labor Day. Alex puts on a stellar show and has won numerous awards including the coveted “Lance Burton Award,” creating magic for Grammy award winner Taylor Swift and has been described as “Mystifying” by the New York Times.

However, of all his accolades it was his dog, ‘MJ the Magic Doxie’ that stole the show on national TV winning the Penn & Teller “Fooler Award” back in 2021. Sorry Alex! Personally, I think Alex’s magic show was bumped up to a completely different level of entertainment once MJ was added to the bill.

Howie, MJ and Alex Ramon
Action in Tahoe: Piff the Magic Dragon at Bally’s Lake Tahoe; Old Dominion at the Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena; Marcus Ashely Gallery Meet the Artist show

When I asked Alex if the kids love seeing a fur baby in his show he said it’s actually the adults that love seeing MJ. This hat makes sense but sometimes it can go their little canine cranium. Case in point: if you notice the electronic billboard outside of Harrah’s you’ll see that MJ gets more space than Alex does. I think MJ has his own agent too but don’t quote me.  If you haven’t seen his show yet, treat yourself and a date (or the family) to experience the magic of MJ (Alex is pretty good too). 

Last week I had another illusionist on my show: Las Vegas’ Piff the Magic Dragon promoting his show at Bally’s Friday night (his first time performing in Lake Tahoe too). Piff’s had a residency in Vegas these past 7 years being discovered on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” Piff was hilarious by the way. I don’t know man, there’s just something about that dry, subdued British mindset that gets me every time. Of course, like most of us it took awhile to create an audience for his brand of comedy and magic.

When Piff (real name John van der Put) started out in his home country (the UK) it wasn’t all that great but he developed his craft performing virtually anywhere and any place that would book him including a wedding which didn’t go over very well. I mean, the couple didn’t break up over it and now probably brag that Piff was their entertainment. It wasn’t until Piff started wearing his signature green, red and yellow dragon costume billed as Piff the Magic Dragon that things really started to take off. With his deadpan humor and stunning visual you couldn’t ignore there was something ‘different’ about this guy. 

However, it wasn’t until Piff got ‘the world’s only magic performing chihuahua,” Mr. Piffles that his act became the showstopper that it is today. It was during the very prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival of 2009 that Piff realized he needed a gimmick and found it the very next day in the shape of an eighteen month old rescue dog named Alfie.

Known now as Mr Piffles, he has his own following and has become one of the most famous dogs in Las Vegas! I wonder if world famous magician David Copperfield ever considered a canine in his act? On my morning radio show Piff said he ‘re-homed’ Mr. Piffles (adopted it but love the British definition better) and, like Alex Ramon the two are inseparable with their fur baby companions.

Here’s another three degrees of separation: like Ramon, Piff did very well on Penn & Teller giving him even more national exposure. In 2020, Piff was crowned the winner of TBS’ “Tournament of Laughs” beating out comedy stalwarts Jeff Ross, Natasha Leggero and Judah Friedlander. 

Let’s face it, you can’t go wrong with a dog. When I ask my audience if they prefer dogs over people the majority will shout, “Definitely dogs!” Which doesn’t surprise me really. I mean, c’mon, the way people have behaved these past few years it’s no wonder a majority of us would choose four legs over two.

But make no bones about it, both MJ and Mr. Piffles contribute quite a bit in both of their magic productions. MJ has performed (along with his human counterpart, Alex) at Harrah’s, Harveys and the Hard Rock up here in South Lake Tahoe having better credits performing at different venues than some well known comedians I know! And, as mentioned before both shows are great family entertainment and also make for a great date night so I wholeheartedly encourage you to check out these great dogs (and their humans who handle them). 

Catch Piff the Magic Dragon with Mr. Piffles and his equally talented assistant, Jade Simone @ Bally’s Lake Tahoe Friday showtime @8pm. You can catch Alex Ramon with MJ Tuesday through Sunday (dark Mondays) inside Harveys Cabaret here @ Stateline. 

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