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Piff’s liftoff fires up #MaskUpNV event

Updated August 13, 2020 - 10:18 am

Piff The Magic Dragon’s Summer of Firsts is in full flight. Before Wednesday, he’d never flown in a helicopter. He’d never appeared at a civic event in a Piff-branded face cover. He’d never driven in a motorcade, either.

The costumed magician can now check all those activities off the Piff List. All were achieved at the valley-wide #MaskUpNV event, beginning with a helicopter tour of the Strip and a landing at Sunrise Children’s Hospital’s heliport.

“I have managed to avoid this, all my life,” Piff, legal name John van der Put, said on his walk to the helicopter platform. “I am not joking.”

Another first would be the directive from pilot Joseph Fisher, who told Piff as we curled into the craft, “Watch your tail.”

Showgirl Jade Simone, Angela Stabile and Tiffany Mondell of Stabile Productions, and star chihuahua Mr. Piffles were in the Piff entourage. But just the dragon and his journo sidekick were on the flight.

After the sky-high trek over the Strip, Piff said, “I thought it would be a lot rougher. I could see the signs from my buddies Penn & Teller, David Copperfield. But for some reason I couldn’t see my sign facing the Strip. It was probably because it’s so big, unless you’re really, really far away you can’t see it.”

The dragon who does not breathe fire is nonetheless hot during COVID, having won “Tournament Of Laughs” on TBS after starring in a video clip where he escaped being chained to a flaming stake. Those were firsts, too.

“My next first is to buy a helicopter,” Piff said, “because I love it now.”

The parade of pop-up performances at 13 Las Vegas-area medical centers was organized by Greg Chase, founder and CEO of Experience Strategy Associates consulting company; and Douglas Johnson, president and executive of Entertainment Plus Productions of Las Vegas.

The event coalesced the workers’ message of masking: I protect you, you protect me. The performers arrived in customized masks, led by Vegas singer Emily Yates (we most recently remember her from “Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding” at Buca di Beppo at Bally’s).

The troupe performed on and around a fully equipped fire truck. The lineup was was filled with filled with aerialists, dancers, and the suddenly ubiquitous Elvis tribute artist Brendan Paul, who has become the city’s unofficial COVID event king (he also summoned his Elvis at Bally’s re-opening event on July 23). The event was themed for “The Greatest Showman,” with Yates belting out her own track of, “This Is Me.”

Vegas Golden Knights mascot Chance arrived at UMC, the fourth stop of the day. He is wearing a black-mesh mask these days.

The workers, most clad in PPE, held signs reading “Thank You,” and many grooved along with the performances. One, who works at Desert Springs Hospital, even has a name that reflects the workers’ passion.

“This is only in Las Vegas and it’s absolutely amazing,” said Faith Daly, who heads up medical staff services at Desert Springs. “It brings up a lot of people’s spirits, and gives us some hope to get through the day.”

The #MaskUpNV campaign, with its hashtag updated to match the social-media handle used by Gov. Steve Sisolak, launched June 25. That morning, dozens of entertainment-community figures held a masked fashion show at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign. Vegas medical officials saw the coverage and contacted Chase to advance the cause for front-line workers.

“We are beyond thrilled,” Chase said at about the halfway point of Wednesday’s parade, which wound up mid-afternoon. “Watching all the thank-you signs just validated what we are doing.”

Expect to see a pronounced social- and mass-media effort in the coming weeks. Chase says he’ll take a break before moving forward with another large-scale, public event.

“We’ve had so much success, who knows?” Chase said. “This was all built out of the air.” The high-flying, magic dragon would concur.


Keith Thompson is hosting highlights of The Composers Showcase of Las Vegas on the final Wednesday of each month, until the show can return live at Myron’s Cabaret Jazz. The show is presented on TCS’s and the Smith Center’s Facebook page. The post links to The Composers Showcase website and Relief Fund, which continues to support Las Vegas entertainers.

The Aug. 26 show features Righteous Brothers co-founder Bill Medley and John Wedemeyer on Medley’s “This Will Be The Last Time.” I was there for that performance and it was un-buh-lievable.

Performances in the 75-minute stream include Michael Cavanaugh from the Billy Joel musical “Movin’ Out”; celebrated songwriter, arranger and pianist Artie Butler; Vegas icon Clint Holmes; and trumpet great Kenny Rampton.

Merchants of merch

The ever-rocking Brody Dolyniuk, mentioned recently for his Aug. 24 Zeppelin USA Facebook Live event, is now in the pandemic souvenir game. He’s pitching “2020 SUCKS” and “I Survived 2020” T-shirts, tanks and jerseys. It’s all on his bonfire.com site; the Zepp show info is on his Facebook page.

And, Tony Felicetta of the Dino and the Sharps/Dean Martin tribute band, has designed Livid-19 items at Livid19.com. As someone far wiser than I once said, “The guys get shirts! That’s just the way it is!”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats! podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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