THROWING A PIFFY FIT: Mission HS benefits from Piff’s Ping-Pong Pifftacular
Choosy players choose Piff. Even when he goes on a (comic) trash-talk tear.
Yes, a recent celebrity-stuffed table-tennis tourney at the Flamingo’s Beach Club Pool — dubbed “Piff’s Ping-Pong Pifftacular” — is a generous act of altruism. Paddle-wielding Vegas performers are raising funds for the city’s new Mission High School, which enrolls teens recovering from substance addiction.
Yet this pong-a-thon’s host — the self-dubbed Piff the Magic Dragon (aka John van der Put) — facetiously comes on like a Ping-Pong King Kong (albeit in a pajama-soft, green-gold-red dragon suit with fluffy feet). Weaving through a burgeoning throng of pong competitors and spectators while wearing his trademark smirk, the star of his own comedy-magic production at the Flamingo manages to be both philanthropic and bombastic in one breath.
“This cause helps young adults who are dealing with their addictions, and it rehabilitates them into life so they can beat their addictions and get an education,” Piff says about the laudable Mission High School mission, mischievously adding: “And then I can crush their dreams at Ping-Pong! I’m gonna end some dreams today!”
Sure, it’s shtick, but with Piff’s every Brit-accented syllable dripping with acerbic edginess, you, well, kinda believe it. However, he’s only really taunting his fellow performer-rivals here.
With a 37-student population so far of 9th-to-12th graders, Piff’s cause, the Mission High School opened last year at 801 N. Veterans Memorial Drive. Though there are similar schools throughout the country geared exclusively to both teaching traditional curriculums and offering counseling services to students on the road to sobriety, this is the only one in the nation that is publicly funded, courtesy of the Clark County School District.
“Why Ping-Pong?” Piff exclaims when asked why he favors this sport of gentlemanly (more or less) combat to aid the school. “When you see me on the court there will be no further questions!”
Drinking in the surreal scene, it looks like five generations of The Village People squeezed into the club’s pool-fronting bar/grill, milling between four Ping-Pong tables.
“Legends in Concert” impersonators rub faux-celeb shoulders with creature-costumed Cirque performers and “Miss Behave” cut-ups. White jump-suited Elvis waves his paddle in competitive preparedness. Hypnotist Anthony Cools is too-cool-for-school in his hipster shades. Melody Sweets sashays around. “Baz” stars are here. “Absinthe” goofballs, too. Tenors of Rock and Human Nature warblers also. Add in the “Inferno” and “Opium” folks, and magic funnyman Mac King and you’ve got a panoply of Strip productions on hand.
And in the strangest sight (no small feat here) a sexy “X Country” gal in cutoff shorts squares off across the table from Le Bebe Francois — more commonly identified as the big baby from “Mystere,” in his man-size bonnet and ginormous diaper (though minus his giant red bouncy ball).
Threading his way through it all is Piff, puckishly dispatching unneeded advice that wafts above the laugh-riddled din: “You hit the ball. Then you hit it back. One of you will win. One of you will lose. It won’t be me.” Occasionally, he nimbly dodges a Ping-Pong ball playfully tossed at his dragon-headed noggin. Meanwhile, folks amble over to the bar to sip (or guzzle) beverages (adult or otherwise) including energy drinks, wine and nonalcoholic “mocktails” (Red Bull and lemonade).
“Piff is big into Ping-Pong. We moved our Ping-Pong table into our living room the last couple nights, just to practice,” says Matt Stabile, co-producer with his wife, Angela, of Piff’s production. Also in the Stabiles’ stable of shows are the multiple “X” adult revues in town, whose fetching cast members have streamed in too.
“I’m being a team player and supporting our guy, but we’re helping the Mission School,” he says about the event’s beneficiary, several of whose students are here, assisting with scoring. Funds are being raised from the $50 a pop that participants have paid to join in, plus money from other ancillary fees and sales.
“Every town needs a school like this,” Stabile says. “It’s important to have.”
You’ll get an amen on that here from Joe Engle, a local electrician who lost his oldest son to a heroin overdose at age 19, nearly seven years ago. Afterward he founded the local chapter of the foundation called There Is No Hero in Heroin, which runs an after-school program at Mission High School.
“We have group meetings, artists come in to teach the kids how to paint, we get a slew of volunteers from the community, singers and songwriters teach them how to play guitar, and they play games,” Engle says, praising the school’s goals.
“The opioid epidemic is out of control, so cities, states and counties are looking for alternative methods to help combat the disease of addiction,” he says. In 2015, a national survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration revealed that 7.8 percent of people age 12 and older had a substance abuse problem during the previous year.
“But the stigma associated with somebody suffering is huge and can be a barrier from them seeking recovery. This school has a loving, nurturing environment that provides recovery support services.” Beyond teachers, the school staff encompasses drug and alcohol counselors and a full-time therapist, and programs include 12-step meetings.
“I’m so proud of the Clark County School District for this, it’s become a passion of mine,” says Sherri Pucci Sosa, the Flamingo’s general manager and “Pifftacular” organizer. “We’re shocked that so many people wanted to participate in (the tournament). Hopefully, we can grow this into something really big.”
Nuzzling Piff’s compact co-star, the performing Chihuahua named Mr. Piffles, Jade Simone, the comic-magician’s assistant, noted the importance of the giving-back concept.
“As entertainers, we are very blessed to have such a beautiful life every day, coming out onstage, hearing applause from people happy to see us,” says Simone, decked out in showgirl finery. “In the Piff show, we get filled up with so much happiness from our audience every night that I feel like I’m bubbling over. I love giving that bubbling over back to someone else.”
On this day, that is a Mission: Possible.