The Puffs, or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic is a loving, adult parody from writer Matt Cox, director Kristin McCarthy Parker, and producers Stephen Stout and Colin Waitt. Through August 4, The Puffs is playing at The Peoples Improv Theater in New York (a.k.a. The PIT), where writer Matt Cox takes us on a journey through those seven years in a certain magical world, but with a twist.
We spoke with Matt about what inspired him to reimagine the familiar, magical tale through the eyes of the badger-loving bunch, the fun parallels to his own life that he was able to explore while writing, and what he would do if he ever got to spend a day at that school of Magic and Magic.
Read on for our exclusive interview with Matt Cox:
Much like Wicked does with The Wizard of Oz, The Puffs takes a well-known magical story and tells it from a different perspective. What inspired you to reimagine it in this way?
It started with a simple thought: “Wow. It kinda would have sucked to be any of the other students at that particular magic school at the time Harry was there.” This then morphed into what the best possible funnel for this viewpoint would be, which landed me onto The Puffs.
Pop culture has deemed them the not-so-cool bunch at Magic School. They have been deemed the losers in a way. That seemed like a fun thing to explore. Who are these people that get sidelined into being the ultimate side characters/weirdos of the book series? And ultimately it was fun to find out that the moments they are mentioned within the books are actually quite fun and really cool. They are a special bunch, and they deserve some respect.
Not only that, but there was a fun parallel to draw from my own life … being of a similar age of the characters as the books were releasing … [and exploring] what it’s like to grow up during that period of time and not exactly be the most popular person at school. There was an unexplored opportunity of witnessing that same journey that a lot of us experienced, but at a school for wizards.
How does this show differ from your other projects?
A lot of my work tends to take place in other worlds/planets/dimensions/times, etc. This one, however, is very deeply rooted in the 1990s of our world. It was important for me to keep the original timeline of the books, which the movies never attempted to do. There’s so many fun, quirky things from the 90s that help the story along the way – TV/movies/music/etc.
I also injected a lot more of myself into the main character, Wayne, than I normally would. He’s very much into the same things I was growing up. That was new for me.
Did your interest in and familiarity with Harry Potter help when it came to building the nuances of the play and integrating all those tongue-in-cheek jokes that the audience loves so much?
Oh, yes. I believe I started reading the series just after the second or third book had come out. From four on, I was at all of the midnight releases or at least bought the book day-of.
A lot of the jokes come from the things that I specifically remember about my experience reading the books, or my own thoughts that I had when first picking them up. For example, there was a long period of time while reading and before the movies that I did not know how to pronounce Hermione. There’s a little joke in there about that. I’ve since learned, judging by its reaction each night, that this was probably a bit more of a universal thing. There’s a lot of little things that influenced [the play] like that throughout. Other bits tend to come from my more recent rereads of things that are fun to think about from a non-Harry perspective.
And then there was a need, since the books themselves were a huge part of growing up for myself, to make sure we stayed true to the world, while also having some fun with it. But we try and make sure we don’t break any rules. The events of this play, in a weird little way, could sort of fit into the plot. There’s a lot of little references of things that are mentioned in passing in the books as sort of an afterthought that lend themselves to some very fun moments in our play.
Do you have any favorite scenes or parts of the show?
I’m a big fan of our Year 4: The Puffs and The Year They Mattered. There’s something very exciting about it, and how it works as a turning point for everybody. There’s also a slight Rocky IV running joke that I find very humorous.
It’s the moment of truth. If you were to get sorted, are you truly a Puff?
Some quizzes on the internet have said so. And the more I’ve lived in this world in a way, I’ll proudly accept that.
If you could spend a day at the school of Magic and Magic, what would you do?
If I could spend a day there, I would just want to see those fancy bathrooms with their very large tubs. (Also I’d take a trip down to the village and have some Adult Butter Beverage.)
How has the fan support been for you so far?
The fan support is amazing. Anytime I see people in robes walk into the theater, I know we are in for a good night. There’s something so fun about gathering a group of people into a room and having that collective moment of “Yes! We all get this because in a way, we lived it.” It’s really fun. And it validates the work we’ve done every time I see fans of the material really enjoy it.
If someone were thinking of coming to see the show, what would you say to convince them?
All of this about the books aside, even if you haven’t read them, I believe there is still a lot of fun to be had. It ultimately is about this universal experience of going through life and not getting to be the superstar. Our silly little wizard play actually has a whole lot of heart. It even has some existential crisis going on about identity, and what it means to be important. Also, it’s very silly and there’s lots of very fun wizard jokes. Come have fun with us!
Finally, congratulations on your extension into the summer, which will also feature the addition of The Puffs: Late Night Edition. What differences can we look forward to from that?
Our cast are all very funny people and have made many contributions to some super fun moments throughout the show. The Late Night shows offer a glimpse of what happens when those moments are allowed to get very crazy. There’s at least one more curse word somewhere, probably. It also happens to take place at a later hour, so we’re all a bit loopier. It’s also fun! Come have fun with us late at night!!
Thank you so much to Matt Cox for taking the time to answer some questions for us! We really appreciate it!
The Puffs is currently playing at The PIT and has been extended through August 4 to include a few installments of Puffs: Late Night Edition. For a list of upcoming performances, please visit The Peoples Improv Theater.