Magician, comedian and actor Michael Carbonaro will perform live in Raleigh Friday. Here, he talks HB2, family and why he got into the comedy business.
There aren’t a lot of magicians who have a weekly TV show.
Specials, sure, and the great Penn and Teller have been popping up on TV screens for years, but even those two haven’t been able, or perhaps wanted, to string together multiple seasons of consistent airtime.
Magician, comedian and actor Michael Carbonaro’s “The Carbonaro Effect” is in its third season on truTV, and the star’s unique approach to making the show is a major reason for its longevity.
Carbonaro makes “The Carbonaro Effect” entertaining by not just doing tricks on a stage and bringing crowd members into the act as cameras film the illusions and audience members’ reactions to them. Carbonaro uses a hidden camera, often disguising himself as well, and does magic for regular people in normal settings — at the market, in the office, etc. — and the results are part mind-blowing, part hilarious and that last part is what sets Carbonaro’s show, well, apart.
This clip is a pretty solid representation of Carbonaro’s mix of magic and humor. If you can’t laugh at a man behind a juice bar saying, completely deadpan, “It’s pulping its own pulp,” then please up your dosage of fun pills immediately. Or just go down a YouTube rabbit hole of “The Carbonaro Effect” clips the way I did. Poof! Instant fun.
New episodes began airing in March and with filming of Season 3 completed, Carbonaro is touring the country performing live theater shows. He is scheduled to play Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium next Friday and during a Tuesday afternoon interview, we discussed Carbonaro’s love of a live audience’s energy, questions about performing in North Carolina in the wake of HB2, his mysterious magic roots and much more.
Tony Castleberry: How has the tour been going?
Michael Carbonaro: I am having the best time. It’s great. It really is.
You know, I put myself through school performing magic at birthday parties and performing as a magician for audiences large and small for tons of different events. It’s been amazing to have a TV show, but the grueling schedule of the show has really kept me from getting to do live performances. I forgot how much I missed it. For the past three years, I just haven’t been able to do that many live performances, but getting out in front of the crowds, it’s just great. There’s an energy and a magnetism to performing live that’s just like no other.
TC: Did you consider not playing North Carolina because of HB2?
MC: I did. I thought a lot about it. For quite some time I toyed with the idea, and I even talked to the promoter about possibly pulling the show. (long pause) You know, it’s not the people of North Carolina that I want to punish. I think I’m a really good role model for kids, and adults, and I think I’m a very open and accepting person. My television and my live show, and really my life, is all about inclusive, good fun. It’s a good energy, and I think that energy serves the cause stronger than pulling that energy away from people. You know, I don’t really know how to answer it.
TC: It’s tough.
MC: Because I was like, maybe I would say (during the show) I’m not gonna come back unless something gets fixed, but I don’t think so. What I’d like to do is stand for causes of LGBT equality. All of my shows on the tour, I have been giving money and proceeds to a very special group that I love called Hocus Focus, which uses magic as the backbone of its program of teaching children with social anxieties and social dysfunctions. Adults as well. It teaches them how to overcome those things using magic. They learn magic tricks. Magic takes a lot of practice. It takes a lot of focus and it takes a lot of patience. The kids and adults are really incentivized to want to put that kind of effort in, which might be hard for them because they want to learn magic tricks. They want to be able to perform them.
It’s an incredible program. So every show, we’ve been donating proceeds to Hocus Focus, but for my show in North Carolina, I’m gonna donate to LGBT equality instead.
TC: Perfect. Yeah, one of my all-time favorite comedians, Maria Bamford, said she was going to cancel her show in Charlotte last month because of HB2, but then she reversed course and did what you’re going to do, give a big chunk money to an LGBT support group.
After Springsteen and Pearl Jam canceled, I feel like it’s gone the other way, where entertainers feel like they can affect change more by doing shows here and standing up to discrimination in that way, you know?
MC: Absolutely, and I don’t disagree with Springsteen or Pearl Jam. It’s interesting. Right when I was figuring out what I was going to do, I thought I was going to pull (the show), but then Springsteen pulled his and some other people pulled theirs and I was like, “OK. Let’s kind of look at this.” I sat back and thought it through, and I came to thinking exactly what you said.
Listen, I get so many letters about my TV show saying, “You wouldn’t believe how this show brings us together as a family. My 7-year-old sits down and watches it with my teen daughter and grandma and we come together and laugh and try to figure out your tricks.” It’s an amazing energy, and I’m thinking to myself, "That’s a very potent and powerful present to give to the world." And I’ve found on the tour that a theater full of that energy? All of those families multiplied? That’s the kind of energy that changes the world, so I’m not taking that away from North Carolinians.
TC: I think that’s a great attitude to have. People who perform magic usually either go for a mysterious vibe or a witty, humorous one. You have successfully embraced the latter. Do you do any dark, mysterious tricks and if not, do you ever want to?
MC: Yes. I do have a lot of mysterious tricks and dramatic things and a few things that are a little scary. It’s a family show so it’s not terribly scary, but it gets into the haunted realm a little bit. I think that kind of thing is really powerful in magic. A lot of magic is those dark, mysterious shadows and secrets. I was a longtime fan of horror movies, monster movies, special effects. That’s how I really got into magic. I’ve always had that secret scary streak inside me.
Even the biggest fan of the (TV) show still wonders if the magic is accomplished using camera tricks and actors, and it’s great for them to come and see me live and see those tricks happening right before their eyes. What they don’t get in the TV show is they get to meet more of me as a person, a personality. Sometimes it’s almost as if the magic is in the way. [Carbonaro, interviewer laugh]
I’m there to hang out with people and have a good time and have a back-and-forth conversation with the crowd and have them come up and help me out and laugh and trick and fool them. It’s really about emceeing an evening together. It’s a party. I don’t how else to describe it. It’s a really great party, and the energy is terrific.
TC: Which did you do first on stage: Tell a joke or do a magic trick?
MC: It was magic, and it was more in that mysterious, dark magic land because I was a big (David) Copperfield fan as a kid. My first on-stage magic performance, I was in a spotlight with an all-black outfit and being very, very overly dramatic. [interviewer laughs]
TC: When did comedy, not necessarily setup, punchline, but when did humor and comedy become part of your act?
MC: I kind of discovered my love of magic through special effects, and I discovered my love of performing and being a comedic personality through performing magic.
My greatest inspirations in magic were David Copperfield and Penn and Teller. Copperfield has this mysterious quality to his stuff, but he really is a master showman. His show is what the epitome of a iconic magician hosting an evening of mystery and wonder should be. There’s no fourth wall. He’s speaking directly to you. He’s making jokes. He’s playing with what the crowd says.
He’s improvising and being witty, and I really just grabbed right onto that formula. I spent a great deal of my time as a kid just playing as if I was David Copperfield, and through that I’ve evolved my own sense of character. Every now and then I’m sure a move I make or something that I say and the way I say it still echoes a little David Copperfield. It was really David Copperfield who taught me how to perform, by nature of being a fan of what he does.
Penn and Teller as well. What great inspirations to have growing up as a young magician. The cocktail that Copperfield would do with his theatrics plus his showmanship, and what Penn and Teller would do with their intellect and really offbeat, anti-magician performance was a really great way to look at magic and go, “It can be a lot of different things. There are tons of different directions to go.”
This blogpost was first published on Raleigh & Company.