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Go Ask Mom

Wonder, Curiosity: Michael Carbonaro talks about what makes life magical

Posted June 15, 2016

Courtesy: Duke Energy Center

Michael Carbonaro is traveling the country on what he dubs a "magical mystery tour," that includes a stop at the Duke Energy Center for Performing Arts in Raleigh this Friday.

But the performer and magician, with a popular TV show on TruTV, had one stop to make earlier this week - his childhood home on Long Island to mark his mom's birthday. From there, he could see the neighbor's house where his career started and he could celebrate the woman who launched it all.

After practicing various magic tricks alone in his bedroom and performing for only family and friends, Carbonaro's mom was the person to encourage him to take his talents on the road years ago. At first it was neighborhood birthday parties. Eventually, he was traveling Long Island with an outdoor show trailer, earning the money to get through New York University. Today, it's live tours, acting gigs and that popular TV show - "The Carbonaro Effect."

"That was the best idea anybody ever had," he said of his mom's suggestion. "I have made a living and life solely on performing. It's so amazing, but it's been a long road. ... I just feel so happy to have the support of my parents and amazing friends too to bridge those times when it's rough. ... I really appreciate where I am now. And I'm happy to spread that happiness with people."

Carbonaro's love of performing started when he was a child and began with passions for Halloween, horror movies and special effects. In the bathroom at home, he used to cover his face in shaving cream, pushing it and molding it to look like various characters - an old woman, for instance, or a monster. (Those shaving cream masks, he tells me, come out during the closing act of his live show).

"I had this one cape I wore - to be a magician and Dracula," he said. "I always loved those two worlds."

(When I asked his age, he said he was a 174-year-old vampire, though his mom might peg it at closer to 34 years).

Magic provided an opportunity to perform, Carbonaro tells me.

"Special effects are magic tricks. It's like doing special effects live," he said. "Special effects and make up brought me to magic. And magic really brought me to performing and acting. I found myself as a performer."

He's not sure how old he was, but he remembers watching a David Copperfield special on TV and then, following instructions in a magic book, doing his own trick for his parents.

"In front of my parents, we all colored with crayons on a piece of paper, tore it up and then I put it back together in front of them," he said. "They were both baffled. I saw how people can really be engaged in that kind of curiosity. I've been hooked ever since."

"The Carbonaro Effect," which launched in 2014 is a hidden camera show where Carbonaro is a kind prankster as people attempt to go about their business. Maybe it's somebody just trying to cash a check when Carbonaro steps in to explain a "new ordinance" where dollars can be ripped to create different bill values. (He magically puts them back together). Or a shopper at a kitchen supply store, who looks at a new "vegetable slicer." When Carbonaro shakes the slicer, which appears to be nothing more than a bag, he reveals finely cut veggies.

Carbonaro tells me that he takes inspiration from Allen Funt and his "Candid Camera." Like Funt, Carbonaro never intends for the pranks to be mean spirited. In fact, he wants his subjects to be skeptical.

"Sometimes, when we are shooting the TV show, if somebody blindly believes something, 100 percent, it’s not what I’m looking for," he said. "People want to see somebody like themselves who say, 'wait a minute, did I see that?' And ask pointed questions that I have to con my way out of. We are all beautiful fools and anybody who disagrees is just further proving that fact."

The TV show has certainly built his fan base. But he loves the opportunity to meet with his fans at live shows and do the thing he's been doing for years now - surprising, entertaining, providing that sense of wonder.

"There are just moments of total shock and disbelief and just exploding laughter," he said of the live shows. "People love to be fooled, they do. They just love to have that moment. ... It's kind of a release to think that you don't have everything figured out. Especially in an age of so much information. How about wonder for a second?" 

The live show, like his TV show, is designed for all ages. He draws a big mix of fans, including lots of families and kids. (We love his show at my house!).

"I get these letters, a couple of times a week, 'we all come together as a family to watch your show. There is nothing like it on TV where we can all watch it - the seven-year-old boy, the teenage girl, the grandmother. We argue how you did the trick and all that fun stuff,'" he said. "It's in such good fun ... and there's a kindness and love behind the work."

Carbonaro will perform at 7:30 p.m., Friday, at the Duke Energy Center for Performing Arts in Raleigh. Tickets are about $35.


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