Any magician can fool their audience. Magician Michael Carbonaro, who stars in TruTV's hidden-camera magic show The Carbonaro Effect, wants to leave his viewers with something much more powerful than feeling stupid for a few seconds.
He wants them to question the nature of the reality around them.
"I think the difference between a prank and magic — and it's the same with watching magic live — it's seeing something impossible happen and for a second going, wait, there's no other way that could have happened other than some sort of door opened in the universe," Carbonaro says. "There's a real charge to the soul to think the universe didn't work the way I thought it did."
Carbonaro says he gets the biggest charge out of watching people's faces when he makes them question the laws of physics and time, whether it's posing as a Best Buy clerk who convinces a customer that they can turn a piece of printed paper into a working cellphone or an entire audience of people, like the one that will be in the seats of The Majestic Theatre on Friday.
"I love the energy of a live crowd, and The Carbonaro Effect audiences, even if they are die-hard fans, I think they secretly wonder if the tricks on the TV show are fake and if they're camera tricks," Carbonaro says. "They come to the live show and I perform the same stunts onstage and they go wild."
Carbonaro says he first set out on his path to show business as an aspiring, special effects makeup artist, but the magic tricks he found in the specialty makeup stores piqued his interest.
"I loved horror movies and monsters and special effects in movies, and I was certain that’s what I was going to grow up and become," Carbonaro says. "Somewhere along the way in buying supplies at makeup shops oddly, I loved buying the magic tricks and supplies and I loved getting into the magic tricks and I found I had a real love for performing. Magic was a way to discover myself as an entertainer."
Performing magic at private parties around New York City became a lucrative way for Carbonaro to pay for his New York University tuition, and he set off to build a career in magic. He also dabbled in stand-up and acting in small roles on shows like Chappelle's Show and CSI: Miami and movies like Bobcat Goldthwait's dark comedy God Bless America while trying to decide the right path for him.
"I was always juggling," he says. "Do I want to be a magician, an actor or a stand-up? I loved so many different facets of entertainment and the business behind the scenes and in front of the camera, and I didn't really know which I was going to exactly land on."
Carbonaro scored his big break when The Tonight Show with Jay Leno hired him in 2011 to perform original magic tricks for a hidden-camera series called "Magic Clerk." He performed his location pieces on Leno's late night show for three more years before shooting a pilot based on those hidden-camera shorts that launched his popular TruTV series.
"Right when I shot the pilot, I literally thought to myself that if this show doesn't take off, I'm going to go into makeup school and just start going back into makeup," he says.
The Carbonaro Effect is close to reaching its 100th episode, and Carbonaro says that sometimes even he can't believe how far the show has come — as if he's watching one of his own magic tricks.
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"When I think back to how much we put together, I think back to how I thought if I was going to make a hidden-camera magic series, if I really put my head to the grinder, I could come up with 10 solid episodes, and now here we are at 100," Carbonaro says. "I can't believe we're just able to keep going."
Carbonaro credits his show's success to its reach-ability to families as a show that both kids and adults can watch together and find something to enjoy from it. He also says it's easy to draw a viewer in from the TV to the stage when they put themselves in the shoes of the people and the distorted reality around them.
"It's like holding up a mirror to yourself," Carbonaro says. "There's nothing as compelling as watching a real human being wrestle with something impossible, because you just feel yourself there and it's so fun to be in on it and still not know how the trick is being done but know that the trick is being pulled."