The magic, the comedy, the effect of Michael Carbonaro

He’s funny, he’s magical, and he’s coming to Richmond in mere days.

I’m not sure what I expected a conversation with a magician to be like–would he be really serious? Would there be music playing in the background? Would I hear even over the phone the swirling of a cape and the ruffling of dove feathers?

But no, this is what I like about Michael Carbonaro and his particular brand of comedy. He’s just an extremely personable, funny guy who does magic not so that he can mesmerize you into thinking he defies the laws of physics, but so he can get that kind of reaction that’s best described as “surprised gasp-laugh.”

You may have seen Michael on the Tonight Show or perhaps his show on truTV, The Carbonaro Effect.

Magic yourself forward through time and see the stage version for yourself, because Michael Carbonaro is coming to Richmond on June 10th.

And for my next trick, some fascinating Qs and As

Susan Howson: I think what’s most interesting about your show is that it’s funny. I grew up with watching David Copperfield, and magic seemed so dramatic. But you’re basically using your brain and your sleight of hand to play pranks on people to make them laugh. It’s a much more approachable kind of magic–was that a conscious decision?

Michael Carbonaro: A conscious decision? I don’t think so! I believe that I have always been that way! I’ve got a good meter for what’s nice, and I am not a fan of prank shows. I think they skew mean. I don’t like making people feel uncomfortable, or making them look stupid or making them angry–a lot of pranksters do that because it’s easy. But I call back to Candid Camera. You see yourself in these people when you’re watching hidden camera shows. You think, “How would I react? Would i fall for that?”

As far as it being a conscious decision, no not really! I guess I just lean towards nice. Good parents??

SH: You’ve been performing magic since your teens, doing it on the side to make money. What was that like? How has it changed? What was your first trick? Can I say trick?

MC: There wasn’t really money on the side, that’s what I always wanted to be doing. When I started performing as a professional I turned around and put that money back into props. I went to NYU for acting and drama, but the question is, how do you get involved in doing that kind of a thing. For me, it was like special effects led me to magic. I really wanted to be an effects artist–I love monster movies and horror movies. I would watch Copperfield on TV and when out and got some effects makeup and then special effects became magic and then magic became performing.

I really didn’t know what to do after school. It was like, do you want to be on a TV show or do you want to be a magician or to be on a sitcom? And I really honestly would like any of it! I like all of that stuff!

Then the opportunity came up to be on the Tonight Show, and I was totally hip to it. I had a whole bunch of ideas for trying that. I realized, OK, I’m being funny, hopefully, and I’m acting, and also being an ordinary person and improvising and doing magic tricks. It’s funny to think back about whether or not it was “conscious.” It just sort of was weaseling around and then thinking “This is fun, this is working.” It found me, to not be cliché.

SH: Since your spots on the Tonight Show and the Carbonaro Effect itself involve a big reveal, that you’re an illusionist and they’re not really squishing their dogs onto tiny disks, do you care as much about the Code of Magicians? Is that still a thing? It’s almost like if you call it “magic” you don’t get enough credit for practicing something so hard until you get it right. What you do is a skill!

MC: Well, I don’t reveal the secrets of the trick, the conceit of the show is that I’m really a magician hiding out as a normal person. I do reveal that conceit to the people I encounter because a) it’s wonderful to watch them drop their guard and say, “Oh my gosh, I thought i was losing my mind, that was crazy.” And also I have to ask them their permission to be on the show!

There’s some aspect of magic that’s real, though. Even David Blaine mixed these human endurance tasks that are real! You mix that with a card trick, and someone might go, “Wait, that was a trick. Is this a trick?” He really created a phenomenon when he levitated on TV and then buried himself–even Blaine wouldn’t tell you that this is magic. The ones who need to be more open about something just being tricks are the ones who claim to talk to the dead, that kind of thing.

SH: Who do you admire most in the magic community?

MC: That’s tough–it’s a thriving community out here in LA, some of the people I most respect in the magic world are Derek DelGaudio, Derek Hughes, Michael Weber, David Regal. Copperfield was a huge influence. It was dramatic but it was really precise, he was the master of ceremonies at his own show, and maybe the lights and the dancing girls are a little hokey looking back. But his new show is good too, he’s dropped a lot of that stuff.

Pen and Teller were huge influences, and how lucky are we that they’re in the spotlight. They took the mold of a magician and really blew it up.

SH: What’s the most difficult trick that you’ve learned? Can I say trick?

MC: Yes, you can say “trick!” When I first started writing to Teller, I was trying to take it really seriously and called something an illusion, and he wrote back “Oh, yeah the rope trick!”

The most difficult one to perform is one that I do on my stage show where I’ve purposefully let some people see what’s happening–a handkerchief is disappearing. It becomes really hysterical because I’m flip flopping who’s seeing what, so it’s kind of like a reveal, but it’s so funny how energized the audience gets. It’s one of those ones that when I finish it, it’s like “Yeah!”

SH: Speaking of your stage production, what’s this tour like? What can we expect from the show?

MC: The live show is like a party, I say. It really is like getting to hang out with people. To meet the fans of the show…even the biggest diehard fans still sits there and wonders like it’s TV, “Is this actors or is this camera tricks?” It’s great to have those people sitting right in front of me seeing a glass of water come out of a thin envelope and being like “Whoa, I am sitting RIGHT HERE and didn’t see that.”

People really leave wondering what was planned and what was not planned. It seems like mistakes going on that magically solved themselves, and I really have to jump through hoops to keep it that way.

SH: I’m sorry to have to ask this, but I feel it must be asked: Do you love Arrested Development?

MC: When I was a kid I went to magic camp and participated in the advanced stage competition and no lie, I used the Final Countdown as my song. So when that came out, I was like “WHAT?”

I don’t know, I really want to take myself out of it. My goal is to make people not think “How did YOU do that?” but “How did that even happen?” Really I’m just the product of a lot of help from amazing friends.

— ∮∮∮ —

You, too can see Michael Carbonaro on his tour, Michael Carbonaro Live on Friday, June 10th at 7:30 at the Carpenter Theatre. Tickets start at $39.50.

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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