As the magician and entertainer behind truTV’s The Carbonaro Effect, Michael Carbonaro dazzles unsuspecting victims of his hidden-camera prank show with illusions that are light-years beyond pulling a rabbit out of a hat. The self-described “performance bizarrist” had us spellbound before the curtain call of his live show at the Wilbur on April 14.
How do you come up with the ideas for your illusions? Sometimes, I’ll be driving along and I’ll look out the road and see like a bunch of construction guys working on a manhole. And I like the way it looks. I’ll take a picture and I’ll be like, “OK, what can we do here? What’s happening? There’s a manhole. What if suddenly there wasn’t a manhole? Well all right, what if there was a man who went down the manhole and suddenly there was no manhole?” So you just start to build a trick around something that excites you. That’s one way. Another way—maybe the less popular way—is you kind of have a secret and you go off that. You discover, “Gosh, isn’t it amazing if I can configure this in a certain way so that it looks like this disappeared?” And then you build off of that. But that’s the more rare one. Usually, when you’re trying to solve a story, a secret you might know will pop into play.
What’s the biggest difference between your TV show and live performances? We do amazing things on the TV show, but there is just nothing like getting to meet the fans and performing magic live, right in front of their faces. …You know, even the biggest fans of The Carbonaro Effect secretly wonder if the stuff we do is accomplished by camera tricks. They think, “If I was really there, would that happen?” So they come on down to the theater. And you should see their faces light up when something amazing happens. There’s this one part of the show when something just appears out-of-the-plain-blue nowhere. If you could see it from my side—the faces of the crowd—they’re like, “Oh my gosh.” You can really feel it. Like, we’re all really here in this moment and this magic is really happening. It’s pretty electric.
People display a range of reactions to your magic tricks, from laughter to fear. Which reactions do you most like? Same with the TV show, the stage show goes back and forth from being playful and goofy to being maybe a little scary, a little mysterious. And my favorite kind of those reactions is really that underneath it is some sort of delighted wonder. Someone can be afraid, but they also can be enchanted enough to not want to leave the room. And that becomes the challenge.