By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Magic is a subtle art form. It requires masterful misdirection, sleight of hand that allows the magician to fool the eye. Magician and actor Michael Carbonaro takes that to the next level, fooling hundreds of thousands of viewers on TV.
Carbonaro is known for his TruTV hidden camera series “The Carbonaro Effect,” currently in its fourth season. He came to prominence with his recurring “Magic Clerk” sketch on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” in which he would disguise himself as a store clerk and bamboozle shoppers with unexpected magic tricks. This would become the premise of “The Carbonaro Effect.”
His live magic and comedy show, “Michael Carbonaro Live!” will be at the Byham Theater March 7 at 7 p.m., one night only. Go to trustarts.org for tickets and information.
Is this your first time in Pittsburgh?
It is my first time in Pittsburgh! My favorite thing to do is to hit a city for the first time. With my show in particular, obviously on “The Carbonaro Effect,” people don’t know I’m a magician. So people coming to see the live show know I’m a magician, and come in thinking, ‘What is he gonna do?’ They don’t know what to expect, and boy, I take advantage of that.
You’re known for your TV show “The Carbonaro Effect.” Have you done live performances before?
I spent most of my life performing live shows. I grew up on Long Island and performed for birthday parties, communions, company parties. I really developed a personality engaging with an all-ages audience. I’ve done that more than I’ve done a TV show, so this was something I already loved doing. I just wasn’t sure if the crowd would jump on board and accept me as the host of a magic show. But people flip out, they really love it, they take the ride. They get really excited, especially because, I think, even the hardcore fans of ‘The Carbonaro Effect’ wonder if the TV show is fake, or using actors or camera tricks. I take advantage of that too, and being in the crowd, seeing it happen, it’s validating, for them and me, this is really happening and I’m absolutely a real magician.
How did you make the leap to television?
I was at NYU, and I was trying to figure out if I wanted to be a magician, an actor, or a stand-up comic, and I tried all those things out. I got a couple little roles on TV, I was in ‘30 Rock’ and ‘Law and Order.’ I would perform at different theaters in New York, different clubs, doing weird acts and bizarre magic pieces. I decided, at one point, to take the leap out to California to pursue more film and television. When I came out here, I thought I would have to put the live stuff on the side, I didn’t think it would be as ripe out here. But I found that not to be true. There’s the Magic Castle here in [Los Angeles], which is a world famous venue and private club for magicians. I got right in there and started performing, and I had a lot of TV people come and see me there, so the two worlds mixed really well together.
Which would you say is more challenging, your live show or filming “The Carbonaro Effect?”
Well, I guess it’s similar, it’s an interesting question. With each day on “The Carbonaro Effect,” it’s like a crew of people and a whole bunch of equipment that we’re moving into a new place and setting up, and with [the live show], we’re going from city to city to different theaters and venues and setting up. There’s a little more certainty with stage. You have more of an understanding. We don’t have to hide our spotlights and microphones with a live show.
What can audience members expect to see at the live show?
Well, they can expect to be fooled. They can expect to maybe even come up on stage, because there’s a lot of audience participation. I go out to the crowd, I borrow objects from people and bring them up. There’s a lot of laughter, and there’s a really crazy act. My last act, people say, is the most bizarre thing they’ve seen in their life. I actually cover myself in shaving cream and sculpt myself into these different creatures and characters, so it’s like a live transformative special effects act. You can bring the kids or leave them at home, it’s really a show designed for everybody. Come out and expect to be delighted, to laugh, and see some amazing magic.