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How 'Carbonaro Effect' magician was shaped by his LI roots

Michael Carbonaro of TruTV's "The Carbonaro Effect."

Michael Carbonaro of TruTV's "The Carbonaro Effect."  Credit: truTV/Stuart Pettican

The Beatles famously honed their performance skills in unforgiving Hamburg, Germany, where they had to perform incessantly and essentially lived where they worked.

Long Island was Michael Carbonaro's Hamburg.

"I owe everything I have to Long Island," says Carbonaro, star of truTV's illusionist prank show, "The Carbonaro Effect," which premieres the second half of season four Thursday at 10 p.m. The Oakdale born-and-bred magician, a boyish 42, "spent the bulk of my life on Long Island, performing magic shows starting at 13 years old for hundreds of birthday parties and communions and christenings and at schools all over," he says. "I was working all the time in front of totally different crowds. What really shaped me as a performer was always working events where there were kids all the way up to adults."

Even while attending New York University, where he earned a BFA in drama, the Connetquot High School grad "was coming home on the weekends. When everyone [at his college] was partying, I was going back to Long Island to perform birthday party shows.”

His mother, Elizabeth, a nurse, was his manager, and his electrician father, Charles, helped build props. When his dad died in June 2017, Carbonaro paid tribute with an episode end-card reading "Forever Our Hero, Charlie Carbonaro." His mother has since moved to California, and his older brother Chuck and family moved to Virginia.

While his family has left Long Island, Long Island hasn't left Carbonaro. One of his hallmarks, he says, developed from those all-ages shows: a desire not to humiliate unsuspecting marks filmed in stores where he poses as a clerk making impossible things happen and explaining them away. That white rat at the pet store that suddenly becomes several smaller rats? New do-it-yourself "gene-splicing" of a "single-celled organism."

Yeah, it should be clear to anyone past fourth grade that a rat cannot possibly be a single-celled organism. But in that emblematic instance from a previous episode, the customer, Carbonaro believes, wasn't actually that stupid but, like many people, just not listening closely — and so fake facts simply get "lost in their disbelief."

He gets cornered, sometimes, he admits, when a mark sees through a bit and knows something fishy is going on. He delightfully recounts a long anecdote from the upcoming 100th episode about an incredibly complicated illusion at a Chicago ice rink involving a hockey player seemingly frozen under the ice. Then this Zamboni comes by and . . . one woman — "her name was Genevieve, I'll never forget" — wasn't having it.

"You can see her face start to contort like, 'Wait. There's . . . nooo .' . . . And you can hear me talking to the producers on my earpiece, saying, 'Should I keep doing it? I don't know. I don't think she's believing it.' And then I just turned to her and was, like, 'Are you buying any of this?' And she was, like, 'Not at all!' But she also was, like, "How did you do that? That was amazing! I have no idea how you did that, but I know there's no way it really happened.'"

Of course, he adds, there was also "this one woman screaming, 'We've gotta call 911!' and running out of the room, and I'm, like, 'No, come back!’ "

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