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Michael Carbonaro, magician and performer, talks with LI kids

Actor and magician Michael Carbonaro at The Paramount

Actor and magician Michael Carbonaro at The Paramount in Huntington with Kidsday reporters, clockwise from top left: Sonia Koncelik, Fiona Martin, Edmar Gonzalez-Nateras and Ella Schmidt, all of Pierson Middle School, Sag Harbor. Photo Credit: Newsday/Pat Mullooly

We met Michael Carbonaro, star of the truTV show "The Carbonaro Effect," when he was performing on Long Island. He grew up in Oakdale, so the audience was filled with his friends and family. A great night!

Have you ever had a trick go wrong? How did you handle it?

You know, I have. I always try and remember that the audience doesn’t know what’s about to happen. So I try and figure out a way to find an ending, always. I’ve never had a trick go so badly wrong that I didn’t have an out. That’s what magicians call it — it’s a way out. Always just have to remember the audience doesn’t know what’s going to happen, so you kind of find your way to an ending.

Do people ever recognize you? How do you prank people who know who you are?

 Well, to answer the question, you don’t prank them if they know who I am. Actually, let me clarify that. I did a hundredth episode, special "Carbonaro Effect," where I actually pranked people who knew of the show and of me as Michael Carbonaro. And they thought they were watching me on television and I ended up magically appearing through the television screen in front of them. So that was a way of pranking someone who knows who I am. But when people recognize me when I’m shooting and trying to be a normal store employee or something like that, if they recognize me I can usually tell right away from their reaction, and then I don’t do the trick on them. I’ll have someone else come on.

Do you have super power?

I wish, but not exactly. No. I think that I’d love to have super powers. And maybe that’s the whole reason why I love magic. Having what it would be like to have super powers. But it does, because you know there’s a trick going on, you really do know that it’s a trick while you’re performing it. But I’ll say, there is an electricity and a kind of magic in performing for an audience when the show is really wild and the audience is going crazy, and I’m feeling like I’m having a great time. And everybody is smiling. There’s an electricity in the air that feels almost super power-like.

How do you create a trick? Where do you get your ideas from? Do you ever get ideas from your audience or friends or people you know?

Yes. The success of "The Carbonaro Effect" is dependent upon an incredible group of magicians who are friends of mine. Most of the people who work for the show I met when I was a kid at Tannen's Magic Camp, which was here on Long Island in Oakdale, where I’m from. And the camp is now in Pennsylvania. But when I was about your age, I met a bunch of friends who were all interested in magic. And after I grew up and went to school and was performing in private parties, and doing some film and TV stuff, when it was time to make “The Carbonaro Effect,” I needed to come up with those hundreds and hundreds of tricks, those pranks, those ideas. We’d all sit around together and try and outdo each other and see who can come up with a better idea. And we just see who can come up with something, and we play our ideas off each other that way.

Have you ever had a heckler shout at you?

 All the time. There are crazy hecklers shouting out all the time. Most of the time they’re not trying to be mean. They’re just trying to be part of the show. So sometimes that can turn into a funny situation if I can say something very quickly back out and sort of quiet them down, and the audience laughs. There’s been a couple of times along my path where the hecklers got a little too rowdy, and maybe a security guard had to come over and tell them to chill out. But a lot of times people shouting things out can add to the show. Although I prefer if people don’t shout out.

We like the one where you got food out of the tiny paper bag. The girl was just a few inches away from you. How did you?

Are you asking for a secret? You know the big rule, magicians never give away a secret. But I will tell you, if she was anywhere else in the room other than where she was, she would have seen how that trick was done. That was a trick that was designed to just work between me and her, exactly the positions we were in. That I could tell you.

Do you like superheroes?

Superhero movies. I’m not really a superhero kind of guy. If I had to choose, I think, Superman.

Have you ever used a trick to get back at somebody?

I have scared people with tricks. I don’t know if they deserved it. I don’t know if it was to get back at them. But I definitely have done pranks. I once had an assistant who was terrified of space aliens. She was afraid that they were real. So I designed these little masks that I painted and made myself, and I hid behind a minivan right when she was about to take her dog out for a walk. And as soon as she came walking out of the house, I popped the masks up from behind the minivan and she thought they were just two aliens popping up. And she freaked out. She literally fell to the ground crying. I immediately jumped up and said, "It’s just me. I’m only kidding. I’m only kidding." It wasn’t really getting back at anybody but it was sort of something I could do to get back at somebody.

Did you ever get in trouble as a kid for doing a trick for a friend called Joseph?

I did get in trouble a lot in school for talking. And I think I got a lot of notes on my report cards that said, "Michael’s spending too much time trying to entertain the class and the other students."

Have you ever had another experience where someone passed out or did something really embarrassing?

I had a show where I was performing, and at one point I was standing on top of a trunk, where my assistant was locked inside the trunk and I had to throw a curtain up in the air. And the place I was performing in had a really low ceiling, and there were lights on that ceiling. And the curtain had a metal bar in it. And when I threw it up, it smashed all the lights, and all the glass came falling down all over me. And that was kind of embarrassing.

Who do you admire most?

My magician hero was David Copperfield. He’s still my hero. The most amazing showman — he’s funny. He could also be dramatic. And he would play with an audience and just have a really great time. His shows were always fun and mysterious and magical, and sometimes serious, but more you were laughing. You were shocked, and that’s what I try to do with my shows.

Do you think magic is funny?

It doesn’t have to be. But there is a lot of magic and comedy that is mixed together, which I think is great. And my show is a lot of that. Some magicians perform very serious, and it’s very dramatic and serious the entire way through. But my favorite time is when, even with something like a horror movie — I’m a big fan of horror movies, special effects — horror movies sometimes can have laughs in them. I think the best kind of horror movie has laughs and moments of being scared. And I think the same with a magic show — it’s disarming, and really part of the spell is to be able to laugh and then be amazed. It’s a good way to lead your audience into a magic spell.

What do you like more, performing in front of your audience or doing magic tricks?

Performing in front of an audience 1,000 percent more so than doing the TV show. I love having the TV show, but making the TV show is nowhere near as fun as performing in front of a live audience. Watching the TV show with other people and hearing what they have to say about the finished TV show is a great time. Making the TV show is not as fun as performing on stage.

Do you ever get nervous during your performances?

I get nervous before almost every single performance, no matter what. And I don’t know why. I think it has something to do with getting charged up before a show. I think there’s a similarity between being nervous and being excited. Those are the same kind of feeling, like before you are about to go on a roller coaster. That feeling of, oh, I’m nervous. It’s like, are you scared or are you excited? It’s kind of both. And so if before a show I get nervous energy, I remind myself that’s excitement that I get to use on stage.

Do you ever have people think you are pranking them?

All the time. Yes. Definitely. In fact because of the TV show nobody trusts me with anything anymore. I was driving my car and I got a flat tire, and I had to call AAA. And the AAA guy came to help me with my tire, and he recognized me. And he thought the whole time that he was changing my tire that pigeons were going to fly out of it or something. He was very disappointed when nothing happened. I felt so bad for him, but yeah, people always think there’s going to be a trick happening. Even if I go in for a checkup at the doctor. They’re looking at me funny, like, what’s going to happen today? I’m like, I’m just going to get a checkup.

Does technology hurt or help your performance?

That’s a great question. I think it helps especially because with my show, “The Carbonaro Effect,” I can use technology as an excuse why something’s happening even if it’s an impossible technology. I say at one point in my show that a full-size bowling ball fits inside of a flat, thin, pizza-size box. And I explain that it happens because there’s a new machine that reverses the air inside that box. And people think, Oh, my gosh, is there a technology that reverses air? It almost gives them something to wonder that might be the reason why it’s happening.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Oakdale. I went to Connetquot High School. And the middle school at the time, the junior high, was Oakdale-Bohemia  Junior High School.

Do you ever get sick of a trick?

If I get sick of a trick, I drop it. The freshness really comes from the audience. There’s always a new energy from the crowd. I use a lot of audience participation. So people come up and help with the trick. I never know, just like in the TV show, what they’re going to say or what they’re going to do or how they’re going to react. So there’s always a new person to be up there that adds an unknown element to what’s going to happen.

Do you like performing in front of kids or adults more?

I like both. I like performing in front of both at the same time. I think there’s nothing cooler than an audience that has all ages in it. And there’s a way to relate to everyone, where some jokes are hitting on one level and others are hitting on a different level, and everybody has a good time together. One of my favorite things I hear about the TV show is people will write me letters, and one thing I hear all the time is people are so excited that the show that they see, both the live show and the TV show, is something that they can all watch together as a family. And I think that’s a really powerful, awesome thing. There isn’t a lot of that around.  Fans and I have a good time when it’s just an adult show — I can let loose a little bit more. But my favorite audience is all ages.

Your favorite place to hang out?

We used to hang out at Robert Moses beach a lot. I loved going there with my grandma and my brother. And my favorite thing to do was riding bikes with my brother around the neighborhood. That was the coolest thing to get to do. And to chill out with friends, either at my house or their house.

Do you like being fooled?

All the time. I have a lot of magician friends who are very crazy and very clever, and they’re pulling pranks on me all the time. And I love to be fooled. I know how a lot of magic works, but there’s tons of it that even if you know how it works, you can still be fooled by it. And I love being fooled by magic and having secrets.

Do you have any siblings, and if you do, do you perform magic on them, and how do they react?

Yeah. I have my one older brother, and he used to help me out with my show. We used to do an escape act that was just like Harry Houdini used to do. We’d get locked inside of a box and switch places with each other. And it’s pretty cool because Harry Houdini, before he started doing it famously with his wife, Bess, used to do the trick with his brother, Theo. So it’s pretty cool, my brother and I, Chuck, we used to do that same Houdini act he did with his brother. He’s great on the stage, too.

Eileen Caulfield and Tara O'Malley's sixth-grade class, Pierson Middle School, Sag Harbor

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