As part of his first national tour, magician and comedian Michael Carbonaro will be making his way to DC for the first time this Friday to perform at the Warner Theatre. Carbonaro is also currently filming The Carbonaro Effect, his hidden camera and magic series on truTV. Washingtonian spoke to Carbonaro about his experience as a magician both on stage and on screen.
What first sparked your interest in magic?
I found magic through my love of special effects. Magic is like performing special effects live. I would buy makeup supplies and special effects supplies from a local magic shop in Long Island. It’s interesting to think that under that roof you usually find costumes, magic, puppets, gags, jokes, pranks but you also find those things even at retail stores. For me special effects was a way into magic in the same way that magic was a way into performance.
Were your parents and other family and friends supportive?
They were and are. I started performing magic tricks for my friends and family. The neighbor’s kid hired Big Bird to come to a birthday party and they paid this guy $300 to just dance around in this costume. My mom asked me, “Why don’t you put a show together and hire yourself off for birthday parties?” I started doing that and that was it. My family–we’re all a bit goofy and funny–they all had a place to play along with it and support this the whole way.
Where did you go to school and what for?
I graduated in 2004 from NYU, where I studied musical theater, film, and television, and experimental theater. During my last semester studying in Amsterdam, one of the things we did as one of our exercises was trying to reconnect with your love of art as a child. I remembered this crazy thing that I used to do to my face in the bathroom mirror when no one else was around. Right before I took a shower as a kid,I would put my dad’s shaving cream all over my face and sculpt my face to make all these different characters and faces on myself in the mirror, much like I had seen the special effects artists do on TV. Then I would just jump in the shower and wash it all off. This act now closes my live show. It’s called Shaving Dreams. I sculpt myself from an old man to a monkey to a devil to a skeleton–all just with shaving cream and not even looking at my face. It’s a mime act; it’s not a magic trick, but it is really magical.
Tell me a little bit about your tour.
This is my first national tour. Before I had a TV show I had been performing only live magic shows. It was in my soul to be able to do live performances. The schedule of the TV show is really grueling and hectic and it’s been absorbing all of my time for the last 3 years, but I wanted to get out even if it’s just weekends to perform in front of crowds. There’s nothing like the energy of a live audience. I’m really loving it. Even the greatest fan wonders, “Is magic on TV just a bunch of camera tricks and actors?” Seeing them see it happen right in front of them is really electric and awesome.
You’ve been doing your tour since the beginning of April while still filming. Are you tired of balancing the two?
Not one bit tired of it yet. I didn’t realize how much I needed to perform live. Being able to go out there again, it’s kind of like a high, that I forgot about. When the audience is getting into it at the same time as me and we’re on this ride together, and we have this flow–they’re laughing and I’m laughing–there’s just nothing like that feeling. With The Carbonaro Effect, people write in and say “There is no other show on TV that we watch together as a family. There’s something in it for everyone.” I didn’t really realize how special and unique that really is in the TV landscape and also in the lives of people too. Those families are now coming together either to watch TV or live theater to enjoy this. I’m not getting tired of that at all.
How was the transition to doing live magic to TV?
I would say that it’s a little bit all under the same umbrella. On The Carbonaro Effect, I go from elements of special effects, like when I made an alien crab hatch out of a meteor that multiplies into two and turns into kittens. To do it with a person who doesn’t know they’re being filmed, it’s all executing that magic live, improvising and hopefully, being funny. It’s doing all of those things at one time. The TV show is less of a transition and more of a melding in a way that I have never been able to put all of the skills and loves together into one.
Tell me a little bit about the audiences you’ve experienced so far.
Well something that I’ve thought about is trying to pinpoint specifically who laughs harder at some things and trying to map it out. I can’t understand what that selective subconscious is humor-wise that makes one thing funnier than the other for different areas. All my audiences so far, they’re really gracious and they’re all happy and energized to be there. I ask if it’s their first time in the theater and this amazing third of the audience is clapping their hands and I’m thinking, “I feel so happy to think that because of me, they’re now experiencing live theater in a gorgeous theater in their own hometown.” I love being a link to that experience. If I can get just one kid to look up at the ceiling of one of those gorgeous theaters and wonder about the world of live theater, then I’ve done my life’s work.
What type of people go to see your shows? What are the demographics?
It’s not like a circus audience. It’s not like a kid’s show where there’s just a ton of kids running around like crazy. There are groups of 20-something couples that come together, new moms and dads, people with teenagers. It’s hard to say something really specific because it’s pretty well spread out.
What do you think attracts people to your shows?
I think that there’s not a mean-spirited vibe about the show that speaks to why people watch it together as a family. My show is really fun-loving and it’s always bringing wonder to people. In this information age when you feel like everybody knows everything, magic still rings a bell in your mind where you suddenly think, “Oh, maybe the universe doesn’t work the way I thought it worked.”
Have you been to DC before?
I really don’t have any experience in DC. This would be my first time here, so I’m very much looking forward to my experience there. That, I do have to say, is a compromise to the fact that I’m doing the TV show at the same time that I’m doing the live tour. I do work post-production on the TV show so I’m not spending a lot of time in the cities. I really do wish I had more of that, but that’s the compromise with having to work these two things at the same time.
What do you see for the future of magic?
People learn how the secrets of magic work. the truth is that it’s the same secrets that were just as accessible when you were a kid in the local library It’s like music. There are different notes, you put them together and you get a different experience. When I look ahead for magic, I think there will always be a place for a new twist and a way to bring that sense of wonder that magic brings to the mainstream and audiences whether on TV or live.
Tickets for the live show at the Warner Theatre are available at michaelcarbonaro.com. The Carbonaro Effect airs new episodes every Wednesday 10/9 central on truTV.
Correction: Carbonaro is currently filming edits for season two of The Carbonaro Effect. The post originally stated that he is filming season three.