The Beauty of Magic: An Interview with Michael Carbonaro

Michael Carbonaro. Photo via Facebook.

We have much to be thankful for when it comes to illusionist Michael Carbonaro.

For example, as an out gay man, he made sleight of hand safe for queer people. Not just the act of being entertained by it, but also flinging open that closet door for any other queer potential or practicing prestidigitators. His comic chops are not only on display in his live stage shows but also in his acclaimed (and greatly missed) hidden camera show “The Carbonaro Effect,” as well as in “Another Gay Movie,” directed and co-written by Todd Stephens (of “Edge of Seventeen” and “Swan Song” fame). His appeal, including that dazzling smile and hot movie star looks, is limitless, allowing him to charm family and queer audiences alike. If you’ve never had the chance to experience the legendary Carbonaro effect yourself, now’s your chance as he brings his well-received stage show, “Carbonaro: Lies on Stage,” back to South Florida on May 17 at The Parker. Michael was kind enough to make time for an interview in advance of the show.

Gregg Shapiro: On average, Michael, how long does it take for one of your illusions to go from concept to performance?

Michael Carbonaro: I was just thinking about this the other day. We recently did a weekend of shows, and I was thinking to myself how much this tour that I'm doing right now, “Carbonaro: Lies on Stage,” has really gotten great. It's not that it wasn't good when I first started. But, man, getting to do dozens of performances of it, night after night in front of people, it just starts to really find a groove. It's hard to say that it ever ends. I would say that if it’s a new routine, I'll just jump up at a little club unannounced here in L.A. Maybe The Magic Castle or Black Rabbit Rose and throw in a new trick between two tricks that I already know. If it flops, you’re bookended with some solid stuff. I start breaking them in a little bit like that. Sometimes I'm like, “Wow, I've got a really good sensibility of how these things are going to go,” and it's great. I'm glad these things work. The beauty of magic is that sometimes, as long as the plot happens, the person selects the card from you and then you find the card, as long as that part happens, you're pretty much in the clear [laughs]. But as far as all the fun, and the jokes, and the routine, and what's really going on, and the silliness, all of that takes time to develop. 

GS: I’m glad you mentioned jokes, because comedy and humor are recurring elements in your stage show. How important is it for you to include that in your act?

MC: I think it's just the fabric of who I am. I'm more about having an overall experience with my audience. It's not an intellectual show where you're like, “How did that trick work?” It's not really about that. I like to have those moments of amazement, but it's really all about the whole experience together, of having a fun, playful time. I think that comedy, much like horror movies, if done correctly, comedy with magic is a potent tool to make the magic stronger. It’s an arresting thing. It gets people off balance. You laugh, and then you’re like, “Whoa, how did that happen?” You kind of go back and forth from amazement to laughing and smiling and then you start not caring how the trick worked because you're just having a good time. I think it's part of the method in a way. A lot of magic we see on television is in the realm of competition shows like “America’s Got Talent.” A lot of these people, and there are really talented folks that are coming through, too, but the danger of the format can be that people are learning how to do 30 seconds of something that looks really great for TV. Then you have somebody that, over the course of their statement, can do 30 seconds or one minute of crazy, amazing magic. But you can't watch more than 20 minutes of these people. If you were to go to a whole evening, that note gets old. Where’s the showmanship? Where's the whole show? You can't just piece it out into little bits like that. It needs to be an overall theatrical experience.

GS: The times I’ve attended your shows, I’ve always been impressed by how stylishly you are dressed, often in a suit. How important is it to you to have that image onstage?

MC: That's a great question. I think about that myself, too. I'm not going to wear a rainbow sparkly singlet, like Doug Henning. Although, I don't know, maybe we could draw in a whole different crowd [laughs]. I love Doug Henning, by the way. I actually do think about how it would be great to have a show where I could do some (costume) changes and have something fun and playful like that — maybe on the next tour. I think about the (early) Beatles in their nice, slick suits. There was a polish and a professionalism. My suit’s a little stretchy. I’ve got this great suit, so I don't feel boxed into the suit. I can still move, because I think that's really important. But I think it just adds to the overall polish of the whole night.

GS: Is there a possibility that “The Carbonaro Effect” will return for a sixth season?

MC: We did 125 episodes in total, which is probably 115 more episodes than I ever thought I'd be able to do. I brought it to an end. We didn't get canceled; we didn't get stopped. It was I who said, “Hey, I think it's time.” It was just one of those things where you just feel it. I've done this. I've taken this full ride, and I need to bring this to a solid ending. In the last episode, I turned myself into a kid, and I don't come back. The episode ends with the kid as me revealing to the person I was fooling, “You're on ‘The Carbonaro Effect,’” and the kid says, “I'm Michael Carbonaro. You're on my TV show right now.” Then the credits roll, so I never come back. I thought that was a cool, Peter Pan ending to that series. We do talk about things, from time to time, like, “Oh, is there a way we could change it up?” I have four different television magic concepts bouncing around right now. Some of them are a little close to “Carbonaro Effect.” One of them, I think, is sort of a next-level version of that work. It takes time to get them together. If I get the right voices in the room, the right people who see where we're going and want to throw their chips on the table and give it a shot, we'll see if something gels. But I'm in no rush to just throw stuff back up just for the sake of it. As alluring as that can be, and I mean they were knocking on the door asking for a sixth season, and I went, “Give me a second. I've got to see what's next and do this right.” As much as I get antsy, and the fans get antsy, it's like, “You’ve trusted me this long. You love what I put up. You’ve got to trust that I know when it's right to wait until the next thing is right and ready.”

GS: Michael, you have acted in several movies over the years. Would you like to do more of that?

MC: Oh, absolutely. Totally. I'm so grateful to be able to tour and perform live. And, also, to have magic. But I'm always keeping that going. We're making connections where we can. I'm reading for roles and trying to fit them into the touring schedule when I can get stuff going on. But, absolutely, I feel like that’s completely unscratched, the work that I did. I had a recurring part on Fran Drescher’s show “Happily Divorced,” and that was some of the most fun I've had ever in the Hollywood landscape. And shooting “Another Gay Movie” was the apex of feeling, “Wow, this is what I want to be doing.” I loved that! They're two completely different animals — getting to perform as a magician live and my TV and film work, which is more for adults. I thought when I did “Another Gay Movie,” I would never be able to perform for family audiences again. But luckily the world is cool enough to separate those things into different compartments. So, yes, it's something that I'm always looking to try and get in, and it’s rough! It was rough already, but now in the world where we just had these strikes and everybody’s switching over to streaming, you've got major actors who are now ready to work, you’ve got film actors who are going to TV, and you never really saw that happening. My manager told me there was one little three-episode arc on a TV show that was in its final season, and she told me that casting got 5,500 submissions for that one role. Try playing those odds! But that's the game. I'm still in it and very grateful to have my own thing going on at the same time and get to control that myself. I'm all about keeping the hope alive for that, as well.

GS: When you’ve previously performed in South Florida, you were at the Coral Springs Center for the Arts. Your new tour brings you to The Parker in Fort Lauderdale, a stone’s throw from the gay mecca of Wilton Manors. Will you have time to check out the scene on Wilton Drive while you are in the area?

MC: We are going to try. We're usually bouncing around like crazy. It's a lot of stage lights and drives and hotel rooms. We don't usually get to explore the town too much, but I will absolutely try.


Phone: 954-514-7095
Hours: Monday - Friday 9AM - 2PM


2520 N. Dixie Highway,
Wilton Manors, FL 33305



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