You walk into a fast-food restaurant and watch the guy behind the counter serve you a glass of soda pop from a beverage dispenser that has no visible hose. It’s as if the liquid is being poured from thin air. It’s as if it’s magic.
But it isn’t. It’s the Carbonaro effect.
For those that don’t know, “The Carbonaro Effect” is a popular hidden-camera magic television show that has become one of the staples of the truTV channel. It’s also the brainchild of 34-year-old magician Michael Carbonaro. The native of Long Island, N.Y. will perform live at 8 p.m. Jan. 22 in the Grand Sierra Resort’s Grand Theatre.
The magic clerk
On the television show, Carbonaro amazes unsuspecting people in real-life situations. It’s an extension of the role he played in 2013-14 as the magic clerk on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno. Carbonaro plays the role of an ordinary worker — be it in a convenience store, a beauty salon, a hardware store or a car wash. But unbeknownst to the customer who Carbonaro “helps,” he’s actually a magician, comedian and actor who has created a scenario designed to turn that person’s world upside down, at least for a few mystifying moments.
For example, there’s the episode that Carbonaro posed as a shipping clerk and pulled a bowling ball out of a cardboard container the size of a pizza box right before the amazed eyes of a customer. He tells the customer that the air is inverted, allowing the bowling ball to fit in the pizza-sized box. It makes them lighter for shipping, he tells her. This exchange is one of his favorite wordplay moments that the show has produced, he said.
“She just wouldn’t let it go and I would not answer her questions how,” he said. “She kept asking ‘How did that happen?’ and I kept answering why and it was such a fun little dance.”
A talented improviser, Carbonaro always makes sure to take the lead in these little bantering exchanges.
“I like to have an idea in my mind to explain what it might be — like reverse air or animals taking shelter in an orange — but 90 percent is improvised,” he said. “And then I go off on the way they’re acting and reacting. My favorite is to make it up along with the person. Sometimes, they’ll offer clues as to what they might believe in, such as: ‘Is it the heat that makes that happen?’ And I’ll say, ‘Yes, yes it is.’ Sure, if you believe it’s the heat let’s go with it.”
Carbonaro calmly answers with such adept sleight-of-mouth wordplay he could make a seasoned politician blush.
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” he said, laughing. “I can lie as much as a politician but at least I’m honest about the fact that I’m lying, right?”
The Carbonaro effect — live
Seeing the magician perform live offers fans of the television show the opportunity to experience the Carbonaro effect for themselves.
“At the live show people know who I am, and so it’s a real fun way for people to get to meet Michael the magician and I find all sorts of fun ways to pull the rug out from under them anyway,” he said. “People wonder if there are camera tricks going on or if we’re using actors (on television) but then you come see the live performance and you go ‘Oh my gosh. I’m sitting right here and those goldfish appeared out of thin air. I just watched it happen. I have no idea what’s going on and it’s all really happening right in front of me.’”
The show has what Carbonaro called “a real beautiful energy” and he shares it with the audience by having a highly interactive show in which he brings audience members on stage to experience the Carbonaro effect up close and personal.
“It’s stage illusion, sleight-of hand, comedy, hosting, improv, a lot of BS and a lot of fun,” he said.
Nothing but the truth
Back to the television show, the Internet is full of people questioning whether Carbonaro uses actors who pretend to be surprised by his illusions. Or whether the illusions are simply camera tricks designed to fool both the participant on the show and the home viewers. But that’s not the case, he said, although he does use camera editing to allow the viewers at home to experience the reactions of the unsuspecting person without revealing the secrets behind the illusions. For the more elaborate tricks, he uses magician friends and accomplices to help him accomplish his goal — to provide wonder to those who unknowingly walk into his spiderweb of wizardry.
“There are absolutely no camera tricks,” he said. “It’s all accomplished with magic techniques of misdirection, stage illusion and close-up magic.”
Carbonaro takes pains to make sure that none of the tricks are mean-spirited or embarrassing.
He would much rather make someone smile, as seen in a recent one-minute video in which the magician puts a huge smile on a young girl’s face. Check it out by going to YouTube and typing “Girl Stunned by Giant Bee in NYC.”
“It’s not a magic trick,” he said. “It was just a real way to make someone’s day, and that’s at the heart of what I hope we’re always doing.”