The Magic of Michael Carbonaro

Photo by Matt Christine Photography

Out gay trickster Michael Carbonaro brings his unique style of magic and humor to the Keswick Theater on May 20. His new show “Michael Carbonaro: Lies on Stage” is a series of pranks and magic tricks designed to fool, delight, amuse, and awe audiences of all ages.

Fans may recognize Carbonaro from his hit TV series, “The Carbonaro Effect,” or the queer cinema classic, “Another Gay Movie.” He recently spoke with PGN about his new show, his passion for magic, and how he can’t fool his husband. 

What can folks expect from your show, which is titled, “Lies on Stage”? 

I do lie, because that’s what magicians do. It’s a noble kind of lying. I’m upfront about it. People like having me lie to them. [Laughs] It’s all in good fun. I teach some pranks and surprises. I will still fool you and prank you. In this show, I make two people from the audience disappear on the stage every night. If you are looking to get rid of anyone, bring ‘em to the Keswick Theatre, and I’ll take care of them for you!

You are offering a behind-the-scenes look at how to execute the perfect magic prank. Given that a magician never reveals his secrets, what can you reveal about this part of your show?

It’s the one that’s most talked about for sure, and in the nature of magic — and if anyone knows me, Am I really going to be teaching, or am I really going to be fooling?

How do you select who to bring up and what you can get away with doing to or with them? 

I love having people come up on stage. I go out into the audience and perform a couple of bits. I like to vary it, and have the smallest kid I can find, a 6- or 7-year-old, and then bring grandma up if she’s in the audience. It’s a mini-casting job. I walk out into the house and feel what energy will play well for a particular trick. I have seconds to make those decisions. Sometimes I’m right, and other times it’s wrong. But it’s fun anyway.

How did you get into magic and trickery? Was there a tipping point where you pulled a prank and got away with it, and presto, this became a calling?

My way into magic was really through special effect makeup. The first career I wanted was to be a special effects makeup artist. My first “magic” book was makeup guy Tom Savini’s “Bizarro,” which was originally called, “Grande Illusions.” It was a makeup book, but it showed how they executed these different effects for the movies which was wildly inspirational. It is magicians’ work — how they would half-hide people into tables, or have secret tubing up actor’s arms to pump blood for a scary effect. I was obsessed with it. I used to go to a local magic store where I’m from in Long Island. I went there for makeup supplies, but I got into watching them perform tricks behind the counter. I’d pick up some tricks and perform them for friends and family and get laughs out of them. So, special effects brought me to magic, which brought me to being an entertainer, and an actor and a performer.

Photo by Stuart Pettican

Why do you think folks are so impressed with magic? 

I think, by nature, everyone is excited by magic. For me, what hits people on a visceral level is that magic shows us we don’t know everything about the universe and how it works. You feel you’ve seen it all and know science, but then a coin disappears, and you think there are little holes in the universe I didn’t know about. It’s exciting that there are mysteries that are bigger than me. It’s freeing.

How do you confront skeptics?

Diehard skeptics or anti-magician folks don’t come to see my show. Some people want to know the secrets, they have a puzzle mind about it. Then there are people like me, who really want to be fooled. When I see a magician, I want to believe in magic. 

This is an all-ages show but I mostly know you from “Another Gay Movie” where you were anything but G-rated. Do you look back at that film with affection, embarrassment, or a mix of both?

Nothing but sheer joy and nostalgic love. I’m so proud of that movie. I’ll have people come to me after my live shows with a DVD of the movie and it excites me so much. I am so proud I did that movie. It was a brave, crazy, wild idea to give it a shot. The benefits I’ve reaped from it go beyond just connecting with fans and people who remember it. 

What is the queer quotient of your performance? 

I’m wearing a minty-green suit. Does that count? I’m trying to think if I gay it up at all. I don’t think so. Nothing intentional, but I’m not hiding it.

Do you have a favorite trick, and why?
My favorite trick of all time was from my TV show “The Carbonaro Effect,” when I convinced someone in a hardware store that these beetles arranged toothpicks into sculptures, like a spider builds their web. It was a modern-day flea circus. I got this guy to believe these beetles could construct intricate buildings out of toothpicks and unscrew nuts and bolts. He was all gruff at first, and by the end of it, he was like a 5-year-old kid, giggling, and shocked and in awe. That transformation and that effect, that’s the clip I put on instead of having an opening act to get everyone on the same page to see what magic can do for people.

Is there a chance a trick might fail? 

Always. And it has. Magicians have to have an “out” for everything. I have contingencies — if this happens, I’ll go this route. Throughout my career, I’ve had moments where I just flat out fell on my face. There is always a way to move along or skip or roll with it, so people don’t notice. Sometimes that becomes the most exciting trick. My adrenaline starts racing, and I improvise to cover something, and it ends up being better than it might have been.  

I know you’re married to actor Peter Stickles. Do you prank him? 

I can’t. He knows me too well. I’ve tried so many times. As soon as I get into any degree of a setup, he smells it right out. The answer is never.

Does he ever prank you?  

Yes, every year he does an April Fool’s Day prank. I usually fall for it, but this year I caught him. Peter is part of my show. He plays the role of the cameraman.

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