Michael Carbonaro’s new TV series “The Carbonaro Effect” debuts on Wednesday (May 14) on TruTV. The magician is best known for his “Magic Clerk” segments on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” and he applies that premise to a larger scope to create his new series.
Zap2it spoke with Carbonaro about the show and what he thinks it does differently from other hidden camera and magic shows. He also talks about the recently greenlit Season 2.
Zap2it: Most people know you from “The Tonight Show.” How did you evolve those sketches into an episodic show?
Michael Carbonaro: Well, a lot of people have experimented with hidden cameras and magic before. What I do, which I think is different from any other style of prank or hidden camera, is that it’s all fun. It’s back to that kind of fun that “Candid Camera” was. It’s not mean-spirited at all. It’s a joyful kind of play with people.
I’ve always been interested in magic and I’ve always been inspired by Allen Funt. I started doing hidden-camera magic segments for “The Tonight Show,” and Jay [Leno] was just the greatest guy to work for in the world. He just gets it, because he’s a comedian and an artist himself. So he gets the creative process, and he trusts when he finds somebody he believes in. He just gave me free reign to experiment and play and do the kind of magic that I wanted to do.
In doing that, just in playing the magic clerk character, I was like, this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of things I want to do with magic and hidden cameras. I developed all of these dreams and cool idea, and “The Carbonaro Effect” is happening. It’s getting to go into all new places. I’m not just behind a counter in a convenience store anymore. I’m literally out in the world in some really unusual places and getting people to believe in some really unusual things.
What do you think “The Carbonaro Effect” is doing that is new?
It’s a magic show where no one realizes that magic is happening. When you’re learning how to do magic, the first rule is “never reveal a secret.” In a way, by telling someone I’m a magician, it kind of gives away the best secret of all. … How interesting to take the magician out of the equation of a magic show. So I don’t take any credit for magic at all, and what we get to see is how wonderful it is to watch people’s willingness to believe in impossible things. My goal is to get people to really believe that the impossible is real, and not that I’m responsible for it. I want them to believe that they’re having the most unusual, magical and bizarre days of their lives.
Do you have an example?
Everyone’s experienced a sense of deja vu in their lives. So I thought, “Can I make someone actually believe that they’re experiencing deja vu?” I did this bit where I went into an office where somebody was waiting to have an interview, and I kind of popped up from behind the couch and startled them, like I was working as a maintenance man and they didn’t know I was there. And I was like, “Oh, I’m so sorry for scaring you,” and I had a little conversation about the weather, and I had them hand me a light bulb, and I changed the light bulb in the room to an energy saving light bulb, and then I left out the back door.
As soon as I left out the back door — boom! — suddenly I popped from behind the couch again in an impossible way. I couldn’t have possibly gotten back there, and I startled him and repeated the same 60 seconds of our lives, and was like, “Oh, sorry to startle you.” Started talking about the weather, I had him hand me the old light bulb. Suddenly he realizes that the light bulb that I changed is back to the light bulb that it was when we started, and he really just saw his life repeating. That was the experimenting, and I’ll tell you something: The guy freaked out. He got a little frightened. On his clipboard he was filling out, he started writing down the things that were happening around him because he was afraid if they happened again, he wanted to be able to reference it again and make sure he wasn’t going crazy.
Please tell me you then revealed yourself to be a magician.
Of course. Yes, I did. I revealed it. And then we used the title, “The Carbonaro Effect” kind of becomes the catalyst, or the definition, of what that weird moment is. When someone’s like, “Whoa, I saw my life just repeating,” I’m like, “Yeah, that’s kind of like that thing. Have you ever heard of the Carbonaro effect? That’s that feeling.” And then I reveal: “It’s also the name of that hidden camera magic TV show … that you’re on right now.” And they’re like, “Oh my god.” It’s just a lot of fun using the techniques of magic to make the impossible moment become a reality.
How important is it to you to use completely unaware people as your magic victims?
Honestly, it doesn’t work when the people aren’t real. There are other shows out there that are like fake hidden-camera shows. You can always tell. There’s just something about the beauty of a real person’s real reactions to something that can not be duplicated if it’s staged in a way that’s false. Sometimes someone will come in and I’ll be in the middle of a bit and I can [tell]. I almost feel like they’re acting to me, and then I find out that they somehow heard on the way in; they either saw one of our camera people or saw one of our production people with a clipboard, so they got the heads up that it was a show. I can see it right away, and it’s not going to work, because we’re just not going to get that genuine reaction. That’s where the gold is on this show for me. If we don’t have that real reaction of a real, unsuspecting person then we have nothing.
What are you most excited for people to get out of show?
I think it’s something fresh and new as far as magic is concerned. David Blaine, I think, was the first TV magician to really turn the camera around and make it about the spectator’s experience. That’s really what magic is all about. My show, it’s not about me. It’s about these people believing in the unbelievable. What I hope viewers will get to do, which is really interesting, is that the viewer gets to be tricking the people along with me. As a viewer, you get to watch the show in two different ways. I don’t give away any magic secrets to the home viewer, but the home viewer knows the best secret of all, which is that I’m a magician. So they get to enjoy the magic — and hopefully be fooled an excited about it — and also they get to watch it. … It’s like getting to play for two audiences at once.
You recently got picked up for Season 2, so how have you started preparing?
Oh my gosh, before we even premiere, we have 13 more going into the rest of the season. We’re just thrilled; we’re out of our minds. We’re back into the lab and I’m working with some really cool magicians to come up with new and amazing stuff, so we hope everybody loves it as much as we love doing it. We’ve got some ideas, don’t you worry.
“The Carbonaro Effect” premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on TruTV.